This artist conversation features encaustic painter, embroiderer, and mixed-media artist, Ava Roth. I’m happy to chat with Ava about her work and introduce her to all of you.
I think it is safe to say that all encaustic painters have a deep respect for bees. I’m sure that you’ll be as excited as I was to learn about Ava Roth’s incredible Bee Colony Collaboration project.
My Conversation with Artist Ava Roth
Welcome, Ava! Thanks so much for taking the time to share with us about your artistic inspiration and practice!
Hi Ruth, thanks for the opportunity.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a Montreal-born, Toronto-based encaustic and mixed media artist. I’m also a mother of three, an avid sourdough baker and a rookie beekeeper. I have worked in a variety of medium over for the past two decades, but beeswax has been my primary inspiration and material for many years.
What influences/inspires your art?
I’m greatly influenced and inspired by nature and by traditional women’s crafts such as sewing, embroidering, weaving and quilting. Organic materials, environmental art, temporary art and crafts are touchstones for me and mainstays of my work.
Could you please tell us a little bit about your Bee Colony Collaboration project?
This collaboration started as a natural outgrowth of working with beeswax as an encaustic painter. Relying on wax led me to learn about bees, and soon a feedback loop began – the more I learned about bees the more that knowledge informed my work, which in turn led to deeper involvement with bees. I soon found myself incorporating pieces of comb into my work, building encaustic paintings inside hive frames, and keeping an apiary in my backyard. The leap from taking wax out of the hive to use in my studio, to putting my work directly into the hive was almost inevitable at that point.
The collaboration itself begins in my studio, where I make a sewn encaustic collage suspended in an embroidery hoop. The use of thread and hoops are not incidental. My work has always explored tensions between traditionally ‘male’ and ‘female’ art. Honeycomb is made entirely by female bees so this project is not just an inter-species collaboration, but an entirely female one. Once complete, the embroideries are fixed to traditional Langstroth hive frames and are slipped into hives, where the bees embed my work in their comb.
When did you become a beekeeper and where are your hives?
I started keeping bees two years ago, but there is so much to learn and I am still utterly dependant on a wonderful Master Beekeeper named Mylee Nordin, who is a friend and a co-collaborator in this project. The vast majority of the pieces in this collection are made in hives located throughout Southern Ontario.
How long do you leave your artwork in the hives?
It takes between 3 days and 3 weeks for the bees to embed my collages in comb. The timing depending on the size of the frame as well as on a variety of environmental conditions such as sun, nectar flow, strength of hive, etc.
Do the results surprise you?
The results always surprise me! Part of the beauty and thrill of this project is that it is truly a dynamic collaboration. I can suggest to the bees where and how I want them to build comb on the art, but ultimately they will do it their way – if and how they want. Colour, texture, depth and even location of honeycomb varies greatly from piece to piece, and it is always a thrill to see what they have made.
What has been the biggest learning for you with this body of work?
The biggest learning for me has been about how bees function, and this includes the seasonal aspect of their cycles in this part of the world. The project has forced me to also work seasonally, and this has profoundly influenced my experience as a human and also as an artist.
Is the honeycomb fragile? Are you concerned about making the work archival?
Honeycomb is fragile in the sense that it can be crushed, but it is otherwise completely archival, and will not erode or degrade over time. Amazingly, honey itself is one of the only foods that never spoils. Archeologists have found sealed jars of edible honey from thousands of years ago in Egyptian tombs.
What Does This Work Mean to You?
This bee project has become the heart of my artistic practice. My intent with this project is to explore the boundaries of where humans collide with the natural environment and imagine a more beautiful outcome of this encounter. The collection is essentially hopeful at a time when there is so much despair at the state of the climate, and our role in its destruction.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I would like to make it clear that the well-being of the bees I work with is of utmost importance to me. Each piece in this collection is made with non-toxic materials and placed inside traditional beekeeping hive frames. I don’t introduce any potentially dangerous materials, and I don’t manipulate conditions of the hive, such as the structure of the hive, the temperature, the feed, or the time it takes bees to naturally build their comb.
If you have a comment or question for Ava, please leave it below.
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