A Painter Uses her Backyard Bees as Art
Nassikas shows off the tools of her trade: beeswax and pigments
Photography and Text by Jonna McKone
At first glance, the old house and barn on a cul-de-sac in McLean look like the quiet home of any Virginia gardener. Walk past the tangle of kumquats and asparagus, beside the deep greens of forest that creep the length of the yard, along the bright blue of a swimming pool to the muted tones of an old barn, and you’ll find a large, open studio where Georgia Nassikas produces her paintings. Her portfolio consists primarily of large, abstracted landscapes, layered, textured and scored using wax.
The method is called encaustic painting, a practice that dates backs thousands of years to Greek shipbuilders who applied wax to the hulls of ships as caulking. As pigments were added to the wax, the technique became its own medium commonly used in art through the sixth and seventh centuries. Jasper Johns again popularized the technique in the 1950s and today it’s seeing a small-scale revival.Once the beeswax is melted, Nassikas strains out the impurities, using a colander or paintbrush. She adds Damar Resin, a natural sap. The resin, the same material used to give fruits and vegetables in the grocery store a sheen, also gives the paintings their gleam.
In her garden, Nassikas handles a section of honeycomb she snagged from one of her five beehives. The hives figure prominently in her paintings as abstracted forms. And the colors too are inspired by Nassikas’ immediate landscape: the bright blue of her pool or the tree line visible from her studio.
In encaustic painting, the pigments become slowly infused into the wax as they are heated: “Each layer has to be infused, otherwise it drips off the page. You have to work fast. Your liquid-to-solid state happens quickly.” Nassikas describes it as a very physical process. She uses a pancake griddle to heat the wax and a blowtorch and heat gun to scrape away at the wax layers and meld the colors.
Just as Nassikas achieves a candescent quality in her artwork, she finds the same in beekeeping. “When the bees store the honey, [the comb] takes on a difference in hue and a luminescence almost. Then, as it gets ripe with the queen laying eggs in each cell, it gets a richer, darker brown color.” With each series, Nassikas’ technique too becomes richer.
Where to Pick Up A Bottle of Georgia Nassikas Honey
The Organic Butcher of McLean
6712 Old Dominion Dr.
8100 Old Dominion Dr.
1053 West Broad St.
Falls Church, VA