Thursday, January 18, 2007

Art Space Talk: Patricia Gibson

I recently interviewed artist Patricia Gibson. Patricia is known for her photography. Her series 'Into the Fire' captures the bravery and peril of firefighters. She captures them as they are... no roles... no masks. This series started out as a project for a fire department. However, in the course of eight years her work evolved.

Gibson's images were created in the worst of circumstances. Property had been destroyed by fire, possessions were lost, and lives were shattered. The images communicate her empathy for those whose lives are affected and who have lost so much. They symbolize trying to find something beautiful, something meaningful in such devastating loss.
I enjoy the surreal quality of these images. It is as if you are observing the firefighters through the eyes of someone who was there. One can 'feel' the heat from the fire as they view the 'emotional landscapes' that these images project.
Gibson is in the process of signing with the Amsterdam Whitney Gallery in the Chelsea district of NYC. She plans to exhibit images from this series.
Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "I have been an artist (in some form) since I was a little girl. I loved music from a very early age, and studied classical piano intensively for eight years. I think I first realized photography was life altering for me was when I received the Kodak Professional Scholar award at Columbia College Chicago. I had just gone through a very difficult divorce and decided to return to school and get my degree. I honestly did not think my work was anywhere near the caliber of my classmates... but then I received the Kodak Scholarship and I thought, "My God... I can do this... for real." That was in 1993, and photography has been important in my life ever since."

Q. How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

A. "I think my art has always had a hidden political or socio-cultural agenda. I believe that any artist with an above average intelligence would be disingenuous in saying their art had no social implication. Art is (among other things) an expression of the higher reasoning faculties of our minds, and I do not think there are many artists who do not have any societal concerns that drive their art on some level. Even if they are consciously making art that has an opposistional meaning, claiming that the art has no political or societal implications.

I remember in the course of my thesis research, an example in an essay by Tasos Zembylas for the University of Music in Vienna. Zembylas wrote about art as a representative of political power. Zembylas also wrote about art that is created for the express purpose of refusing to perform such a function, and the oppositional meaning it assembles in such a move.

According to Zembylas theory, artistic value cannot be reduced to moral or artistic categories, because aesthetic conflicts that are fought out in public almost always touch on basic questions of society. Among the societal implications, art cultivates certain traditions, and yet art can also deal with difference and [thus] see cultural otherness and deviance as a legitimate societal manifestation. Seen in this light, art conflicts are an expression of profound cultural and political differences that must not be minimized or trivialized. Zembylas describes the inevitability of art conflicts.

I like this theory by Zembylas, because it not only recognizes that art is essentially a byproduct of higher reasoning, it demands accountability on the part of the artist to be cognizant of the meaning in their art... to ask essential questions of themselves and of their art... to consider possible implications of their art. All art is going to derive meaning from the audience... this we know. I believe it is essential that the artist knows what the work means on a personal level, because the art, if it is truly good, IS going to have some societal impact.

So yes, my art has gathered a great deal of meaning from societal conditioning. Some of my art flies directly in the face of social conditioning... and there are times when I am not even aware of that message until someone else sees it in my art. But then I look at the art through their eyes and see my own beliefs, my own experiences, my own baggage... lurking beneath the surface. That is perhaps the most frightening art... when I do not recognize my owm agenda in my art until someone else points it out to me."

Q. On average, how long does it take you to create a piece?

A. "hmmmm.... that varies, mostly on the process I choose. For instance, if I scan a negative and work with the file in Photoshop, print it out and present it, that does not take much time on average. But if I take the image from the film through the film development stage, and then print in the darkroom, it will take much longer. I can print fast if it is necessary, but I really enjoy the craftsmanship involved in making a perfect print. For me, that process takes anywhere from twenty minutes to three hours. Then there is the toning, washing, drying time, etc. But that is my favorite work, tray printing in the darkroom.I also love hand coloring prints that I have printed. Again, this is very time consuming. But I get a great deal of joy and a real sense of accomplishment in a perfect print that is hand colored.

So, there is not really an average time requirement for my image making. In each and every instance, the image dictates what the final presentation will be, and the time it takes to accomplish that presentation varies from image to image."

Q. Has your art ever been published?

A. "My art has only been published in several publications that were the result of contests, as well as in newspaper articles and reviews of my work, etc. I did have a serious publisher from Germany express an interest in using my images in a German magazine.... but that is still in the works, so I don't want to elaborate at this time."

