Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cretins and Classicism: A Talk with Patrick Palmer

Virginia Billeaud Anderson

Unapologetically, I compare him to Degas. One can detect that level of skill in his handling of the human figure. Modeling of form comes by way of sharp-eyed observation, lines are graceful and precise. And even when working expressionistically, his masterful draftsmanship is discernible. I recently saw Patrick Palmer’s drawings in the “Paper Cuts” series at Gallery M Squared and was moved to think their linear elegance reflects an entire lifetime of hard work, which made me want to ask a few questions.

Patrick Palmer, Couples 1, 2013, Collaged drawings on paper with acrylic washes and charcoal, 22” x 22”

Virginia Billeaud Anderson: Despite continual forays into expressionism, I see you as grounded in classicism. Your approach to line and form is paint-staking and practically Ingres-like in its refinement. Certainly your teaching specialty, advanced figure drawing, nails you as a formalist. Please comment on this.

Patrick Palmer: I really love drawing and have been drawing from the live model for almost 40 years. The trick is making a classically rendered drawing into something that is current/viable today. My students will tell you, I want them to all draw exceedingly well, but I need to see individuality within their work.

VBA: It’s been exactly sixyears since I came upon your painting Lil Man in the 2007 Big Show and wrote about it in a newspaper article. “A fat-faced cretin whose eyes seem to contain all the wisdom in the universe,” was my pathetic attempt to describe that irresistibly strange figure’s haunting quality. When you paint something like that, expressionistically rather than realistically, are you speaking symbolically? Do the figures’ sad eyes, for instance, voice higher knowledge, or their blue skin putrefaction and death?

PP: My paintings are all about intriguing a viewer enough that they want to stop and try to make sense with my symbols and interpretations. The color of the skin, levels of realism, crazy sense of proportion, tornadoes, dresses, ties, all are inserted to make this interpretational journey more bumpy, and hopefully more fun!

VBA: I’m wondering Patrick, when you paint your cretins, do you ever feel as if you are directed inward, perhaps approximating states of emotions or sensibility?

PP: I do. I think my drawings and paintings reflect myself; I see my figures fighting solitude and sadness. Perhaps too much they might appear to be always questioning themselves? At any rate I would like my viewers to try to see a little of their selves in my figures.

Patrick Palmer, Modern Man, 2010, Acrylic on Canvas, 24” x 20”

VBA: To inform readers about your current group exhibition - the “Paper Cuts” series at Gallery M Squared includes thirty artists, with the works on paper changing each month. And Sharon Kopriva helped to organize the show. It was surprising to see you combine realistic portraiture with the cretins. What were you thinking?

PP: It comes from my commitment to drawing/painting from a live model. All six drawings currently exhibited at M2 are demos I did while teaching drawing at Glassell. I cut up 2 drawings to pair them into one collaged drawing. These random Couples, are sometimes very odd, sometimes sad, but hopefully always thought provoking. I like to let the viewers sort out their relationships, good or bad.

VBA: Who inspires you, which artists do you look to?

PP: My artistic heroes are pretty predictable: Lucian Freud, early David Hockey, Jenny Saville, Egon Schiele, Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud, and Otto Dix…

VBA: This summer you put your curator hat back on. I recall in 2011 when you were in the spotlight for organizing “Working in the Abstract: Rethinking the Literal,” a group exhibition of abstract painters at Glassell. The new project has you serving as juror for Archway Gallery’s Fifth Annual Juried Exhibition, which runs through July 30. According to Archway’s press release, over 250 works were submitted, which you reduced down to the current show, which over 300 people attended. Discuss the criteria that guided you as you evaluated the art and awarded cash prizes, describe your process.

PP: Being a juror is really difficult, but this time when I was asked to choose the art in the Archway 2013 Exhibition, I wasn’t prepared to look at over 250 pieces and pick FORTY from that mass. There were so many works, that I knew I wasn’t going to be picking “good” or “bad” works, but a small body of artwork that not only appealed to my aesthetics but worked well as a single body of work. In other words, I wanted the show to not only be 40 individual pieces of great artworks, but I also wanted the grouping to read collectively as a singular creative and strong exhibit.

VBA: In August 2011 you were appointed Faculty Chair - Dean of the Glassell School of Art, where you have been teaching for over twenty years. So now you are making art, teaching, and performing boss duties, during what happens to be an interesting time with the new building on the horizon. Has the “day job” affected your commercial success?

PP: Yes and no. I paint every day, no matter what. I wake up and am anxious to go to the studio to see what I did the day before and how can I improve those works. I now have a shorter time in the studio, but it just means I have to be more focused on the time I have. I think the most interesting thing that has occurred with my job is a new sense of freedom. Before my new job happened, I was partially dependent on the sales of my paintings to support myself, but now I am not. This has made a difference in the studio as I feel like I can now paint whatever I damn want to. If a painting requires five months I can give it that, if I like a painting after 10 minutes I can stop. I do not worry about “marketability” (is that a word?) any longer. I have a new freedom that is great. But has it made me a commercial success? No.

VBA: Why do you have two studios?

PP: I have a beautiful studio in my back yard that is great; the light, the space, everything is perfect for me to just paint. It is a mess. It is also small. I create two bodies of work a year in that studio and have exhibits in that studio every Fall and Spring. Immediately after each show, I pack up all the paintings and take them to my Winter Street studio, which is set up more like a gallery. When collectors or anyone wants to see my work, I meet them at the Winter Street studio where everything is very neat and tidy. In essence, it is a very pricey storage locker.

VBA: Is there anything you want readers to know about you, your art, or your career?

PP: I think my career is based on one fact: my dad died in his forties when I was in my teens. I took from that an important lesson: “Life is short, you better do what you love, cuz before you blink it’ll be over.” I am so blessed; I love my life: I love to paint, I love to teach, and I think the Glassell School of Art is just a fantastic institution and if I can make it a little bit better, then why not try?



  1. Great interview. I took a few classes from Patrick at Glassell 8 or 9 years ago, and I was always impressed with his knowledge, skill, and classroom demeanor. Glad to hear of his new appointment.

  2. Mr. Patrick Palmer is not only one of the finest artists I know, he is also one of the finest instructors I have ever met, and have had the privilege of studying under. As the first Dean of the Glassell School of Art, he will, with out doubt influence many more individuals. Thank you Virginia Billeaud Anderson for this interview with such an amazing individual.

  3. Bravo. Wonderful article, great subject! I have learned a lot!

    I have one of Patrick's paintings and I treasure it. I know Patrick from having drinks with him and his friends at the home of a mutual friend.

    Lovely person, comes through nicely in this piece.

    p mcgowan johnson

  4. Patrick's palette is something that should not be ignored!
    As a west coast California boy, many of his characters seem sun - kissed, with a warm tangerine color. This unique singularity is an unmistakeable trademark of his work!