How Travel Informs The Encaustic Works Of This L.A. Artist


woman with headscarf standing in art studio mixing paint over a table strewn with paint brushes and paint, with canvases in the background and a glass bead chandelier hung overhead

Artist Leslie Nix uses hot plates and heat guns to keep her concoctions of warm wax and saturated oil paints malleable. She applies the mixture to birch panels using brushes, palette knives and other tools.

For Leslie Nix, boarding an airplane is always the first step to creating a body of work. Since earning a BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design at 19, the artist has explored nearly every U.S. state and more than 40 countries, soaking up impressions, snapping photos and—always—sketching and painting. Once back in her studio located in a historic building of Los Angeles’ Lincoln Heights neighborhood, she translates a swirl of moments and experiences into richly layered multimedia paintings that thrum with life. Neither abstract nor photorealistic, her compositions forge their own genre of landscape art: sensory memories that serve as portals to other countries and cultures.

The inspiration wall of Leslie Nix's art studio, with travel and plant images hung by painters tape

Snapshots from her travels as well as found and collected objects, fabrics, plants and more serve as inspiration for her encaustic paintings and slag-glass lamps.

An artist workspace filled with an array of paintbrushes, razors, and palette knives

An array of brushes, palette knives, razors and other tools dot Nix's workspace.

Details of encaustic multimedia artwork showing layers of color and pattern

The artist's works are striated with colorful mosaic-like patterns and dimensionality.

Artist Leslie Nix's studio filled with paints and vibrant fabrics

Her studio, located in a historic building of Los Angeles’ Lincoln Heights neighborhood, is a treasure trove of finds and fabrics that serves as inspiration.

Armed with a paint brush and heat gun, Nix applies hot wax mixed with highly pigmented oil paint to large-scale birch panels primed with alcohol dye, gesso, tissue paper and resin to create a glossy foundation. She adds the malleable encaustic mixture layer by layer, using razors to scrape it back and play with the medium’s luminosity, depth and tactile sensuality. Her process creates “almost a stained-glass effect,” she says. “There’s often these beautiful, gem-like scenarios happening underneath.” The resulting works are striated with colorful mosaic-like patterns and dimensionality. 

Nix toggles between working on her paintings and crafting sculptural lamps that resemble ancient treasures. She casts and carves brass remnants gleaned from her partner’s furniture-making practice into cradles for jewel-toned chunks of cast-off fragments from glass factories. “When the light shoots through, it creates this magical aurora borealis effect,” she describes. Her latest solo show, “Encaustic Impressions of Mpumalanga,” featured these one-of-a-kind lamps alongside her paintings at Coup D’Etat’s L.A. gallery. A group show at the same location is also scheduled this spring.

Recent wanderings have taken the artist to England, Greece and Rwanda, where she spent time with mountain gorillas and traveled the country via helicopter. The geometry of the grids and terraces carpeting the East African country’s hillsides are her latest inspiration. “I’m working out the direction for my next series,” Nix hints. “I’m excited to stay put, hang with my dogs and just paint.”