Michael Billie’s art applies new themes to an ancient technique
A Navajo man is at the forefront of America’s fastest growing art form.
Michael Billie, a self-taught encaustic artist, this month captured an international award for innovation in an art medium that pairs ancient and modern techniques. The International Encaustic Artists on Oct. 1 recognized Billie with a La Vendéene Award for advancing encaustic art through technical innovation.
The award is named for Laia, a fourth-century female encaustic artist whose remains were found — along with the tools for her art — in the La Vendée region of France. Billie, who began exploring the art form nearly a decade ago, exhibits innovative techniques in the pieces he creates in his Farmington studio.
“Michael is doing something different from everyone else,” said Doug Mehrens, founder of the Encaustic Art Institute in Santa Fe. “Michael has come so far, so fast.”
Mehrens has spent the last three decades experimenting with encaustic art. Billie, who joined the Encaustic Art Institute 10 years ago, quickly surpassed his peers, Mehrens said.
“His approach to encaustic art with Native American themes and wax is absolutely innovative,” Mehrens said. “He’s innovating with an art form that’s older than the Greek civilization.”
The word “encaustic” is derived from a Greek word that means “burn in.” Greek artists practiced the art form as far back as 500 B.C.E.