Elena De La Ville has just arrived home after a class at Featherstone Center for the Arts, still seemingly abuzz. You can hear the artist’s passion for teaching instantly as she describes the beeswax collage class as a complete success: “It was incredible!”
For those unfamiliar with the artistic capabilities of beeswax, she explains, “It sort of is using beeswax as glue, to be the medium for what you do, and using whatever people had to make a new piece in collage.”
The method, encaustic, is technically defined as “painted with wax colors fixed with heat, or with any process in which colors are burned in.” For Ms. De La Ville, the definitions are looser. Broadly, she is a mixed media artist. Her own work is often photo encaustic. Today, however, she was specifically encouraging students towards incorporating beeswax into their collages.
Unlike many teaching artists, Ms. De La Ville still works on her artwork full time. “I teach part-time and make my artwork full-time,” she says in a brief foray into spare time. This week, particularly, is an example of Ms. De La Ville’s ideal teaching and art producing lifestyle: as she teaches at Featherstone, her own encaustic artwork hangs at Dragonfly Gallery.
As an artist, Ms. De La Ville is the perpetual student. “I am constantly experimenting and trying new mediums. I don’t know if anyone else is doing them,” she saus, “but I am.”
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, she had a stint in Oklahoma between the ages of 10 and 15, some years in London, and finally, her current route, which takes her between Sarasota, Florida and Martha’s Vineyard. Her experiences have taken her form work as a photographer for secretary of the state Michael Connelly in Boston (“during the Dukakis days,” she reminisces with a sigh) to her current position as instructor in mixed media at Ringling College in Sarasota.
On her decision to move away from straightforward photography, Ms. De La Ville says, “My life needed something else, so I gave myself the opportunity to move to the Vineyard and become an artist. I have lived as a self-supporting artist for the last 25 years.” This lifestyle, she touts, has given her a varied perspective. Ms. De La Ville’s life is a seeming mixed media.
Perhaps the most directly influential of Ms. De La Ville’s life experience has been her work with bees: “I am a newbie beekeeper,” she laughs. “I was invited to the first conference of encaustics last year.” There, the artist encountered beekeeping and decided to take it up. “The bees have been nice; I’ve only been stung once. They’re great because they communicate without words, they can communicate just by how many times they flap their wings.”
Ms. De La Ville uses the beeswax for her art and the bees as inspiration. They are the perfect embodiment of her central belief as an artist. “Part of my artist statement is, my life is my art and my art is my life and I incorporate everything in my life into my art work.”
It is this holistic ideal of artistic living which keeps Ms. De La Ville in Martha’s Vineyard: “It is an incredible community of artists. I used to do four art shows a week. All my friends are artists. The Vineyard offered me the opportunity to really flourish as artist. There’s supportive people like Holly Alaimo and Nancy [Cramer of Shaw + Cramer Gallery in Vineyard Haven].” Ms. Alaimo is the director of the space where Ms. De La Ville is showing her artwork now, Dragonfly Gallery. “It was a very small group of people, so we know each other; it was always about helping each other out and learning from each other.”
Ms. De La Ville, still basking in the glow of a successful class taught, says she intends to hold a three-day class on the same topic next year: all those interested, and yet still confused about what “encaustic method” can produce, are encouraged to visit the exhibition, in which the modern medium is most excellently executed, before it closes Sunday evening, July 6.
Dragonfly Gallery, on Dukes County avenue in Oak Bluffs, is open Wednesday through Sunday noon to 7 p.m. or by appointment. For information, call 508-693-8877.