April 5th, 2017


By Veronica Vale, Fine Art Consultant

The greatest of artists do not view their fellow artists as competitors, but instead as sources of continuous inspiration that challenge one to think more critically, to dive deeper into the depths of their emotions and the world around them, and to express in creative form the raw truth of what they find.

Montana-based encaustic artist Shawna Moore has found inspiration in the color-field paintings and philosophies of her predecessor, Mark Rothko. Like Rothko, Moore aims to create experiences through painting, using predominantly color and form. However, while all great artists are inspired by one another, to attribute an artist’s work to a single source of inspiration is to delegitimize the complex process and unique voice of the individual artist. So while Rothko and Moore share exciting aesthetic similarities, it is essential to understand the idiosyncratic differences of Moore’s work in order to truly appreciate and experience her art.

Perhaps the most conspicuous difference between Moore’s and Rothko’s work is that of medium. Mark Rothko applied oil paint to canvas in sweeping, loose brush strokes while Moore works with the encaustic medium, meditating over layers upon layers of pigmented beeswax, carefully covering and revealing the history of the work’s surface. Smoothing over the layers of her work with wide brush and blow-torch, Moore tends to her work with almost maternalistic care. The clean, sharp lines that result from this process contrast starkly with the unrefined, bleeding lines of Rothko’s, just as Moore’s use of soft, quiet colors appear peacefully subtle when compared to Rothko’s highly saturated hues. Here we see how process and medium can inform aesthetic. So while Moore’s process, and in turn, her paintings, embody peace, Rothko writes of his work, “You think my paintings are calm, like windows in some cathedral? You should look again. I’m the most violent of all the American painters. Behind those colours there hides the final cataclysm.”

This sense of “violence” that Rothko describes in his own work stems from a deliberate expression of internal chaos. Mark Rothko gives insight into our innermost selves, revealing our own inner turmoil as he expresses his own. Standing before a Rothko painting, we are confronted by our collective human experience in painterly form; a sweet melancholia that reflects our purest of emotions and lays them bare for us to see. It is Rothko’s keen sense for raw emotion and his ability to transfer that emotion into experience that compels viewers to weep before his paintings, to stand in meditation for hours on end.

With a keen eye and and a careful hand, Shawna Moore gives us an experience of equally powerful effect. Rather than emphasizing the emotions within herself, Moore gives us a deeper understanding of the world around us. Through a heightened awareness of our surroundings and their underlying, universal truths, Moore delivers us to someplace achingly familiar; a crisp boundary of earth and sky, sky and sea. We stand before her work, meditating on pure landscape and it reminds us that we share this experience of nature with everything on this earth that has come before and everything that is yet to come.

Although the work of Mark Rothko and that of Shawna Moore springs from different sources of inspiration and processes, the effect on its viewers is alike. That is, within each brush stroke, between each boundary of color, lies a truth about ourselves and our world that allows us to walk away with a greater sense of unity — a feeling that we are a little more understood, a little less alone.