Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Patrick Renner and His Precursors

by Robert Boyd

Patrick Renner, Wooddauber, 2012,  found wood, cedar

There's been a weird thing happening the past couple of months. Artists here in the Houston area have been having multiple shows, some simultaneously. Right now, you can see Kelly Moran at d.m. allison and Wagner Sousa. Chris Cascio finished up a show at Cardoza Fine Arts at the same time he opened one at Front Gallery. And Patrick Renner's installation at El Rincón Social, which I wrote about here, has been followed almost instantly by a show at Avis Frank in Galveston.

So it feels a little weird writing about his new show so soon after the old one, like I'm giving him unfair advantage over other deserving artists. So I will limit my remarks by mentioning three other artists whose work came to mind as I looked at Renner's work in this show. This approach skirts with taking away something from Renner's own work, but realize that when I write about artists who seem, in some way, to presage what another artist is doing, I am thinking in terms of Borges' great essay, "Kafka and His Precursors." In it, Borges writes:
If I am not mistaken, the heterogeneous pieces I have enumerated resemble Kafka; if I am not mistaken, not all of them resemble each other. This second fact is the more significant. In each of these texts we find Kafka's idiosyncrasy to a greater or lesser degree, but if Kafka had never written a line, we would not perceive this quality; in other words, it would not exist. The poem, 'Fears and Scruples' by Browning foretells Kafka's work, but our reading of Kafka perceptibly sharpens and deflects our reading of the poem. Browning did not read it as we do now. In the critics' vocabulary, the word 'precursor' is indispensable, but it should be cleansed of all connotation of polemics or rivalry. The fact is the every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.

 Patrick Renner, Wooddauber, 2012,  found wood, cedar

It's hard to look at Wooddauber without thinking of the great Martin Puryear. And Renner acknowledges Puryear as one of his maîtres.The organic, biomorphic shape and the skilled woodworking are obvious connections. But the use of rough recycled wood laminate is a distinguishing feature.

Patrick Renner, Billboards, 2012, wood, steel, found wood, 8" x 16" x 4" each

This use of stripped and ripped material made me think of Mimmo Rotella, the Italian artist who specialized in "decollage"--ripping posters and advertising graphics off a backing to create images of decay. Renner's Billboards specifically evoked Rotella for me. Rotella was a major figure back in the 60s but seems largely forgotten today. In any case, Renner had never heard of him when I mentioned Rotella to him.

But while Rotella's ripped posters were a critique of capitalism, Renner treats his stripped wood laminate lovingly. In this regard, he is a bit like Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira, who creates astonishing sculptural forms out of recycled wood laminate. In 2009, he did a beautiful installation at the Rice Gallery called Tapumes. One can see a connection to Renner in both the material used and the biomorphic forms.

Patrick Renner, Core Samples, 2012, found wood, tinted concrete, 2 editions of 7

The final precursor I wish to mention is Patrick Renner himself. OK, that's a bit of a cheat, but these Core Samples have a clear connection to his installation chamber #4 (bounded operator). They both deal with geological time. I also like the Core Samples because they relate to Houston and its primary industry, oil and gas production. Core samples are a key tool for oilfield geologists. Go to any E&P in town, and you'll find objects that look must like these (though less colorful!) on the desks of geologists.

As Borges observed about Kafka's precursors, we can observe that Martin Puryear, Mimmo Rotella and Henrique Oliveira have no particular connection to one another--except to the extent that they all can be related to the work of Patrick Renner.



  1. Gee oh gee oh gee oh gee. You sure do like to name drop. I felt like I was reading a goddamned thesaurus. Less names, more opinions muchacho. Also, that kafka book sounds plumb silly. How bout you relate the artwork to your reactions to it rather than trying to make us all join a supid book club?

  2. I very much enjoyed the article and thought the comparison to Kafka was enteresting and a great compliment too Mr. Renner. And I enjoyed the mentions of other artists, whom I'd never heard of, because it gave me other artists to seek out. Thanks.

  3. Bill, how about you trying to write a complete sentence without using swear words, using correct punctuation, correct sentence structure, and think positive dude...

  4. renner is my teacher at sharpstown international school