Barber's vision 'waxes artistic' at the Station Arts Centre

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Rather than waxing poetic, Silver Hill's Sierra Barber prefers to 'wax artistic', an approach unique even among Ontario College of Art & Design University's youthful artistic community.

"It feels so normal to me because I've been doing it for five years," said the 22-year-old fine arts student Sunday afternoon inside Tillsonburg's Station Arts Centre at her show reception. "But people are like 'Sierra, this is not normal.

"'Just so you know, normal people don't do this.'"

Barber's chosen medium is beeswax, a direction taken following reading up on encaustic (also known as hot wax) painting, a technique utilizing heated beeswax enriched with various pigments, applied via specialized brushes or other implements to surfaces including prepared wood or canvas. She had never seen a finished product, but was intrigued enough with the idea of working with wax she improvised to test its properties.

"I started melting candles and trying it out on my own."

Primarily a sculptor rather than a painter, Barber works in that discipline while incorporating beeswax's traditional role as a preservative.

"I play with that concept in my work, the idea of preserving memory."

Beeswax has proven versatile, says Barber, who has the option of layering it and making it thicker, "or I can use its transparency to make different pieces."

Her exhibition includes earlier work, studies of birds as she developed an understanding of her preferred approach.

"How it would shape up," she explained.

There are also a couple of bronze sculptures and a wax reproduction of a turkey dinner, as well as her most contemporary work, a study of the seamless bind between reality and the imagined using past possessions covered in beeswax as focal points.

"I play with that concept in my work, the idea of preserving memory," said Barber, who uses her own clothing as a representative base of the past stories and experiences they hold. "It makes the work more honest, I feel."

Allegorically speaking, objects such as a chair, shoes, shirt of pair of jeans appearing in her art can either be filled or emptied of a body, and over time, are physically worn and shaped just as humans are. Scuffs or holes in clothing and other items are indicative of experience over time, along with the objects' capacity to hold memories of human experiences.

Barber's current approach is moving increasingly toward 'sculptural' with wax appearing as though it is organically growing as part of the base object creating a non-linear exploration of time in which the viewer is uncertain whether they are looking at something 'past, present or ongoing, or something unknown, known or forgotten.'

"A lot of people have never seen wax work," said Barber, a statement which admittedly extends to her classmates - taken aback somewhat by the juxtaposition of an easel, article of clothing and pair of shoes as a weight to ensure proper directional wax dripping.

"It's really messy and hard to work with," she admitted in conclusion. "But I like it so much I reorganized my room to make it work for me."

Those who would like to check it out for themselves are invited to the Station Arts Centre Changing Exhibit Gallery. Barber's show opened Nov. 15 and runs through to Dec. 20.


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