From the Dirt to the Skies is a group exhibition featuring new works in painting, drawing, and printmaking from four of Main Street Arts’ gallery artists — Pat Bacon, Chad Grohman, Meredith Mallwitz-Meyer, and Lanna Pejovic. The artwork is inspired by fog-laden lakes, wooded paths, gardens, and objects plucked from nature.
In the final interview of the series, executive director and curator Bradley Butler talks with Pat Bacon. If you haven’t had a chance to read the other interviews with artists Meredith, Chad, and Lanna, be sure to check them out and see the way their inspirations, motivations, and color palettes overlap with one another.
From The Dirt to The Skies:
Q: Can you talk about the work that is included in the show and what inspired it?
A: I like reflections, looking in through water, what’s on the surface of water, what’s below it. The same with mud. I ended up printing a lot of diptychs for this show and while the imagery isn’t obvious, I feel like it’s more readable as a diptych. Putting two images together makes the print a little more solid. As singular images I thought they were a little too nebulous, a little too “floaty”. Showing them as diptychs gives the imagery a little more grounding and makes them
more readable. I’d like the work to transcend what it obviously is but I don’t want to make it so mysterious or so unrecognizable. It has to have some recognition, there has to be some point of reference. The singular pieces are from walks in the woods and my response to what I saw.
Q: Where did the diptych idea come from?
A: I felt the singular images were incomplete. If I’m looking at 50 images, two will seem to relate to me and inform each other and I’m hoping it does for someone else also. Why did I pick “those two” that seem to inform each other? You always have design considerations because you want it to look like two singular images but read as one statement but it’s an intuitive process. “The Garden” is a triptych, it just needed that balance. It had more of a cathedral effect with the corn on either side of the greenhouse.
Q: How does the work in this show differ from previous work? They definitely seem like related themes and images from past work but they are also different and new.
A: I have a new press and it’s bigger, I think that has something to do with it. To have more plate surface to work with building textures helps me. I was very happy with the burn piles and trees that I was working with last year and I felt that they worked well as singular,
standalone images or statements. These just work better as diptychs.
Q: What is on your mind while you’re working?
A: I collect all of my images, mostly on my iPhone and sometimes on my camera. As I’m looking through them, I sort out what I’m intrigued with most and then I’m looking at 100 images and they just seem to really speak to me. From there, it’s a process of deciding which ones I want to pull together. Sometimes I know that there are things going on in the world or in my life that is affecting those choices on a certain level, a more intuitive level. If people relate to my work, they relate to it on their own level with what’s going on in their own life. I don’t want to tell them exactly how to read it.
Q: Can you talk about a specific piece that is included in the show?
A: The one piece that evolved over the course of four years, is “Bridge”. I had done it originally using contact prints in the darkroom and I liked it that way. I also used this image in a triptych, and in a collage but I was never satisfied with the outcome. Then,
when I got my larger press I was able to do it as a double plate and I thought to myself, “Yes, this is how I always wanted to do it”. Through the manipulation of the plate I was able to draw out certain textures and tones that I wanted to come forward.
For me, this piece has to do with transitions. Between one thought and another, between parts of your life, aging. I’m looking down from the bridge and you can see my reflection in the water and the textures you see are animal prints in the mud. The bridge is on the western edge of Lake Ontario, almost to Lake Erie. I stopped
at a small pull off just to look at the lake and I noticed there was a bridge on the road and I walked down the bridge and I realize there was this amazing pattern of tracks in the mud and I had to photograph it. The image just seemed so important to me.
Q: You work largely in black and white but there is always a tone, or a cast of warm or cool to your blacks. Can you talk about your color mixing?
A: “Garden” has yellow ochre and heavy Portland black. With “Reflection”, I used Portland black and Cerulean blue. What’s nice about photogravure is that you establish your palette and then you open a can of black, open the ocre, the blue — depending if you’re going to go warm or cool—black just has such a nice voice between warm and cool as you respond to the image. A lot of these images I have done very warm or done very cool until I really hit on the black that I like. That’s why a lot of them are monoprints instead of editions. I respond to the plate differently every time I ink it, like a painter. And I want the ink to be heavy enough that you can smell it!
Ink is very sensual and tactile, just like paint is. With the heavy texture you can feel that, I want it lo look heavy and substantial.
Q: How does your environment impact your work?
A: I live in the country and have for the past 40 years or so. I find that even when I’m in an urban environment, I’m taking pictures of the weeds in the sidewalk or the corner of a building that is deteriorating. I can’t seem to capture the essence of what is urban,
that’s why I like to look at urban photographs and paintings, those artists are capturing the vision of where they live, and that’s different from where I live.
I travel the state quite a bit and I get to stop in a lot of very rural places and take photographs, like the overgrown greenhouse in “Garden”, I just found it in a field and shot it. It was a nice unexpected thing to come across. I was so intrigued with this greenhouse and took about 20 shots and then I moved on and do something else.
A month later I pulled those images out and start looking at them, pinning them up on the wall in the studio and then finding other images to go with it. The greenhouse on its own seemed so incomplete to me. I printed it singular but it just didn’t work for
me. The corn images on either side of the greenhouse inform it on a design level with the cathedral effect of the tunnel of corn leaves and the architecture of the building. It also brings forward the idea of the greenhouse effect, global warming, and the earth
coming back and overcoming manmade structures.
When I find images that work together it’s not a concrete thing right away, I don’t set out to make a statement about climate change. The substance or meaning comes through over time and you just know it when you see it. That process is pretty intuitive and sometimes I look at a print a year after I made it and say “wow, that says it for me”. Your work sometimes is ahead of your life and you can’t read it yourself for another 6 months or a year.
Q: Talk about your studio
A: My new press is in the barn studio next to my house. It was a cold spring, so in April I could print out there using a hot plate to warm the ink. Hopefully I’ll be able to use it up through November and then I’ll move into the house and use my smaller press.
From The Dirt to The Skies runs through Friday, October 4, 2019.