Thursday, March 20, 2008

Art Space Talk: Patricia Volk

Patricia Volk is a sculptor who admits that the human head has become an obsession in her work. She states, "In my treatment of the heads, I want to get away from realism, the over-wrought and the unnecessary (almost baroque) detail I see in a lot of work depicting the human figure or face – and concentrate on simplicity in form and inner emotion." Her heads, like faces in a crowd, are indistinguishable amongst all the others-- each with their own private tensions and sadness.

Brian Sherwin: Patricia, can you tell us about your educational background-- where you studied and who you studied under?

Patricia Volk: I went back to study art as a mature student. I studied Foundation and 3-D design at Middlesex Polytechnic. It was always my dream to go to art college but with my background it seemed impossible at the time. I had no set idea what I wanted to specialize in, but as soon as we were introduced to the workshops I felt immediately this was where I belonged.
I went on to continue my course at Bath Spa University, but to be honest I didn’t find my time in college particularly inspiring. Middlesex was much more Fine Art oriented and that was OK, but in Bath I felt like a square peg in a round hole, and didn’t particularly get mentored by any of the tutors.

BS: Does environment play a part in your work? For example, do your experiences of living in Northern Ireland enter into your work?

PV: Yes, inevitably. One’s cultural background has an immense influence on the work you produce. Although brought up as a Protestant, I was always struck by the more over-the-top imagery of Catholic churches contrasting to Protestant plainness. I’m sure this formed the springboard for my interest in creating what I call modern icons and pieces that reflect back on religious imagery in the history of art in the past.

BS: Patricia, you are interested in using the shape of the human head in order to convey your message to viewers of your work. You focus on the simplistic form of the head and inner emotion. Can you go into further detail about this interest?

PV: My interest is in the human form, whether a torso or a head, that’s true. I find you can convey all the emotion you need to in one of these or the other (but, to me, putting them together can create problems: a bit like overkill). When I’m doing a head I let the material dictate to a large extent and I’m fascinated by the fact that a difference of just a millimeter can make a huge change in the emotional impact or the elegance or strength of a piece.

BS: You have stated that the heads are containers of secrets and of the essence of the spirit-- not of intellect. Can you further discuss the thoughts and philosophy behind your work?

PV: It doesn’t mean that I don’t myself have an "intellectual" train of thought behind what I do, but often this is only apparent to me much later, in the realization of what has been influencing me. For instance going back to the Celtic so-called "cult of the head" in history and mythology – it is very complex and used in various cultures.
I read somewhere that in a certain African tribe they make a little head and when a child is born they break it to release the spirit. By concentrating on the simplicity of the head, I like to allow the viewer to extrapolate the inner life from the form I’ve created in clay and that’s essentially an emotional inner life rather than a logical or factual one.

BS: Would you say that the act of sculpting is an emotional release for you? Is there a spiritual side to the act of creating itself?

PV: Yes, definitely. It is the ultimate thing, I suppose: when you get engrossed in the process of making, when there seems there is nothing else around you but the work itself. I think there is a certain kind of healing, or repairing theme, possibly. In a way I am creating my allies. There is definitely something very cathartic about it, even though it is tremendously demanding as I am an absolute perfectionist: the work demands that I do it again and again as I can only see the flaws that other people would never notice. A quest for perfection. But flaws and imperfections of course make something human and one never wants to lose that. In fact it is the very thing one wants to capture, the way an actor sometimes catches it in a look, a movement, and it is all encapsulated there and it looks so easy.

BS: Can you tell us about your process? Do you keep journals of ideas?

PV: Being very dyslexic (which is what held back my ambitions in school), I would find writing a journal not only difficult but actually quite a nightmarish undertaking. Also, I do not work from drawings (though I think drawing, like life drawing, is valuable to keep the eye "sharp"). I prefer to allow the material to take me where it will. Clay is terribly unpredictable even if you have a notion in mind of what you want to do. It can depend on the temperature, or the weather, any number of things how something turns out.
Basically I tend to work two ways, either completely hyperactive and productive, or in exhausted pause-mode, when I get organized and absorb new ideas without really knowing how they will come out, if they come out at all!

BS: Patricia, tell us some more about your influences... are you influenced by any specific artists or art movements?

PV: My influences are very eclectic. To begin with I was very influenced by Renaissance painters like Fra Angelico (my first series was of Virgins and Heroes). In college I was fascinated by the anatomy drawings of Vesalius and the leather sculptures of Mandy Havers. Then Modigliani and Giacometti, and Ana Maria Pacheco, who combines stunning workmanship with amazing visceral power in her imagery.
Recently I have been looking at medical imagery – decorating my heads with the shapes of pills and capsules – and I have even been getting inspiration from textiles: how certain colours sit against each other. I have even taken to tearing swatches from glossy magazines if a combination strikes me as a good one. I’m not proud, I’ll take ideas from anywhere. It is not a very academic stance. It is a very ordinary stance in fact.

BS: Patricia, as a sculptor... what are some of the concerns you have about the direction of the art world today? Do you think that art-- in general --is heading in the right direction? Or would you say that people need to be more aware of their artistic roots, so to speak?

PV: I don’t like the present trend in the media which is extremely anti-intellectual and often to do with a resentment based on money. I mean the way Damien Hirst for instance is pilloried by the tabloids, and this common notion that art is "easy". (This is done by other artists, too, which I think is extremely negative and unhelpful!) Art and culture should be valued as something vitally important. It’s a failure of education and government that it isn’t. We need to have imaginative thinkers of all kinds working out there without fear of failure so that new ideas from all fields filter down and benefit us all, and enrich all our lives.

BS: What are you working on at this time?

PV: I am concentrating on a new series of pieces which aim to simplify the forms even more, so that they lose the "head" idea entirely and just become abstract. It will be interesting for me to find out to what extent they are still "me"! I continue to be absorbed by the idea of surface decoration, the obsessive nature of doing that which suits my personality, and the idea of the surface being a kind of map of the journey of life – a kind of visual "life story" of the piece. I like the marks being based on chemical symbols or atoms because we are all composed of chemicals, when all is said and done.

BS: Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

PV: I am exhibiting again at "Sculpture in Paradise" which is set in the cloisters of Chichester Cathedral. I really like the idea of that setting and I particularly like the idea of my quite contemporary pieces in a historical place with those associations. I think they are quite contemplative and complement well the spirituality of the location, even though they are not meant to be specifically Christian in any way.

I am also giving a talk as part of 18@108 at the Royal British Society of Sculptors in May, which also has an exhibition alongside it. And I am showing at Hillier Gardens, Hampshire, and at The Gallery at Bevere in Worcester. Amongst other places.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or sculpting in general?

PV: As a general statement? I suppose that running through my approach, iconic figures and busts are common throughout art history so I feel I’m part of a noble tradition. Traditionally they convey strength and political or religious power, but I want to add to my "modern" icons the more contemporary human frailties present in us all. I hope I can touch the viewer if I can convey that none of us is perfect: even those we set on plinths. Or, you could say, especially those.

You can learn more about Patricia Volk and her work by visiting her website-- . You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed seeing your artwork and especially liked the blue head with the longer hair. I'm sorry the piece didn't have a name in the myartspace blog. Sometimes it is very refreshing to view art with simplicity and appreciate the clean lines and smooth forms.