Q. What was your most important exhibition? Care to share that experience?

A. "I think my most important exhibition was the first museum exhibition of my firefighter images. The museum was/is located in the Chicago suburbs, and it was a fabulous location. My firefighter exhibit has a great sense of history about the work and the museum was located in a very old church that had been renovated and converted into an art gallery. There was a fabulous energy that occured when the images were in that space. That exhibition was in 1998, a few years before the September 11th attacks, and even then, there was a solemn presence to the work that was almost ominous. It was a terrific show, and I have to thank the curator for that. She had such a great vision of how to promote the show."

Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

A. "LOL... what artist DOESN'T have studio rituals? Especially photographers.. we are such creatures of habit. Mine include printing late at night, with country western music blaring on the radio. Don't ask me why.... I have no explanation. I just know that it is my most productive time... working under those conditions."

Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A. "You know, I was really surprised by this. The peope who have purchased my art come from such diverse backgrounds. Some are very knowledgeable about art and others are art novices who just like the image and the way they feel when they study the work. Perhaps the only common denominator has been that they seem to spend a great deal of time studying the work before they buy."

Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how did it help you as an artist? What can you tell us about the art department that you attended?

A. "B.A. Columbia College Chicago 1995. M.S. Photography Brooks Institute of Photography March 2006."

Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "The thing I love most about photography and the reason I chose this medium is that I feel it is a very successful merger between art and science. I love that I need both right and left brain functions to be a truly successful image maker. I like the mind/soul connection that occures with photographic image making."

Q.Where can we see more of your art?

A. "I am redesigning my website right now. That url is A few of my images are also posted at under premier artist portfolios."

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
A. I am in the process of signing with the Amsterdam Whitney Gallery in the Chelsea district of NYC. The first body of work I will be exhibiting with them is the firefighter project. We have made all of the arrangements and my work should be available for viewing at their website by the end of February at the very latest. I am excited about this venture - there just seems to be an incredibly positive energy. From the first correspondence I received, I felt that perhaps this was an important milestone in the life of this particular body of work.

Q. What galleries have you exhibited in? Can you provide links to their sites?

A. "Many galleries in the Chicago suburbs, as well as one location in downtown Chicago. I'll find as many links as possible, but my work is not currently at those sites. Is that ok? Or were you wanting sites where my work is currently featured?"

Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?

A. "I see a real struggle to maintain the integrity of art. In a society such as ours where image making is such a commodity, to be bartered and traded like shares in the stock market, it seems the line between art and commercial production gets so blurred. In my own art, there are times when I cannot discern between images that I make because I secretly hope they will sell and images that reside deep within me. I know the difference when I sell an image and feel myself gravitating toward a successful formula, and then I consciously try to steer away from repeating my success formula image making. I want to make art that is new and fresh in that it challenges me to find something in myself that I did not know was there. If I start making cookie-cutter art, I take a break to gain fresh perspective.

I see trends toward image making that sells... and I see a real struggle in the art world to make art for arts sake. Maybe that is just the purist in me saying that."

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "I think it is good if you have some idea where you hope to see your art in the future. What kind of impact do you want to make? What is it you want to say? Who will your audience be? That way, you can make a tenative plan on how to get where you hope to be, and create your work with those goals in mind. you can also create the art for the arts sake. But if you think you will eventually want to exhibit the work, it is good to have some idea at the begining where that exhibit space would be."

Q. Has your work ever been censored? If so, how did you deal with it?

A. "At one solo exhibition, I did have a lady screaming at me during the reception. It was a very difficult experience, and to this day I have no idea how I kept my composure and did not scream back or strike out at her. It was incredibly emotional. She was very heavily involved in politics in the area and was extremely unhappy about one of my works that contained letters, court filings, etc. by "friends" of hers whom she had worked with. to make matters worse, her husband was on the board and had a part in the decision to offer me a solo exhibition. Fortunately, when the censorship topic had arisen, the curator supported my decisions."

Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?
A. "Oh this is a tough question! I think my answer would take too long to go into at this time."

Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?

A. "I create art because I would go insane if I could not express myself through my art."

Q. Does religion, faith, or the lack thereof play a part in your art?

A. "Not really. I mean, my beliefs are my beliefs... and that is very personal for me. I believe that God gave me this gift and for that I am grateful. This gift brings me great joy in my life, being able to communicate so effectively through art. But I think I would have been drawn to art whether God had given me this gift or not... and I certainly do not begrudge anyone who does not believe as I do.

Not long after I started making photographs, I suffered a stroke and nearly died. I definitely felt more peace in that experience that at any other time in my life. I believe that my images sometimes speak of that experience, as I felt a very real and comforting presence when I was wondering if it was my time to go or not.

My art is not about Christianity or any other religion, per se. I guess it does reflect my connection - or in times when I feel disconnected - with God. But again, that is very personal for me, and I never bring it up unless asked."
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Patricia Gibson. Feel free to critique or discuss her work.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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