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Artist Explores The Jungles Of Kentucky

Bethany Kalk practically sculpts her paintings.

Walking into  main exhibition space, you're momentarily taken aback by the work currently hanging on the walls.

Wispy, blue-black trees rise skyward over an Appalachian lake, like so many leafy tentacles. Gnarled roots surge around roadside boulders, creating a fantasia of shadows.

More arresting than the drama and haunting beauty of Bethany Kalk's work, though, is its depth, achieved using encaustic—a technique combining layered, colored wax and paint, charcoal, and other two-dimensional materials. 

Those same quivering trees rise off the panel, while branches and flowers sink into the background behind layers of translucent wax. Details of Angkor Wat-like roots, and the rocks beneath them, are physically etched into the wax. The effect of Kalk's labors is to give a texture and complexity to her works that just can't be matched by works done with traditional oil or tempera paints alone.

Kalk said she sculpts her works with a culinary blowtorch, selectively melting and manipulating the sheets and drops of wax. 

"I really love layers," she said. "I love to figure out how to deal with lots of information without overwhelming the viewer."

Kalk's background in abstract work shows in many of her pieces, too—a pile of leaves and branches floating on the surface of a pond, for example, are rendered an interlocking series of textured silhouettes. Still, her work showcases constant, painstaking attention to the world around her, and a love of the land. 

"I grew up in New Guinea and fell in love with the jungle there," she said. "This kind of landscape, with creeks twisting everywhere, undergrowth everywhere, reminds me of it. But, I like to delve deeply into the landscape wherever I am."

Bethany Kalk's show, "In the Hills and Hollows," runs through May 27 at Gallery 360.

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