Patrice Drago

Artists That Have Influenced My Work

by Patrice Drago

I appreciate all of the masters of early days and today, and I'm grateful for the exposure I have had both academically and independently to such a large quantity and wide variety of incredible work.  Out of all of them, there are two artists that always come to mind that captured my attention and never lost it.

When I was painting still life, landscapes and figure in oil, the single greatest influence on my work was Caravaggio.  While his paintings were often depictions of disturbing events, (see the image), it was how the drama was emphasized that fascinated me.  "Chiaroscuro" - the sharp contrast of light and dark - was exciting, and it demonstrated how to create focus in a composition with contrasting light and dark in the right places.  I remember walking into the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, and immediately noticing - over everything else - a Caravaggio painting in the Cerasi Chapel on the left, with a tiny light on it.  It glowed and even though it was almost completely sideways to my view, it was all I could see.

  

"The Incredulity of Saint Thomas" 1601-2 by Caravaggio

For me, creating dark shadows with purple is far more exciting than black, and my art mentor at the time really pointed that out for me.  For the ten + years I painted exclusively in oil, I never once used a black pigment. I only used Dioxazine Purple for shadows, because shadows aren't really black; there is always color.  Even though I have gone back to painting abstracts, I still use dark and light contrast.  

I am and have always been in love with the Abstract Expressionist movement, making it hard to single out one artist.  But one painting had a huge impact on me, and it was Sam Francis' "Middle Blue".  When I saw it in the MOMA San Francisco, everything else I saw fell away and I felt like I was home.  The colors, the line, the white - the entire composition and the combination of colors were so familiar - it felt like a painting of my soul.  A series called "Breakthrough", which was my return to abstract after a long hiatus (since college) clearly shows Sam Francis' influence on my work.  

"Middle Blue" by Sam Francis

All of it has brought me to a place where I feel I am truly painting from what is a combination of all of my experiences.  A healthy curiosity and a never-ending desire to always learn more ensures my work will continue to evolve.  

 

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.

Coffee & Conversations with Franz K and Robert M by Patrice Drago

I knew I wanted to do a very large abstract painting about coffee, since my caffeine intake has been increasing steadily.  I started with a 48" x 48" canvas, I took a few long sweeps with a very large brush.  I felt like Franz Kline had just shown up. (below left)

I added Titanium Buff to suggest cream.  Five years ago, I bought this amazing sheet of waxy paper with wire running through it, and never had a place to use it - until now.  I love that it is heavy duty, but you can still see the brown paint underneath. (above center)

I felt like it needed a blue shape - bold but soft.  I added it, and then felt Robert Motherwell had just joined Franz and me.  The idea of the painting emerged - If I could go back in time, I would love to have coffee with these two iconic American Abstract Expressionists.  So what would we talk about? (above right)

On a very large table, I set up my supplies and pulled out dozens of magazines, books, music sheets and catalogs, and completely immersed myself in finding images and text that would imply, symbolize and directly state topics that we would cover if we had unlimited coffee and time to chat. 

Because this canvas is so large, I had to get on a ladder to take pictures as I arranged and rearranged the collage items to find the right placement. I always take pictures of paintings in progress to give me a different and framed perspective on it; for this part of the process, I took over 100 pictures, having fun with the conversation in my head. 

At this point, I knew I needed to expand the blue for a more balanced composition, but I wasn't ready to paint it, because I wanted it to lay on top of the finished collage, and I wasn't there yet.  I took painter's tape and laid it down, moving it around until it was where I wanted the final paint stroke to be.

After fixing all of the collage items, I replaced the tape with blue paint. (above left)

To finish the painting, I added white paint with large amount of pure soap, shaken to create bubbles for the froth.  I then added interference violet in streaks through the cream to signify some exciting moments of conversation. (above right)

Now I can't wait to get in my time machine and invite more great people in history to have coffee and conversation.

 

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.

Maryland Hall Artist-in-Residence Patrice Drago takes you on a tour of her studio in Studio 305A.

When you first walk in to my studio, you are facing a partial wall with a banner welcoming you to my studio.  I chose the detail of “Elation”, a recent painting because the color combination of blue, yellow and white are inviting and exciting.  When I am working large, I use that wall as an easel, which is my favorite way to paint.  It’s very freeing not to use an easel.  


                
I love to be surrounded by color, texture and things that I love.  I arrange my studio much like I do a room in my house, so that it is inviting and beautiful.  I have lamps in the corners, and peppered throughout the space because I prefer incandescent light or the new warm LED light to fluorescent.  I do not use the overhead lights.  My studio gets plenty of indirect light due to the openness and the partial wall separating my studio from Merla’s.  My paintings hang on several of the walls.


 
Since I use decorative papers in my collage paintings, I have put dowels on c-hooks and hang the papers from the dowels so I can always see what I have available to me.  The papers are so beautiful, and the combinations of wildly different patterns and colors are inspirational, and just plain lovely to view.

Just like the papers, I need to have visual access to everything I use.  I carefully selected a shelving unit that allows me to organize the paints and still see everything at a glance.

I use the long table in my studio for multiple projects and for adding layers to paintings that are in various stages of development.  I bought these terrific casters at Home Depot that fit under the table legs so I can move the table around as needed, since I have to make the most of the small space that I have.   My painting cart is also on wheels.  

These are my favorite painting tools… When I do use brushes, my favorite are the really large ones.

I use acrylic markers all the time.  They are great for line, for filling in small areas, and for detail.  And tucked into this little shelving unit are some of the most fascinating and luscious mediums that make acrylic painting so much fun – glass beads, white flake, pumice gel, molding paste, clear tar gel… and I use them all!

 

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.

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.

Artist-in-Residence Patrice Drago has a couple of exhibits around Annapolis in October.

Stop by and check them out! 

Summer Haze, Acrylic on Canvas

 

"Above the Surface"

Patrice Drago's solo show of abstract sailboat and marine-themed art will be on display at 49 West
from October 3 - 31. There will be an opening reception on Sunday, October 5 from 5 - 7 pm. 

 

49 West Coffeehouse, Winebar & Gallery
49 West St
Annapolis, MD 21401
Website

 

 Brisk Afternoon

 

"Art of the Forest"

Patrice Drago will be part of a multi-artist, multi-media exhibit of art that reflects the poetry of trees at West Annapolis Artworks from October 2 - November 8. There will be an opening reception on Thursday, October 16 from 5 - 8 p.m.

West Annapolis Artworks
4 Annapolis Street
Annapolis, MD 21401
Website

 

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