Survey of Art: Tobia Makover

Image credit and property of Tobia Makover

Wax Surface

Mystery, childhood, concealment- these are the first words that rang through my brain as I gazed at Tobia Makover’s photograph entitled “Sandstorm.” In her recent photographic work, Makover has been experimenting with Encaustic Photography. Encaustic art is created using a wax medium that is heated to melting point, and can be mixed with color paints. The wax can then be painted onto almost any surface, and dries very quickly. In Makover’s photographs, she uses the clear wax as an opaque layer. The photograph is a medium format traditional black and white gelatin print. Medium format film contains square brackets instead of the more commonly used film which is shaped like a rectangle. The image was taken at Tybee Island, Savannah, GA in 2010, with a Hasselblad- a German, medium format camera known for it’s fine detail. Makover, however, is more interested in motion and subject blur than crisp clarity. The photo shows a slightly out of focus figure in the sand, pouring sand down from their hands in front of their face. Sand covers the face and most of the body except the arms, part of one side, a knee, and a foot that appears as if it’s protruding from the sand. A soft and faint image of fencing is in the background, receding back into space. On the surface of the actual print, is a layer of encaustic wax, a texture that contrasts between smooth and rough. Line is created throughout the wax surface in a haphazard pattern, varying in density, thickness, and form. Pieces of hair and various other oddities that I believe entered the composition unintentionally, add a realistic texture, a lovely accident revealing the sporadic and imperfect aspects of life.

In Makover’s photograph, she uses the principles of scale and unity. Since much of the space in the image is negative white space, she includes the faint hint of small fencing receding into the distance

in the background. This addition of another object helps to ground the subject, giving the viewer a sense of size comparison between the fence and the figure, otherwise the figure would appear to be floating. Object comparison also creates the illusion of a middle ground between the foreground and background. The smooth and soft lines and textures in both the wax finish and the contour of the subject, creates a strong sense of unity. The figure becomes a part of the ground, as if the sandstorm is erasing away the subject, transforming human into sand. Death and fusing with the earth.

The main object in the piece is the human form, that although somewhat obscured, remains distinguishable. The mystery of the subject and the playfulness of the action leaves room for interpretation and personal connection. Contrast is used to distinguish the subject; the human form being shades of gray and the negative space being pure white in tonality. Tonality differences help to pronounce the subject, even though the contour of the figure is a soft line. The subtle hint is what creates the mood of the piece. The wax surface creates the illusion of a different dimension, or layer through which the viewer sees the photograph. It feels like watching a black and white reel-to-reel silent film of someone’s childhood. The image plays a movie in my mind, like a memory unfolding.

This artwork is definitely successful, I personally am captivated by it. The image invokes feeling, memory, and human relation. Like a movie, the image brings the viewer through a story, either fabricated or one from past memories. The composition is compelling, with the positioning of the figure and the unique use of negative space. The figure is soft and smooth, like true human flesh. The vague yet tender notion of human form and the secretive identity of the subject leaves room for thought and interpretation. The surface texture, made with Encaustic wax, draws the eye around the image. Even parts that seem plain white are glazed with a engaging texture and line quality that makes the negative space just as interesting as the subject. It’s the kind of surface that is very tempting to touch and interact with. The mark-making with the wax creates a pattern uniquely related to sand flying through the air, thus the title “Sandstorm.” This ghostly image by Tobia Makover is a magical memory, both compelling to look at and to touch.


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