Scratching through the surface: Julia Ris paintings on display in Fermilab Art Gallery

Julia Ris’ “Barcelona Big Catch II” is on display in the Fermilab Art Gallery.

A new art exhibit, “The Julia Set: From All Angles,” is now open in the Fermilab Art Gallery. The exhibit features work by Chicago artist Julia Ris, who uses encaustic paint to create bold, colorful and expressive patterns.

An artist reception takes place today from 5 to 7 p.m. in the gallery.

Ris studied art at Western Michigan University and the University of Michigan. Although she painted sporadically while working full-time in the world of digital web design and marketing communication, it was only after spending 35 years in the corporate environment that she decided to make the move to the art studio, devoting herself to painting full-time.

Ris works in encaustic paint, a beeswax-based medium that is heated before being applied to a rigid surface.

“Though I love painting in oil, the immediacy of the encaustic medium has a huge appeal and allows me to layer, scratch through and build up surfaces,” Ris says in an artist statement. “Wielding a blowtorch to fuse the layers of wax adds to the thrill.”

The name of the exhibit hints at the paintings’ subjects. In many of the pieces, angular, often sharply defined shapes cover the surface. But Ris’ work isn’t limited to those hard-edged geometries—viewers will see occasional softer, blended organic forms as well. Evident in all pieces is a layer-by-layer application of paint, giving them a depth that’s both emphasized and accented by the artist’s scratching-through of the wax.

“More and more over the years I find myself drawn to the complexity and surprise of what lies beneath the surface,” Ris wrote. “I build the layers. I savor the evolution. I value surprise, little imperfections, subtlety and the patina of experience and time. I’m compelled to scratch through to expose what is alluded to or hidden.”