Nida Home Doherty interviews Patrick Thibert, October 26, 2018.
NHD: Today, as I was driving to your studio here in Mount Brydges, Patrick, and coming along the road up the lane to your house, I couldn’t help but notice the sculptures you have placed around your property. Some of them are quite obvious while others are slightly hidden amongst your tall cedar and spruce trees. When I first got out of my car, I had to take a minute to visually search out the various pieces you have placed around. I thought, these pieces aren’t just arbitrarily put here. There is some thought behind this. Patrick, I am curious, what pieces were selected to go outside and why were they positioned in certain places?
PT: Well there are about 27 pieces in all that I have placed around the property. Basically, there wasn’t enough room in my studio for such large works so I needed to put them outside. But you are right, with each piece I spent a few weeks deciding where the next sculpture would go. It is all about positioning. Not all the sculptures work well together. And the landscape has changed. We have planted over a hundred trees, and in thinking that the trees will grow, some of the pieces are somewhat hidden. But they are all connected, and as you
move around the landscape, pieces become revealed. There is not one time period in one section; no, they are all over the place. The early abstract pieces and the more image-based narrative pieces are placed so they work together. There was a right place for each piece within the landscape.
NHD: So, Patrick, here we are now in your studio and, well, I am thinking: “Wow!” I am hit with this brilliant colour, various shades of cadmium yellows and oranges, and brilliant magenta, the colour just fills the studio. And unlike your lawn pieces, these are low projection sculptures hanging on the walls. What is this new approach to your work in sculpture?
PT: Well, this is all part of a process, with steps in-between. So, in 2010 after doing image-based work for 26 years, I took a whole year off and really thought about, “Where am I going to go to go now with my work?” I had worked with image-based sculptures enough. I thought, ‘I can do these things until the cows come home.’ I felt like I was losing my soul. I wasn’t learning anything new. I am all about learning something new and challenging myself. So, I returned to abstraction again, not with the idea of repeating myself. Everything has to be different. I started applying chemicals to alter the coloured surfaces of the copper and tin. And I explored this way of working for five years. With this body of work, I moved away from ground sculptures to working with surface wall pieces, which resulted in the 25-piece show at the DNA Gallery in London in 2016.
After that, I thought it was time for a radical change. Not a move away from abstraction but a re-introduction of colour. I had abandoned colour in 1974 for a ‘truth to materials’ idea, which was initially an influence from the work of American sculptor, David Smith. I started working on the wrap pieces right after the DNA Gallery exhibition and the introduction of colour – strong colours – using a powder-coating process. The copper and tin pieces before that are tonal in nature; they are neither bright nor black. These newer pieces are all about colour. I can change the mood simply based on the choice of colour. So it becomes an emotional response to colour.
I am fastidious about dating everything and noting details and I am that way with my selection of colour. I take various large swatches of colour and place them side-by-side in various combinations. But at some given moment I say to myself. “I think this is what I am going to go with.” I do this all the time, I explore things on paper or in my head and then I just go with one idea, with what I think is right. It is about moving on. The aim is to engage the viewer and challenge myself. The viewer has to spend time with the work in order to notice the subtleties. And I have to spend time working out what works, placing one colour against another.
NHD: You have a few things happening these days, Patrick. You have a show coming up in Burlington, and one in St Thomas, and you just sold a large piece of work to an American buyer. Is this a rather intense time for you?
PT: Indeed, there is a lot going on at the moment. The exhibition at the Art Gallery of Burlington will be an exhibition of my current colour pieces, and that is opening on 30th of November. This a two-person exhibition, with Montreal painter, Dil Hildebrand. I will have 13 pieces included in this exhibition, which is called “Dancing on the Grave.”
NHD: “Dancing on the Grave?” That is a rather dark title.
PT: Yes, well, the exhibition at the Art Gallery of Burlington is related to a certain dialogue you hear in art these days: Painting is dead; Modernism is dead. But many of us are far from giving it up, so here we are, dancing on the grave.
But about the Burlington exhibition, in 2020 that exhibition comes back to this area again and opens at the Woodstock Art Gallery.
Then there is the St Thomas Art Gallery which will be showing 17 of my pieces from the Wrap Series. That happens on the 23rd of February, 2019.
And yes, I did recently sell a large sculpture, one from 1974, called Passage, thanks to my dealer, Olga Kopper, in Toronto. It was sold to a Canadian buyer for their home in Palm Springs, California.
After that, I don’t know what will happen.
