Thursday, March 7, 2013

Conversation with Artist Walt Pascoe, Part 1

I've been making things for so long that I no longer need
attend to my hands and eyes. They hold their own
ongoing conversation with the materials. . . .
~ Artist's Statement, Walt Pascoe

Conversation with Artist Walt Pascoe, Part 1

Today begins the first of a series of posts in which I share my conversations by e-mail with artist Walt Pascoe, who divides his time between Connecticut and Montreal, Canada. I use the word "conversation" instead of "interview" because Walt does not merely answer questions. You won't find stock replies here. Walt opens up, engages, and invites you to see his artistic life, as it is exemplified in his strongly gestural paintings and drawings, the fine furniture he handcrafts, the poetry and philosophy he reads, his insightful responses to others' writings. Engaging directly with the subject he's seeking to articulate (the wonderful titles of his work sometimes hint at what that something might be but leave much room for viewer interpretation), he creates a palpable sense of both tension and release, of a drawing in and a letting go, made possible because he inhabits a rich inner world closely examined. When I look at Walt's art, I think simultaneously of darkness and light, of what the "terrifyingly determined" artist Anne Truitt self-described as "[t]hat spearhead of myself advanc[ing] at full charge while the camp caretakers crouch behind bushes." (Anne Truitt, Daybook: The Journey of An Artist, Penguin, 1982; page 196)

Among a group of very special artists around the world with whom I've connected via various social media, Walt stands out as one of the most thoughtful, articulate, and passionate. His artwork is intense and visceral, presenting, as painter Holly Friesen notes, "an unusual paradox of violence and tenderness that envelopes the viewer." You cannot look just once at a Walt Pascoe painting or drawing and be satisfied that you've taken in all that's being offered, nor can you look and not remark on the deeply intuitive sensibility at play.

In this post, Walt speaks with me about his background, artistic influences, sources of reference and inspiration, and creative motivations. 

Maureen Doallas: Walt, tell me a bit about your background and what influenced you to become an artist.

Walt Pascoe:  Manual dexterity and craftsmanly intuition, in an almost mystical sense, were held up, when I was a kid, as important aspects of adult achievement. And there was also in our family a sense of mystery and privilege around the use of certain tools. You had to be old enough and sufficiently tested before being allowed even to handle particular items, especially the sharp or expensive ones. So, I was a maker of things from a very early age.

I was also inculcated with a reverential attitude toward education in general and books in particular. When I wasn't constructing something, I invariably had my nose in a book, frequently going after school straight to the public library, where I would graze the stacks like a kid in a candy store. I was fortunate enough eventually to find my way to St. Lawrence University [in Canton, New York], which proved to be the pivotal experience that propelled me into a life in the arts. The fine arts department [at St. Lawrence] is particularly strong, and we were encouraged to do internships in New York City, which really set me on my path.

MD: When and where did you begin  your artistic career?

WP: I moved to New York City full-time in 1980, enrolling in a studio program that State University of New York was conducting at the time. We all had our own space in an old industrial building in lower Manhattan and participated in regular critiques with more established artists. I also started working for an art-moving company, which turned out to be an extraordinary opportunity to learn about the art world. I was absolutely smitten with the vibrancy of the entire city [of New York]. Shortly thereafter, I began renting space, my first true professional studio, on the Brooklyn waterfront.

MD: What were and are your sources of reference and inspiration?

WP: Living in New York City and working in the art world meant that all manner of influences poured in, and I was pretty voracious. But consistencies in what I was attracted to eventually developed. Whenever I encountered abstract expressionist work, especially that of Willem de Kooning, I felt more a sense of recognition than anything else, like I was meeting an old friend by chance in a crowd. This fed my compulsion and desire to explore that territory for myself. And when I finally found David Smith, the die was cast. He became, and remains, the single most powerful center of gravity in my aesthetic world, the one with whom I've carried on a decades-long inner dialogue and constantly measure myself against.

Walt Pascoe, Incantations on the Road Home
Graphite on Panel, 48" x 64"
Copyright © Walt Pascoe. Used With Permission.

MD: What most motivates your creativity?

WP: I suppose it has to do with satiating desire. Many different kinds and levels of desire, but definitely the attempt to assuage certain hungers. These might, by turns, be characterized as personal, social, spiritual, intellectual . . . animal even, but always a sense of potent craving for connection and comprehension.

The boundaries between these various forms of seeking can, of course, be clear or obscure at different times, contradictory or mutual reinforcing. When they happen to align and illuminate one another, as in de Kooning's Excavation, the work can really start to sing. This, to me, is when you finally approach a genuine aesthetic experience. The conundrum is that you can't seem to consciously orchestrate this. At least I can't. It takes a leap of faith and willingness to fail, a trust in the seemingly inchoate gravitational field pulling you, sometimes kicking and screaming, toward a full reckoning with your separateness and true identity as Artist. In practice, it takes a lot of discipline of the "chop wood, carry water" variety. Because unless you are willing to just show up, whether or not you happen to be inspired that day, then you will never hone the instrument that your soul is meant to be.

MD: We often hear artists (of all kinds) speak of having creative blocks. A friend refers to them as "pauses" that ultimately signal a change of direction in work. Do you believe that creative blocks exist? If you yourself experience them, what is the source of struggle, and what do you do to become unblocked?

WP: Creative blocks exist, if you believe in them, sure. All sorts of things can be characterized as such: tiredness, burn-out, emptiness, fear, distraction, resistance of all kinds.

For me, I know that a lot of the "just show up" discipline — and all the "getting to work" rituals — are about quieting my racing brain, so that I can feel myself more fully present in the moment.

I think your friend is correct in the sense that these things can sometimes point to areas of interest. Resistance frequently indicates the existence of some personally significant psychological juice. But the trick is discerning when that's true and worth chewing on, and when to just get the heck to work.

Please join me again on March 21, when I talk with Walt about his work in different media, his style, and his studio practice.

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 Walt's works, enjoy music, hors d'oeuvres, 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:

Walt Pascoe Studio (Blog)

Courting Muses on Posterous



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Hannah Stephenson said...

This interview was good for "quieting my racing mind." I enjoyed this!

Peter Ciccariello said...

Walt Pascoe - "A leap of faith and willingness to fail..." Sort of like Kierkegaard and Beckett fighting in the captain's tower... Walt's work has fascinated me since I first stumbled upon it, it's wonderful to hear some of the motivation behind it. Thanks for the insights Maureen!

Deborah Batterman said...

Looking forward to more of this enlightening conversation.