Waxy buildup

Paul Horan paints with a mix of hot beeswax and varnish, a method called "encaustic." He's not onto something new and trendy -- Greek artists were painting with pigmented wax as far back as 5th century B.C. But there was a resurrection of the method in the 20th century, thanks to safer materials (the early painters were likely always buzzed, due to the hazardous huffing of bubbling beeswax and resins) and ready sources of electricity that keep the heat handy.

Catch Horan in action on one of his abstracts, and you're as likely to see him wielding a clothes iron to smooth a ripple or a heat gun to get things moving, as a brush. His skill and vision come into play as he molds molten layer after layer on inverted custom-made birch-wood boxes, each layer quickly drying and ready for another. Colors are blended and deepened and the wax can be scored or sculpted. In its finished form, the viewer is left with a sense of density, opaqueness and luminosity, all at once -- a quality Horan fell in love with the first time he experienced encaustic (in a Valencia Community College class with Michael Galletta). Once the piece dries, "it'll last forever," says Horan. No melting in the hot sun or anything, due to the alchemy of heated wax and dammar varnish.

The pictured work, titled "Usuyuki" -- which means "light snow" in Japanese -- is named after a 1981 silkscreen by Jasper Johns, who also worked in encaustic and is a Horan influence.

Another visible influence is Horan's fascination with winterscapes. "I grew up in Denver," he says, and was active in snow sports before he came here and graduated from Edgewater High School. The muted blue colors of "Usuyuki," which brand all of his latest paintings, conjure another white-blue vastness familiar to Floridians.

But knives and power tools won't be present at his "Circular Emotions" exhibition at The Peacock Room, opening Monday, March 15. Instead, Horan, 37, will be as polished as his paintings, as this is his first show since he contributed his striking 6-by-9-feet painting to last summer's "Double Vision" exhibition at Cornell Fine Arts Museum: an interpretation of Herman Herzog's "Sunset With Elk" landscape. The experience left him with the boost he needed to devote himself full time to art.

"I just listen to the paintings talk to me as I work," Horan says of his compositions, though he prefers appreciators to find their own message. But here's a hint: "I put the red in for tension."

An investment of $6,000 can make "Usuyuki" your own, but Horan is creating some similarly themed ink and watercolors on glass priced in the $150 range for his humbler collectors.