NHD: Patrick, you have been an artist in this area for some time. You have lived in Mount Brydges for 35 years and have always been interested in art done by other artists in the London and the southwestern Ontario area. Would you call yourself a Regionalist?
PT: Yes, I arrived in this area in August of 1975. And yes, I feel very strongly about supporting other local artists and I am also very interested in seeing what they are doing.
About being a Regionalist. Never. Ever. With a capital ‘N’. No, I don’t think that my work has anything to do with the community. It is beyond the community. I am not saying there isn’t a place for people working with local content. It is just that I have never been that kind of visual artist. I have always been interested in the greater picture in a sense, in work that would be more universal. And I think this is what Abstract [Art] does. Abstract [Art] isn’t just one of those things that just happens in a small pin-pointed area anywhere in the world. It’s global. And I like being part of the global community more than being part of a smaller community.
NHD: I can see that you are doing something different from all the artists around this area. Even different from any artists I know. Who or what are your influences, if not the landscape you work in?
PT: My influences are historical. But even when I was at the University in Windsor, no one was doing what I was doing. The Fine Arts Faculty supported me in encouraging me to keep asking the questions I was asking. And when I went for my Master’s degree at Florida State University in Tallahassee in the early 1970s, it was the same thing. But my influences come from reading about other artists’ lives and their development as visual artists; drawing on a broad range of people – Constantin Brancusi, for example, and his approach of reducing things to the bare essence and making less-as-more in art. And then there is Alberto Giacometti who is very expressive, but minimal in his compositions. And then you have David Smith who picked up on the Russian Constructivism and the influence of Picasso. They are the springboard for where I go. I focus on being fresh within a certain tradition.
NHD: So, Patrick, here we now are in your work area. It’s a big space. As I look around I see that your work involves a lot of tools, a lot of space, and a lot of labour. In your work, there is an obvious attention to detail. And that you are a superb craftsman cannot be denied. You work to a very high standard. What drives you to go beyond in the final presentation in your work? It is labour-intensive and requires a great degree of concentration and focus. What pushes you to work at that level?
PT: I feel very strongly about that. I think it is really important. As far as what drives me, I don’t know. It is just one of those things. I just don’t want it to be mediocre. It was the same way when I was an art student and I insisted on that approach with my students at Fanshawe College. If people are interested in acquiring objects, why give them something that is shoddy? The moment that they put something on a wall, it starts to collapse; it is not going to last. To do anything other than the best you can do is wrong, for me. My interest is in process and how things come together. I am someone who admires others who work with their hands and produce something that is skillfully done.
NHD: You are not only about making sculptures, Patrick. You just showed me a portfolio of your drawings. These drawings are quite large and really are art pieces in themselves. You said that not many people have seen those drawings. So, what part do drawings play in your art?
PT: It is interesting. My drawings are becoming more important to me. All my activity before was really spent on making things. It was only when I was waiting for Museum London to come and collect my pieces for the exhibition there in 2014, so I could have some room in my studio, that I started to explore the idea of a finished drawing. I have thousands of drawings as ideas for my sculptures, which I produced like a stream-of-consciousness in the earlier explorations. They are stacked in envelopes, all dated and stored away. But sometimes when I come to an end of a body of work, I go back to those drawings and think, “Where am I going to go now?” At some given moment I might go back to an image, inspired by a drawing, and take that drawing one step further now in a new sculpture as time has passed since laying down those ideas. I am mentally further down the road and better prepared to develop those earlier ideas. It takes so long to work on the completion of a sculpture and in the interim, your mind keeps turning over ideas while you are squarely rooted in finishing the work at hand. As a result, I record all my thoughts only to perhaps use a few of them.
But, then there are the drawings that come after the sculptures – as opposed to the drawings that come before the sculptures – and they are specifically ends unto themselves. They are really another way for me of dealing with another material. I am so enamoured with materials; in this case, charcoal versus pastel. They are both powders, both react differently, both have their own intensity, and both have their own pluses and minuses.
NHD: Finally, Patrick, where do you see yourself going with your art? Do you see yourself sustaining the use of colour? And will you remain with abstraction?
PT: Well, I won’t do that to myself, insisting that I stay with one thing or another. I have always been open to where I might be going next. It really has to be a natural process for me. But I do think I will keep with colour for a while longer. It is still about seeing what happens visually with colour in sculptures and how shapes affect one another, and I will continue with the powder-coating process.
But about continuing with abstraction . . . Yes, this is how I am going to walk off the planet. I think I will stay with abstraction and continue to explore it in my own way. Really, it is about challenging myself and learning new things.
For more about this artist visit Patrick Thibert Studio. Click here.