“For sixty years Pat Adams has approached painting with an empiricist’s concern for the nature of visual form and the intimist’s sensibility that addresses the layered complexity of being. With abstract paintings characterized by seductive colors and richly encrusted surfaces, Pat seeks to bring from her “gatherum of quiddities” – that stew of unnamed qualities – a visual situation that bestirs contemplation.”
Pat Adams (b. 1928), That is to Say, 2010, oil, isobutyl methacrylate, pencil and crayon on paper mounted to panel, 19 x 24 inches, courtesy of the artist
From 1973 through 1976 Pat Adams was my professor at Bennington College. Pat already had 20 years of experience as a serious artist, showing in New York and collected by museums. The “landscape” for women artists was not an open one. The art world was both smaller and fairly closed to women. Things were changing, but most advances were hard won. I’m not really prepared to talk about what Pat was up against. All I can tell you is that until the 1980s, I believe, only two women had had a one person shows at the Guggenheim — Helen Frankenthaler and Helen Frankenthaler.
Seeing Pat’s paintings today I wonder why I didn’t know them better; why I wasn’t more aware of what she was thinking; what her process was; what battles she was waging on canvas. This retrospective at The Bennington Museum gave me a chance to experience her work and also see some of her materials: things she was looking at, tiny drawings she compiled endlessly in her notebooks. It was a revelation.
It was the opening night and not the best opportunity to take in the work, but at the end of the evening, when the rooms emptied, I had a moment to look closely at some of the pieces with the director of the museum, Robert Wolterstorff. I was struck by how my eyes were pulled around the canvas, how I flet moments of speed and slowness, of agitation and rest, of chaos and precision — like I was entering the universe. I wondered at the surfaces. How she achieved tiny irregularly shaped dots in a grid, how she painted a curved line that was at once as precise as a calligrapher’s curve, and yet broken in spots revealing the paint surface beneath. There was something so illogical about this line, so confounding, I couldn’t figure out how it was made.
When I was able to speak briefly with Pat during the show, she told me that some of the marks on the canvas were achieved by a kind of printing or transfer process. Painting on mylar and “stamping” it onto the canvas. But I didn’t get a chance to ask her about the lines.
Pat’s paintings are full of texture and unusual materials, mica, sand, pigment, and other minerals. Wolterstorff was most taken by this aspect of the work, which made him think of both Keifer’s straw and Beuys’ lard and felt. I forgot to mention to him that there was a Beuys exhibition at the college in the 1970s.
As we looked at the paintings, the rigor of the composition struck both of us. To me, they felt like mathematical journeys. Jamie Franklin, the curator, had displayed some things that Pat had pulled elements from — postcards of a Gothic Cathedral, the composition of an old Master painting, the shape of a sliced geode. All of these were echoed in the work.
Pat Adams’ Notebook
I believe that in the misogynistic days of the 1970s, these elements were at times dismissed as decorative. Seeing them now I know that they were no more decorative than the letters of a formula. What, after all, can be eliminated from E = mc 2 .
Last night I dreamed that I was attacked by bats. Of course it made me think of this etching by Goya.
I looked up its meaning in Wikipedia:
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (Spanish: El sueño de la razón produce monstruos) is an etching by the Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya. Created between 1797 and 1799, it is the 43rd of 80 etchings making up the suite of satires Los Caprichos. Goya imagines himself asleep amidst his drawing tools, his reason dulled by slumber and bedeviled by creatures that prowl in the dark. The work includes owls that may be symbols of folly and bats symbolizing ignorance.
The full epigraph for capricho No. 43 reads; “Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.”
Mori Sosen (1747-1821) Japanese Painter, Edo Period
Twelve Signs Of The Zodiac/Monkey. 1940.
MARUYAMA Okyo (1733~1795), Japansian
The meaning of monkeys in Asian art is extremely complex, having to do with word play both between the sound of the word for monkey and the pictogram for it, with the monkey deities, and with Koshin rituals. Here is an overview of the complex world of the monkey in Japanese art: http://onmarkproductions.com/html/monkey-koushin-p3.html
Drum-beating Monkey. Royal 1 E V, f. 3, early 16th c. British Library
Decorated Initial D (detail), from Ms. Ludwig IX 14, Austrian, about 1485. J. Paul Getty Museum
Ms. 135 K40, f. 14, 1600s. Den Haag, Koniklijke Bibliotek
Bible latine complète, avec les prologues de saint Jérôme 1101-1200
Considering a snack, from Horae ad usum Parisiensem, 1475-1500. Bibliothèque nationale de France
MONKEY LOVE Jacques, de Longuyon, Les voeux du paon. Tournai (?), ca. 1350. NY, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS G.24, fol. 12v.
