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Artist Interview: Deborah Kapoor

I met artist Deborah Kapoor at a lecture she gave with Brenda Mallory about Displaying Work Outside the Frame at the 5th International Encaustic Conference. I caught up with her recently after her solo exhibition, Skin, at ArtXchange.

How long have you been using encaustic in your work and how did you discover it?

It’s been about 10 years. I first saw works with encaustic at Linda Durham Contemporary at the Navy Pier show in Chicago. I was curious enough to seek out Dorland’s Cold Wax Medium and began to experiment, first mixing it with oil paint. I was not yet satisfied. I moved to Seattle and discovered Joanne Mattera’s The Art of Encaustic Painting: Contemporary Expression in the Ancient Medium of Pigmented Wax and began to research and explore. I began trying to see what I could do with it. I loved the properties of encaustic immediately.

Deborah Kapoor, Skin Series
Installation photo from Deborah Kapoor’s solo show, Skin

Your work is sculptural. Because of this you sometimes need to display it in many different ways such as on shelves, from pins, etc. Has your work dictated these variations or do you decide before you create the work that you want to display it in a certain way?

The work dictates the display. It is an ongoing challenge to find the optimal way to showcase the work. I try not to focus on that while making it. Sometimes I may have a vague idea of the end result. For example, in one of my newer pieces called Sarira (a composite body or vehicle of impermanent character in and through which an ethereal entity lives and works), I knew I wanted to project video onto a sari. But I wasn’t sure of the details in advance. In fact, the first iteration I took down; I was so unhappy with it. But that is a work without encaustic. I don’t work exclusively in it. Usually, when I see the work in the space, it helps to define what needs to be done.

Deborah Kapoor Smarana (Remembering)Deborah Kapoor, Smarana (Remembering), mixed media

Can you tell us about your recent solo show, “Skin,” at artXCHANGE?

The last solo show I had was called Breath. In a way, Skin is a continuation of those ideas, the ephemeral nature of being. My process is fairly intuitive. I give myself plenty of room to try out new ideas, and, as reflects my true passion, experimenting with new materials. In SKIN, I play with various definitions of the word. There are all kinds of actual natural materials embedded into encaustic, such as using real skin of fruit (clementine peels) as a substrate. The content of the show deals with something so ephemeral that I gave myself permission to choose materials that also had a fleeting quality. Eventually I engaged all of the senses in this body of work. In addition, I explored areas of cultural overlap, specifically between Texas and India, which resulted in the cow tongue piece.

Deborah Kapoor, Gau Mata (Sacred Mother Cow)Deborah Kapoor, Gau Mata (Sacred Mother Cow), Encaustic on cow tongues

Deborah Kapoor, Gau Mata (Sacred Mother Cow)Deborah Kapoor, Gau Mata (detail), Encaustic on cow tongues

I have to ask, what was it like working with cow tongue?

Bizarre. Surreal, disturbing, fascinating, difficult. I purchased them initially at an Asian market, but quickly learned how hard it was to slice them evenly. Later, I ordered the tongues at a more traditional grocer and had them sliced for me. From there, I dehydrated the tongues slowly in the oven. I even tried microwaving a few but those were less successful, as that drying process altered the coloration too much. The encaustic highlighted the surface even more, especially the individual taste buds. Once dried, they are fragile to work with. My biggest obstacle was keeping them away from my cat, who found them to be a tasty treat.

The piece made of tongues was called Gau Mata (sacred mother cow). In many cultures the cow represents fertility, nurturing, and power. Ancient Indian texts provide copious references to the killing of the cow for sacrifice and sustenance, as the cow has historically become a political instrument in the hands of rulers. In contemporary America, specifically Texas, Longhorn ‘producers’ have strived to crossbreed for the consumer who demands a leaner, highly trimmed, but palatable portion of beef. The cow continues to be a symbol of consumption and economies worldwide.

Deborah Kapoor, Ayatana (Sense Base)
Deborah Kapoor, Ayatana (Sense Base), Clementine peels, encaustic, ink, thread

Deborah Kapoor, Ayatana (Sense Base), detailDeborah Kapoor, Ayatana (detail), Clementine peels, encaustic, ink, thread

What inspires you?

I am drawn to the markers of human experience, which includes so much. Delving into the very personal spaces we live in interests me the most.

What is next for you?

This was such a mixed media show that I am currently craving a fresh, more straightforward endeavor, like pure painting. I do have some sculptural ideas with fiber in mind that I’ve wanted to try so we will see where it all ends up. For now, I am taking a bit of a break and just absorbing and looking around a lot. I go through a period of taking things in before I am ready for output, and that is where I find myself today.

To discover more about Deborah Kapoor visit:
Conrad Wilde Gallery 

  1. Jane Allen Nodine (Reply) on Wednesday 5, 2012

    Thank you for posting this interview. I enjoy Deborah’s work, and having her voice give details of the content/intent and her process, adds to the richness of the work. I’ll be sharing this with my students and look forward to their questions and discussions.

  2. Nancy Natale (Reply) on Wednesday 5, 2012

    What a great interview! Deborah’s work is intriguingly beautiful and meaningful. I am a real fan. Thank you for the opportunity to learn more about her thoughts and working process!

  3. Lara Plecas (Reply) on Wednesday 5, 2012

    I am glad to see that you crossed pathes again
    with Deborah. Great interview! I was really drawn
    to both her and Brenda’s work, since we met them
    at the conference. Glad to see this…