Patton Hunter is a wonderful artist who works in realism and abstraction. Her work www.pattonhunter.com has a very warm and endearing quality. Believe it or not, she didn’t pick up a paintbrush until later in life. Read on and find out when, why and how …
“I do want people to interpret my work through their eyes ... I don't want to tell such a specific story that the viewer has no room left to wonder or interpret.”
MICHAEL: Hello Patton, I gather from your work that you love to paint. I really see a lot of pleasure for painting in your work. Where does this pleasure originate?
PATTON: Pleasure is a good word to describe what I feel when drawing and painting. Initially, the pleasure comes from knowing I can do it. I've never been able to express myself well when speaking, but with the brush, I have my own language. Emotions and ideas just seem to go from my brain, down my arm, through the brush and onto the canvas. It's a tactile pleasure of feeling paint meet the surface and the visual excitement of colors, lines and shapes.
I paint two ways. There's "discovery" art where I freely put colors and shapes onto the surface with no plan in mind, but always thinking of balance, harmony and good composition. As I go, I turn the painting in all four directions and study it. At some point, it "speaks" and gives me some direction. My job is to take it there. It's sometimes a short trip, sometimes weeks long, but always fun.
Then there are more realistic paintings of models, photographs or plein air. I need to inject a mood or a mystery to make them interesting for me to do and for the viewer to interpret. I want my painting to express rather than replicate a source. Photorealism in art is not fun for me. I don't see the point of it. Cameras do that.
MICHAEL: You just said something interesting. "... for the viewer to interpret..." Does this mean that despite your view, you want people to have their own views of your work? Why?
PATTON: Yes, I do want people to interpret my work through their eyes. Although we share many experiences in common, we respond to them as individuals, calling up our own personal memories. With abstract painting, it's inevitable that viewers give their own meaning to a work. If I paint an abstract in confetti colors and shapes, I want the viewer to recognize the festive intent, but the memories will be different. What looks like a birthday celebration to some will remind another of the 4th of July. This is one of the most delightful aspects of abstracts. They trigger questions, memories, opinions and emotions. I think people have an instinct for wanting to put the pieces together and abstracts challenge the imagination.
Even in representational work, I strive for more than a just test of my skills. I'm neither profound nor esoteric, so I assume that viewers will come close to what I'm trying to say with my art. I don't want to tell such a specific story that the viewer has no room left to wonder or interpret.
MICHAEL: Wow, I love that. How would you say you're different as an artist compared to when you were starting out? So much emphasis today remains on young artists.
PATTON: I didn't even start painting until I was 50 years old, so I missed out on the opportunity to be an emerging YOUNG artist. My inexperience kept me young and ignorant though and there have been huge changes in the 20 years I've painted. I'm still growing and hope that never ends, but I'm a long way from day one in skills and, more importantly, a mature attitude.
When I started, I didn't know what a color wheel was, much less what "complimentary color" meant. My first sale was a realistic watercolor (22 x 30, $150 framed) done from a magazine photograph. I was thrilled and had no idea that what I had done was called PLAGIARISM. My "teacher" never corrected me, so I continued with my endless source of pretty photographs, even some of other artists' work, quite proud of results, for about a year.
After a year, I was invited to teach an adult class at a local art center and discovered that I had to work and read and study very hard to stay ahead of students who had been painting far longer than I. I also learned a lot about composition, color theory, techniques and PLAGIARISM. I began incorporating the facts into my lessons, starting with a confession of my own beginner's ignorance.
I taught for ten years, relying on books, videos, workshops and the Internet for inspiration and information. My skills and techniques grew dramatically. I was a maniac on a mission, but not sure what the mission was until a respected workshop instructor took me aside and said "you have talent, but you'll never be the artist you want to be until you walk away from your adoring students and take some risks."
It was a new beginning for me. I began abstract work in acrylics, because that was the farthest thing from my previous representational watercolors. Ten years later now, I find myself moving toward a combination of representational expressionism and raw abstraction, creating an interesting tension that gets me thinking and people talking. Looking at my work, you can see that I'm still experimenting with different styles, media and subject matter. Because I started late and have so far to go, I don't think I'll arrive at a signature style. I'm not sure I even want to. But there is something in my diverse efforts that connects the body of work. Somebody told me that was true so I'm going with it.
As for more attention given to young artists in the current market ... I don't understand that. I'm not even aware of it because I've had strong support. I think a work should stand on its own merits. How is the age of the artist relevant? My buyers are more interested in my painting than they are in me. But if anybody out there does want to collect my work over a period of time, they better start now. I turned 71 last week.
MICHAEL: Happy Birthday! I always tell people that I collect art, but I really collect artists. I have the works of a few artists who haven't cared to stay in touch, which I find sad. The art is fine, but somehow rings hollow. I think you have to be a little older to realize the value of people and relationships, No?
PATTON: Thanks for the birthday wish and "yes" to the importance of relationships. Friends and relationships are everything in my life, especially as I grow older, but I don't think my collectors often choose my work out of friendship. Most of my friends couldn't afford to do that. Friendships do evolve in many cases, but many of my collectors, even though we like each other and appreciate our mutual interest in my art, never become friends in the true sense of the word. If that were the case, I'd have far too many friendships to nurture.
