Layers of Imagery

A local photographer incorporates beeswax in her work


Some artists wax poetic. Karen Raus waxes photographic. 

With a studio full of beeswax and a blowtorch, Raus, a resident of Westport, is anything but caustic with her desirable, award-winning ‘encaustic’ photographs of people and her beachy figures who frolic as silver silhouettes.

With a career in finance at a New Bedford manufacturing company, art is Raus’ passion through the prism of her camera, pointed and devoted to the sights, sounds, shadows and smells of Westport.

“As far as I can remember, I have always had a camera in my hand, taking it everywhere I went. It was always about capturing the moment but not doing anything artistic. As I grew older and started to travel, I enjoyed photographing the landscape that was new to me. I learned how to ‘use’ the camera, to select the ‘right’ lens and then lastly, get creative,” says Karen.

Her photographic epiphany came in 2002. She had visited Antelope Canyon the year before, but could notcapture on film what her mind had envisioned. When she returned a second time she knew she achieved a different result. “I knew the second I hit the shutter release that I had ‘it’ and I did. That image, Colored Waves, became a signature image for me. It is still one of my absolute favorites,” she says.

Making and breaking her own rules, she shoots what she is most passionate about – the landscape and seascape of Westport and the diversity of the ocean, surf, river and birds. A favorite haunt is the whipping, windy whirl of Horseneck Beach.

“When someone tells me that they have never seen anything like what I am doing, to me, that is the hugest compliment I hear regardless of whether or not they actually ‘like’ it. A great com- plement is when someone tells me that I am not just a photographer – I am an artist,” she says of her evolving imagery.

For several years, Karen “struggled” with the images in her head, how she wanted somehow to have them communicate gestures at the beach. Shedabbled in oil painting, not her medium, but it led to her unique portraiture style.

“I discovered encaustic, which is a paint composed of beeswax, resin and pigments. I melt the encaustic paint on a hot palette then paint with it,” says Karen. “I quickly developed my own technique to combine encaustic with my photographs.” She creates several translucent layers, adding texture and dimension to the artwork.

This medium and process is how she created her Beach Walker Series. “My Beach Walker Series is about how we all relate to a timeless atmosphere. It is how I wanted to communicate those gestures at the beach,” she adds. “When you take the time to look around at the beach, there is so much activity going on. I turn it all into black and white, and a silhouette, so no one is really identifiable. Kids innocently playing are my favorite subjects.”

Parents now contact her, wanting her to capture the ephemeral quality of their children’s innocence, knowing that in real time, this, too, is merely a snapshot of a too-quick lifetime.

This past May, she organized a group of artists to join her at a new gallery in Westport, The Art Stable Gallery, right off the porch of Partners Village Store. “It’s a charming barn and horse stables transformed into a fine art gallery. In addition to being able to see my work at my studio, I have selected work there. The gallery is staffed by the artists that exhibit.” In addition, her work can be seen in other galleries like Judith Klein Gallery in New Bedford, Ropewalk Gallery in Mattapoisset and Art Café in Little Compton.

“Every day I gain more confidence in myself. I am getting more comfortable to create what I feel and I just put myself out there – it is the ultimate – to have this pure art freedom that I feel right now. I think it is what artists strive for.”