When I first began painting in what I call my “Delta” series, my life was in flux. As a full time physician and part time artist and writer, I felt torn – my identity fragmented and my soul’s work unclear. Painting became my meditation, a process that allowed me to integrate seemingly disparate parts of myself as a healer and a creative being. What evolved during this time was a series that reflected this conflict. Cellular or egg-like circles are pulled together, as if by gravity, while being drawn apart, weightless. Etched lines create the vital push and pull, at once drawing the elements outward while simultaneously resisting the centrifugal force drawing them into the center. On one hand, the abstracted elements of these paintings seem so certain of themselves, so solid in their place in the world. On the other, they are obscured and at risk of obliteration, which reflects exactly how I was feeling about myself at the time.
I wound up leaving my medical practice to pursue painting, writing, and coaching full time, and my art is changing now as a result. But the title of this series still fits. When those close to me ask how my life is going these days, I like to say “It’s full of delta,” which, in mathematics, is the Greek symbol for change. My art and my life are all about taking risks – being authentic, making myself vulnerable, pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and allowing myself to be imperfect, all while leaving a little room for mystery, for the imagination, for life force, and for possibility.
Encaustic turned out to be the perfect medium for my work at the time, and my exploration into the medium turned into a book I wrote Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax. As a surgeon, I had to be perfect in the operating room. There was no room for error, no tolerance for mess. But in the art studio, hot wax dripping on my clothes and the floor, unpredictable accidents on the painting surface, etched lines gouged into the smooth surface like a knife on skin, and the freedom to be imperfect and spontaneous was exactly what the doctor ordered. I always said that medicine was my hemorrhage, but art was my transfusion. While it’s possible to paint with encaustic in a methodical, orderly fashion, I prefer to let the molten wax lead me, rather than leading it. Every time you apply heat to the surface, the surface changes – more delta. Choosing a medium that encourages such spontaneity, such free form play, such gleeful mess, was precisely what I needed to make art that reflected my inner story, a story of transition, transformation, and healing. It’s kind of like life – it’s all more inspired, beautiful, and fun if you just surrender to the flow.
-Lissa Rankin 2012
plain·song ( pleyn-sawng, -song) the unisonous vocal music used in the Christian church from the earliest times, modal liturgical music; Gregorian chant, any simple and unadorned melody or air.
In the Plainsong series, I embrace the serenity of painting. In the absence of color choice, I find myself becoming one with the process of painting, in its purest state. I began painting this series shortly after the birth of my daughter, the death of my father, a geographical move of my family, and the exciting but difficult decision to retire from my career as an ob/gyn physician. In the midst of the chaos, escaping to my art studio, where I could blanket myself in the tranquility of monochromatic painting, became a welcome haven.
What results is imagery of life and birth, pushing and pulling in opposing directions with gestural lines, simultaneously drawing in and letting go . Abstractly figurative elements suggest family structures, relationship tensions, and dynamic interconnectedness. In some of the art, I deconstruct garments that represent important milestones in my life and recreate them in a painting, giving them new life and helping me to heal the past. As I work with whites, I try to capture the luminosity of light itself, embracing the sensuality inherent to the highlights it suggests- the white light of the sun on a lover’s face, the grayish-white of a moon glow, the dappled light of rippling water in late afternoon.
Marrying encaustic painting, painting with molten beeswax, with painting in white tones seems a natural union. While white invites comparisons to substances in nature- snow, clouds, water, ice, and alabaster, wax, itself a natural substance, enhances the properties of white, adding translucence, depth, and a sense of fragility. The paintings are created using many thin layers of wax, which attract light and refract it, leaving interpretation open to the viewer.
Recently, I have experimented with sculpture for the first time, informing the art with elements from my paintings- the egg shape, the female form, the vessel- to explore working three dimensionally. Over time, my paintings have become increasingly textural, so making the journey to sculpture seems a natural way to grow as an artist.
As I learn to find more balance and resolve conflicts in a more peaceful way, I continue to seek the open doors that lead to greater inspiration and experience. For now, the Plainsong paintings are a way to close off from the world, open my heart to insight and introspection, and gently integrate back into my surroundings in a peaceful way. Through it all, the journey of my life continues, touched with light, brilliant with reflection, airy like a plainsong, an unadorned melody.