From the 13th to the 16th centuries, most of the representations of apes appeared in the margins of manuscripts, especially in Psalters, Books of Hours and some Bibles in France, England, and Italy. In these examples the apes are parodying human actions, fighting birds, or showing some folk knowledge of these animals. It has been postulated that these marginal scenes, confusing and sometimes monstrous in nature, favored a more spiritual approach to the text (Wirth 2008). By participating in all kinds of reprehensible, obscene, and ridiculous behavior intended to make people laugh, these images provided a greater emphasis to the moral sense of the accompanying text. In addition, in the margins of these manuscripts, there seems to have been a new interest in the accuracy of the physical representation of the ape. This trend will continue in the 15th and 16th centuries, where the ape is depicted in portraits of ladies and gentlemen as a symbol of social status. Moreover, the imitative nature of the ape and its satirical function acquired a didactic raison d’être and, as a result, its iconography has survived well into the 21st century. [Apes in Medieval Art, October 28, 2013, By Mónica Ann Walker Vadillo,http://mad.hypotheses.org/172]
A quarter of all of Gustav Klimt’s paintings were landscapes. When I finally saw them all at an exhibition at the Sterling Clark Museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts, what struck me most was their flatness — even Bonnard’s landscapes recedes more into space. Klimt did not paint panoramas, but rather simple motifs: gardens, meadows with fruit trees, farmhouses surrounded by lush vegetation, and details of the lake and its shoreline. Perhaps it is not surprising that the landscapes appeared flat, considering the decorative nature of his other paintings, but it soon became apparent that something else was at work here. Klimt used a variety of viewfinders; initially, a simple piece of cardboard with a hole cut out of it, and later an ivory plate or an opera glass. [austria.info/uk/art-culture]
He also used a telescope. He would stand on one side of the lake and look through it to the opposite shore. The telescope made the landscape appear flat. Klimt used the pointillist’s mark to create his landscapes. However, he did not use it in the same way as the pointillists did, to optically mix colors. His landscapes were organized into blocks of colors and shapes.
Klimpt with Telescope
When you examine one of Klimt’s landscapes close up, a couple of things become apparent. First, he leaves a fair amount of the canvas showing through. And, he frequently outlines things, like the edge of flowers or leaves. I have seen Joseph Raffael do a similar thing in his watercolors. It seems that, especially with watercolors, if you let the edge of, say a leaf, just be the place where the color ends, your whole sense of the leaf as an object disappears, something seems quite off about it. Reinforcing the edge with a line helps it hold its space. This was most obvious in Klimt’s paintings of flowers.
Here is a short video of Joseph Raffael fine tuning one of his watercolors.
I stood immobile in the woods and listened carefully through the headphones to the two jets flying over head. For weeks we had been filming* in the most rural parts of Washington County, New York, yet every few minutes the silence was broken by another plane. If it weren’t for this 21st century intrusion, I would think I was in the 19th century or even the 15th century, as the hunters and trappers we are following with the camera walk through streams in the their boiled wool pants that sag at the knee like a figure out of Bruegel’s, “Return of the Hunters”.
Davey hit a deer and we follow the blood trail through the forest carpet of scarlet, orange and yellow leaves. Despite being a highly visual person, I see nothing: not the tiny dot of red blood on the yellow leaf, nor the small broken twigs that lead David rather quickly to his deer.
The months I have spent with Dave and Steph have completely changed my understanding of landscape. I saw the landscape as a view outside my car window, something molded and harnessed by men for their homes and farms. When I am with David, I see the fields as habitats for the deer, bear, fox, muskrats, minks, beavers, otters and wild turkeys. The roads cut through them like rivers. Dave knows how to move through this landscape. He is as comfortable in the woods as I am in my bedroom. One night, after some excessive drinking, while being followed by the cops, Dave ditched his jeep behind a barn and spent the night walking home though the woods using the light of the moon to guide his way — for all 17 miles.
Dave could read the signs of the animal scat, and broken twigs, and gnawed bark. Each day he checked his traps. It is cruel and illegal not to. Despite any love I have for animals, I admire his skill as a trapper, and the intimate connection he has to the animals. Even skinning and preparing the pelts to be sold was something he did with great care and skill.
When I watch him work, it connects me to an earlier time, when one was not quite so removed from one’s food source. Dutch paintings, in particular, come alive for me, as I watch Dave pile up the animals to be skinned. When Steph butchered a deer on the dining room table, Dave’s girlfriend’s daughter picked up the deer’s severed leg and marched it across the bare wood floor chanting, “I’m going to the castle, I’m going to the castle.” Later that night, she would be eating that deer.
The final revelation came for me when I saw Davey draw a deer on a piece of cardboard, that he and his partner would use for target practice with their compound bows. He placed a crayon at the foot of the deer and drew the deer in one line. His mark was so sure he could have been tracing his own hand. It may not have been a brilliant drawing, but it was remarkably accurate and came form a place of certain knowledge of the animal.
Davey propped the cardboard against a couple of bails of hay, and from the roof of his cabin, Steph took the first shot with his bow and put it through the heart of the deer. Davey took aim and shot the deer though the same hole — exactly, not even widening the initial hole. I felt that this must have been what went on in the caves of Lascaux: these men connecting with the animals they stalk.
* For seven years I worked as a sound person for the documentary filmmaker, Michael Marton.
American Trap 1982
60 min. WMHT Schenectady, NY and German TV
The story of two laborers in upstate New York who decide to live the life of their ancestors and become full time trappers and hunters.
(Video Center, Hamburg, Germany / Anthology Film Archives, New York)
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