Waxing Poetic: Northport Artist’s Paintings Are Like Looking Through Stained Glass Windows

Emily Eisen with her painting “Silent Night,” which is on exhibit at The Firefly Artists’ co-operative gallery in Northport (Photo by Alan Pearlman)

Batik, the ancient art of creating patterned cloth using wax that allows artisans to selectively dye certain areas of the material, is practiced in countries around the world, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Nigeria.

A year ago, longtime Northport resident Emily Eisen began to experiment with the age-old technique to create impressionistic paintings, often reminiscent of stained glass. Eisen, who lives near Crab Meadow Beach by Long Island Sound, is particularly enamored with water. She said that what she calls “batikage” lends itself particularly well to representing currents and waves as well as the ice that coats Northport Harbor each winter.

She begins by loosely using textile paints as she would watercolors on silk or cotton.

“I like to track the movement of the flowing colors, especially on the receptive, absorbent silk fabric,” said Eisen.

She starts with a light color palette, lets the fabric dry, and then strategically paints melted wax over the entire surface in different directions and textural patterns. Next, she waits until the wax-coated fabric solidifies, refrigerating it for a short time when the weather is warm.

Then Eisen taps or breaks the wax by placing her hand in different positions under the fabric to create the variety of “crackles” that imbue each piece with its unique character.

Darker textile colors are painted over the crackles so that they can seep into the fabric. Eisen then covers the cloth with newspaper, ironing over it to soak up the wax until the material is soft again.

What is so exciting for her is that every stage of the artistic process involves elements of surprise and experimentation. Eisen is as much the artist as she is the audience, she says.

Emily Eisen
Emily Eisen was inspired to use her technique of ‘batikage’ to create “Majestic Caribbean’ after a trip to the Virgin Islands (Photo by Alan Pearlman).

“I discover what it will look like when I iron the wax out,” Eisen said.

As she watches the paint  travel and the crackles in the wax emerge, she is entranced. It is all part of her visual journey, hence the name “batikage,” a mélange of batik and voyage.

She finishes by embellishing her paintings with watercolor pastels, which imbue the surface with facets, highlights and deeper defining color, thus enhancing the dimensionality of the images. Finally the fabric is permanently attached to a canvas.

“Silent Night” is an enchanting view of Northport Harbor and its dock cloaked in the solitary stillness wrought by winter. It showcases the pageantry of a glorious sunset whose jewel-like colors—fiery oranges and yellows, sapphire blues, and wisps of hot pink—are, in turn, reflected in the water. The eye is also drawn to the intriguing latticework of cracked ice, which adorns the harbor during the coldest months of the year.

Viewers often comment that Eisen’s “batikage” paintings look like stained glass because the high-contrast crackle networks take on the appearance of the lead solder that frames the colored windowpanes.

Eisen’s florals gravitate to the metaphoric and expressionistic. In her painting, “Hydrangea Burst,” one sees the suggestion of the delicate clusters of pastel petals that are the flower’s hallmark. Similarly, “The Butterflight Effect” and “Meadow Flowers,” are not realistic depictions, but rather playful and exuberantly flamboyant feasts of form and hue that elevate the spirit and cause one to marvel at the wonder of nature’s color wheel.

“Majestic Caribbean” was the artistic culmination of a week-long trip to the tropical paradise of St. John in the Virgin Islands. As she basked in the sea, Eisen observed the  ebb and flow of the mercurial turquoise water throughout the day. Networks of intersecting lines and bands of vibrant color, which hint at the sea and the sky, make this creation one of her most abstract pieces.

Eisen’s work has attracted an international audience. Although her originals are currently not available for sale, limited edition giclée prints can be seen and purchased at The Firefly Artists’ gallery, 180 Main St., Northport.