When you say that you collect artists, if you're saying that an artist's work resonates and you feel confident that you're going to have similar reactions to future paintings, I understand and agree. But initially it's still the work that has touched you and made you want to know more and see more from that artist.
MICHAEL: I actually mean that I like having friendships with artists in addition to collecting their work.
PATTON: It does puzzle me that a buyer can see my work at a gallery, fall in love with it, rave about it, buy it and, when the gallery owner asks if they'd like information about the artist, say "No, that's okay." That has happened a couple of times and, when it has, I know that all the love and care and passion that went into that particular work has come down to the palette matching their sofa. The painting has not gone to a good home.
MICHAEL: Yes indeed. When you're actually involved in the painting process, what's going through your mind? Is the process more intellectual, emotional or spiritual? Do you use outside stimulation like music or television?
PATTON: That's a tough question for me. I'm absent-minded and mentally scattered by nature. The upside of this is that I have a lot of exciting images and thoughts swirling around inside my head. The downside is that I have to work hard to channel them into something meaningful. This may be the reason I've tried so many different styles and mediums. I've heard good artists say that you must always start with a good plan. I hope that's not true because I seldom have a plan. In representational art, I look at something or a model for a while before I pick up my brush. I think I'm searching for a mental cue that will tell me what the mood of the painting will be, what the story is behind that face or how I can best interpret what I'm seeing.
I did life drawing every Saturday morning for seven years and the experience was invaluable. I can now draw accurately (with occasional revisions) and am able to focus more on the mood of the painting.
Abstracts take longer because I'm not drawing and painting something tangible that I recognize. I don't think most people realize how difficult it is to paint a good abstract. I don't understand a lot of them myself, but I do understand the emotion they evoke. Mine begin with a decision on a particular type of composition, i.e. strata, pyramid, circular, etc., because I need a sense of purpose to get started. It may not finish as imagined, but it does give me a vague guide for balancing shapes, lines and colors as I paint and the emotion I feel at the time or that the painting is evoking what carries me along.
As for music, when I paint with others, there is always music playing because most artists I know need it, but when alone in my studio, I soak up the silence. Silence is almost a physical pleasure for me after so much technical noise from phones, computers and television.
MICHAEL: What I'm hearing you say is that you don't start with a plan, but you do have a process. Your plan is improvisation. Do you ever feel lonely being an artist and creative person?
PATTON: Even though I work often in isolation in my studio, I also take a class once a week to feel the synergy and support of others artists I respect. No matter how long I paint, or how long I teach, I will always need an outside venue at least once a week. I also have private students going and coming on a very flexible calendar. They keep me engaged on an ongoing basis. I think if I worked alone all the time, I would lose my passion. I know many talented artists who do work alone and usually they have chosen a style or subject matter and are striving to perfect their art within those boundaries. I'm still all over the place with my experimentation, techniques and education so I spend almost as much time reading and researching as I do painting, charging off in new directions whenever I'm inspired.
If I had begun painting earlier in my life, perhaps I would have settled into one thing or another, but with only twenty years at the easel, I'm not sure I'll ever reach that point. There is just so much to learn and try, especially with the Internet bringing everything to us in a couple of clicks. It's very exciting.
MICHAEL: How do you feel about coming to painting later in life?
PATTON: I am regretful, but it is what it is. I don't look back. The future is promising. I'm loving it. The fact that I found my passion late is so much better than never.
MICHAEL: To me, your work is academic with this lovely fluidity achieved in part by warm lighting and color blocking. Those seem to be elements that flow through your work. What do you think?
PATTON: I agree and because I have no formal training, I suppose my paintings evolve more from instinct rather than education. But I'm happy that my style might suggest an academic background. Others have seen the common elements in my work, too, but have not been able to define it. Your term "color blocking" will be a part of my conversation with collectors from now on.
A warm lighting is just how I see things. I've intentionally tried to paint "cool" paintings, but am never happy with the results. Working with acrylics demanded a change of style from watercolors because it dries quickly without mingling and blending with other shapes. I have learned to quickly rub out or layer strokes when the lines are too hard, but the "color blocking" probably results from my surrender to the medium after failed efforts to bend it to my will. Now I've learned to love the look and make it work for me.
I currently am working on a new series with water soluble oils to see if I can create the illusion of surface depth that I haven't been able to achieve with acrylics. It's frustrating, messy and not yet satisfying, but there is depth. When I complete this series, which may be shorter than I first planned, I will try open acrylics to see if I can come closer to the look of oil without the frustration of working in it. And then, who knows?
MICHAEL: Patton, the personality that you've displayed in our chat is also present in your work. Very refreshing. Finally, when people look at your work, what do you want them to know? Rather than leaving it up to art historians to interpret, what is your direct message to viewers about you and your work?
PATTON: I want them to know that I'm sharing my experiences and emotions with them, that I know we've all had happy times and sad times and I'm asking them to imagine themselves in the conversation and give another layer of meaning to the painting.
MICHAEL: Thanks Patton. This has been a lovely chat. Best wishes.
PATTON: Thank YOU, Michael. It's truly been a pleasure. And your interview forced me to look closer at what I'm doing and give a definition to it. I learned a lot about my own work in process. I especially thank you for that.
Check out Patton Hunter at www.pattonhunter.com.