In the Studio with AIR Patrice Drago: Interview

Interview conducted by Gallery Director, Sigrid Trumpy.

What’s your earliest memory of art?

Art was always a part of my academic life starting in the second grade with life-like paper mache animals and musical instruments. I still remember vividly the experience of creating them.  In our free time my sister and I would create paper mosaic pictures and paintings with glitter and collage.  By age nine, I won an award for an abstract painting.  

When I was 14, my friend’s mom tacked a sheet to her kitchen wall. With a bucket of black paint, and a bucket of white, she handed me house-painting brushes and said “Paint!”  I never felt freer in my life.  Though I didn’t know the Abstract Expressionists at the time, you might look at those huge paintings – rough as they were - and say that Franz Kline was whispering in one ear, and Robert Motherwell in the other. I continued with art in high school, college, and beyond, but didn’t think of it as a career until many years later.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I work on numerous projects simultaneously.  My inspirations come in such floods that if I don’t start something when I am feeling it, it will dissipate into the ethers.  Out of the 20 to 30 ideas that hit me on any given day, those that get my full focus and take hold are ones that promise to be visually exciting or meaningful in a positive way.  

Right now I am focused on creating large abstract works free from the confines of a specific theme.  My current exhibit, “Balanced Distractions” is a collection of paintings that reflect a variety of moods, from dynamic movement to quiet reflection to multi-layered collage paintings with multiple interpretations. 

Another direction I am pursuing is a series called “Coffee and Conversations with…”, which started with “Coffee and Conversations with Franz K. and Robert M.”  This 48” x 48” painting is an abstract-collage suggesting coffee through the use of color and texture, and I’ve collaged in text and pictures the topics I would want to discuss if I were lucky enough to conversation over coffee with these two iconic American Abstract Expressionists.  I’m now having fun making a list of the people – past and present – with whom I’d love to have a conversation over coffee.

To balance out the large paintings, I work on small pieces such as abstract landscapes or animals.  I’ve retired my songbird series, and I will start a new animal series of African animals, starting with cheetahs.  

I am also working on the illustrations for my book “Shannon, the Magic Carpet Dog,” based on my own precious Chow/American Eskimo.

When you work, do you love the process or the result?

I don’t think I could paint if I didn’t enjoy the process.  I’m not saying I haven’t had moments of complete and utter frustration, and wanting to give up on a piece.  More than once I’ve had to gesso over or even discard a canvas during the development of a commissioned painting because the direction went south.  It goes awry because I get focused on the result.  Once I settle in and let the painting unfold organically, it becomes a rewarding experience, and I am ultimately happy with the result.  

How do you know when a work is finished?

A few paintings flow from start to finish with a definite conclusion.  With most works however, the only way I can be sure it is finished is to step away from it completely for at least three days.  Then when I see it again it’s like seeing it for the first time, and if something still needs resolution it pops out immediately, like there is a bright spotlight and an arrow pointing to it saying, “Fix me!”  Then I fix it – and that’s when I know I’m done.

Which artists do you most admire?  Why are they your role models?

The list of artists whose work inspires me is pages long.  I love the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio, the energy of Van Gogh, and the playfulness and fabulous colors of Wayne Thiebaud.  I am the most passionate about the American Abstract Expressionists, both in terms of their work and their courage to pave a path that helped the world see art differently.  Love it or hate it, the dialogue continues to this day.  

I am specifically drawn to the art of Sam Francis and Robert Motherwell– I think because I feel a kinship to the positive energy that underlies their work.   

Among artists I know, I have to single out my mentor, Tesia Blackburn.  A San Francisco abstract artist and Golden Paint Working Artist, she is an incredible role model.  Her work is pure and uplifting.  It comes from the soul, and she has true integrity in her art and in her generous spirit of teaching.

Is a creative dialogue important to you and if so, how do you find it and with whom?

Being an artist is a solitary endeavor. I am also a writer, which is another introverted activity.  As an almost extreme extrovert, it is critical for me to not only have the social interaction, but to have meaningful and informative discussions about all things art:  history, art events, trends, new artists, and what is going on in both the local and global art communities. 

To feed my soul and stay continuously refreshed, I maintain art connections in San Francisco, New York, Maine, and metro Washington, DC.  Social media, Art News Magazine and the NY Times Art Section online help me stay current.  I am involved as a volunteer with MFA that has a membership of more 425, and I stay in close touch with the art galleries in town.  I love curating exhibits, because pulling together other artists’ works in a collection is yet another way to view the art. The most exciting way for me to stay connected is meeting artists, experiencing their studios, and getting immersed in exhibits at galleries and museums.  There’s nothing like starting your day with one way of looking at the world, then experiencing someone else’s art and viewing the world through a new lens.  Fabulous.

What is your creative ambition?

My ambition stems from my reason for painting:  I paint to experience and create joy.  Much like my writing, the real goal is that I articulate the message clearly; that a painting truly reflects what I am feeling when I create it.  So what is my ambition?  My goal is to continue to explore new methods and techniques of creating art in the soulful endeavor of bringing pleasure to others.  My best days are when someone sees my work and says, “This is such joyful work!”

I envision some day having my own exhibition space with inspiring views and positive environment for art workshops.  It will probably not be traditional; the vision is still forming.  Bottom line?  To always be involved in the making of, and the writing about art, however it evolves.

What are the obstacles to this ambition?

I’ve learned through experience that the only real obstacle is a resistance to change.  All the other things we encounter are only challenges to be dealt with.  Where there is a will, there is a way.  I may have to take a detour, but I never give up on the destination.  And when I reach it, I’ll set another.

 

For more information about Patrice, visit her Artist-in-Residence profile

This is part of an ongoing monthly series featuring a Maryland Hall Artist-in-Residence (AIR). Check Maryland Hall's website every week for a new post. Each month we will feature a different AIR. Click here to visit the Maryland Hall AIR page.