Inside the Artist’s Studio with Virginia Cassetta: The Road Taken

I was raised in a very traditional Italian family and and when I graduated high school the only road open for me was either attending nursing school or becoming a teacher. I chose a career in nursing, although in my heart I wanted to work in the arts and move to NYC. I married, had children, and pursued a career in healthcare. At 57 I was working at a job I had fought hard to get, only to discover that it was not for me, and not where I wanted to be. I began to take night art classes at MCC, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I came home from work late one afternoon, stepped out of the car, dropped the weighted briefcase, undressed from my suit of armor and began to run through the fields naked (we lived in the country at that time). I came upon my husband, who was quietly reading his daily newspaper, sat down next to him and said, “ I am going to change my life”. And then I did. I quit my job, my husband took early retirement, and we relocated to Portland, Maine for 3 years, when in 2004 I obtained my BFA in Sculpture. We relocated back to Rochester, NY and in 2006 I obtained my MFA in Sculpture.

A scholarship to Florence, Italy, and art residencies served to give me solid working experiences in both sculpture and painting, as well as forcing me to understand what I wanted to communicate in my work. Women, the aging process, identity, nature were all issues that I was drawn to. It has been an ongoing struggle to narrow some of those ideas down and build cohesive bodies of work. My website virginiacassetta.com will give you an idea of some of the artistic methods that I have worked with over the past few years.

Womanscape Series 2012

Womanscape Series, 2012, 21″ x 19″, Thread, oil on linen

This oil painting of “Three Women” incorporated sewing and painting on a linen background. With this series I was able to add sculptural qualities to a painting by first sewing the design onto linen and then paint over the thread in oils.

I was seeking a way to continue this method of incorporating texture into my work when I discovered Encaustic Painting. Encaustics is an age old art that was practiced by the Greeks and dates back to the 5th Century. It involves the painting of hot pigmented beeswax & resin (which hardens) on a structured panel. The hot wax is then manipulated by the process of melting, brushing, layering, fusing, scraping, filling and gouging to reveal imagery that can result in a glossy translucence, or texturally sculptural works. “House II” was one of my first ventures. In this image I use heavy brushes to create the textured look.

HOUSE II

House II, 2012, encaustic on panel board, 24″ x 18″

I wanted to learn more about this technique so I began watching the tutorials from Enkaustikos Paints, and when the opportunity arose I took a week long workshop in Encaustics to develop technical skills and learn how to incorporate other materials into the wax process. It was here that my artistic energies began to unfold, and encaustics’ is now my medium of choice.

In my Small Scapes series, I turned to the landscape for my inspiration and created a series combining the layering of paints to create a translucent effect. With metal tools I drew in much of the detail work.

2014, 6" x 6"

Smallscape Series, 2014, encaustic & oils on panel board 6″ x 6″

The melted wax process is difficult to control. The fusing and multi- layering of pigmented wax (sometimes 5 or more layers) will create visual narratives that tell their own stories, and as the images and colors change, so may my original designs. This is why Encaustics is my medium of choice. I am continually challenged to draw on my hidden creative energies. The end result surprises me and will often change the direction of the series I may be working on.

A series called the Big Bang speaks to positive energies and the motion of life; we are not alone in our universe. This again presents the effects of the layering, fusing, drawing and scraping of images and colors to present the movement of female images and objects in space.

Big Bang, 2014, 23 3/4' x 23 1/2", encaustic & oils on panel board

Big Bang, 2014, 23 3/4′ x 23 1/2″, encaustic & oils on panel board

So where do my ideas come from. I love poetry and much of the Big Bang series came from reading the poetess Sappho. My house series came from reading the Poetics of Space. Womanscape came from my own direct life experiences as a women and how I see women functioning in today’s world. Observation of self and my experiences of being female over the past 70 years has become a metaphor for me; I draw on the female form to express the social, cultural, and religious conditions of a woman’s life. Nature and landscape imagery represents the sensuality, feelings, fecundity, and the colors of femininity.

2014, 6" x 6", encaustic & oil on panel board

Half Moon Scape, 2014, 6″ x 6″, encaustic & oil on panel board

Night Scape is new and in development. I am intrigued with the comets, planets, and star formations. Following the Big Bang, this series brings me closer to our ever expansive universe and our spiritual interactive roles within.

Night Scape, 2014, 24" 25", encaustic & oils on panel board.

Night Scape, 2014, 24″ 25″, encaustic & oils on panel board.

For the past 13 years I have been engaged in exploring, discovering and experimenting with various art mediums and media. I see this as a lifelong engagement with the artistic process. I have a newly remodeled studio room in my garage at home, I recently put together my own website, I am on Facebook, and have two new shows coming up in 2015. At this new age of 70, I have not looked back and glad I choose art as my road taken.

You can see more of Virginia’s work at her website, virginiacassetta.com. Or stop by Main Street Arts through December 29, 2014 to see one of her encaustic landscapes in person.

Check out our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by jewelry artist Vanessa Rivera.

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