Thursday, March 21, 2013

Conversation with Artist Walt Pascoe, Part 2

Creative invention in my work does not feel like willful innovation.
It feels more like a form of remembering. . . .
~ Artist's Statement, Walt Pascoe

Conversation with Artist Walt Pascoe, Part 2

Today's post continues my ongoing conversations with artist Walt Pascoe. In Part 1, posted March 7, 2013, Walt talked with me about his background, artistic influences, sources of reference and inspiration, and creative motivations. Walt responds in this post to my questions about working in different media, his style, studio practice, and creative invention.

MD: Walt, you draw, paint, and design and handcraft gorgeous furniture. What attracts you to each of these different media?

WP: They all, at least the way I approach them, require a lot of physical energy and an equal degree of mindfulness at precisely the same time. So, they pull me into the present.

Being fluidly creative in a preliminary design process for a piece with functional utility is certainly a different order of event than the more wide-open process [involved in executing] a drawing or a painting, where I can be more spontaneously improvisatory. I make sense of the distinctions by framing the issue as a conversation: A conversation with the physical nature of the materials and the technical demands particular to the engineering required. A conversation with the historical antecedents for the work I'm doing. A conversation with my own unconscious, and the common threads that keep arising over decades of focused work. It's a dialogue that carries me out of myself and into the world, then back again, to digest and examine my experience.

MD: How would you describe your style?

WP: Abstract, nonobjective, for the most part.

I believe in the expressive potential of form and process sans overtly recognizable imagery—and the general appearance of my pieces reflects that. In a sense, I'm creating the visual analog of poetic compression and distillation of meaning. So, mark-making, shape, and color serve to embody the energy and emotion I'm exploring at any given time. 

That said, I'm hardly a pure formalist. The recent addition of saw blade shapes attests to that. [See image below and the image in Part 1.] I resist rigid ideologies and facile, over-intellectualized frameworks to stay focused on what, to me, is the real heart of the matter: our shared, felt humanity in all its mystery.

This sounds a little grand but in the day-to-day trenches, it has a very concrete impact on what constitutes "style" for me. Style is often conflated with technique or method. And in that sense, I always subordinate those means to the greater imperative of the emergent image. This quote from David Smith illuminates the matter nicely:

"Sometimes when I start a sculpture, I begin with only a realized part, the rest is travel to be unfolded much in the order of a dream. The conflict for realization is what makes art not its certainty, nor its technique or material."

[What] frequently results [is] work that retains visual evidence of the searching and revision. Erasure, translucent layers, and the mark of the human hand at work are all given a prominent role in my formal vocabulary.

MD: In what ways has your style evolved over your career?

WP: Like that of most artists, my early work was derivative; its most salient characteristic was naive enthusiasm. But over the years, a pattern slowly emerges, if you keep at it. In my case, my style has involved a cyclical oscillation of sorts — perpetual movement and seeking — propelled by the creative tension generated through engagement with particular dialectics. Forces that appear to be contradictory — Apollonian and Dionysian impulses, for instance — but that can't exist without one another.

In my practice, evolution can be envisioned as a constant circling back through themes, [although] across time, it all looks more like a stretched-out coil spring rather than a circle confined to a single plane.

Lately, the thing that really intrigues me is that invisible center of gravity that occupies the seemingly empty space in the center of the coil, like a thread—its nature and trajectory, and how it comes to define the whole arc of devotion. I recently came across a poem by William Stafford [1914-1993] that, in my mind, speaks to this beautifully:

The Way It Is

There's a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
You don't ever let go of the thread.

[Stafford's poem (1970) is in The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems by William Stafford, Graywolf Press, 1998.]

Walt Pascoe, Depth Charge - North Lake
Oil on Panel, 60" x 60"
© Walt Pascoe. Used With Permission.

MD: How, typically, do you work, Walt? Do you work at particular times of the day; have a specific routine you like to follow; work on more than one idea at a time; need quiet space, music, etc.?

WP: [My work pattern] tends to parallel the oscillations I mentioned earlier. There are periods of structured discipline, especially when working through procedural matters related to the construction of furniture or mastering the technical issues of a particular art medium. There [are] periods of frenzied, explosive forays into uncharted territory, [which] can often mean sleepless nights and dream-like, distracted days that are quite the opposite. At times, I find myself being orderly, scientific, and empirical in thought and habit. Then there inevitably comes a moment when I need to let that go and swim in murkier waters. The interesting thing is the way these modes need to interact and play off of each other for anything substantive to result. The feedback loop fascinates me and is part of what animates my work.

MD: In your Artist's Statement, you describe your creative invention as "a form of remembering". That implies autobiography. What are you "remembering" while courting your muses?

WP: I suppose it does imply autobiography but I'm using "remember" here not so much in the sense of recalling a personal narrative as to suggest the way you must work to come back to your most essential self. The way watching your breath while meditating is a form of remembering. Perhaps a better word would be "recovering". Or "rediscovering". As per Camus, "A man's work is nothing but a slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened." [Preface, 1958, to The Wrong Side and the Right Side (L'Envers et L'Endroit), 1937; collected in Albert Camus: Lyrical and Critical Essays, Vintage, 1968]

So, in courting my muses, the dance is always a form of inner archaeology or excavation of the unconscious. There's a marvelous passage in Mark Stevens's and Annalyn Swan's biography of Willem de Kooning [de Kooning: An American Master, Knopf, 2006], discussing de Kooning's iconic 1950 painting Excavation[that expresses my meaning]:

Excavation was first and foremost an excavation of desire The body was always turning up in the paint, evocatively, but could never be held for long in the eye; the flesh could never be entirely possessed. Any more settled description of the body would have diminished the sensation of physical movement, such as the caress of the hand or a leap of the heart, that was also a vital part of desire. It would create an outsider's perspective on the body, which, after all, is not just a form locked in space but a flux of sensations. The brushstroke seemed to veer between love and hatred, suggesting how close those emotions could be; a "reaching toward" could become, with the flick of a wrist, a "recoiling from." The desires of the past could suddenly erupt into the present. There was nothing dead in de Kooning's archaeology. You could never entirely bury a lover or a mother. [Page 295]

[The authors] continue this line of thought one step further, connecting the individual illumination with its larger cultural correlate:

Many other desires surfaced in Excavation. If the lover could never entirely possess the beloved, the immigrant [de Kooning] could never fully claim his new country. De Kooning may have emigrated to the bright lights of America, but he was still driven to excavate a buried Europe. Nothing in the picture appeared conclusive; Excavation thrived upon the sensation of betwixt and between. The ceaseless sensation of movement also seemed to capture the dissonant social rhythms of the twentieth century, encompassing a time of displacement, movement, dislocation, exile, and longing for home. In "writing" himself, in short, de Kooning also began unconsciously to write his time. De Kooning in 1950 was one of those artists with a mysterious divining rod for what his culture must create in order to know itself. [Page 295]

Additional selections from my conversations with Walt are forthcoming.

On Thursday, April 11, 2013, Walt will be showing his work in Montreal. The studio event, "Au Coeur de Saint-Henri: Oeuvres Recentes de Walt Pascoe" ("In the Heart of Saint-Henri: Recent Artworks by Walt Pascoe"), will take place between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. at 4710 rue Saint-Ambroise, Studio 349. In addition to taking advantage of the opportunity to see and purchase Walt's works, enjoy music, hors d'ouevres, and libations. For more information, telephone (514) 713-6583; e-mail Walt Pascoe at waltpascoe[at]gmail[dot]com or Holly Friesen at hollyfriesen[at]gmail[dot]com.

You will find Walt at:

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