Artist Statement

In The Educated Imagination, Northrop Frye makes a distinction between environment and home. Environments are places we inhabit out of necessity. The idea of home occurs when we have created the illusion of control over our environment; the grass grows here; weeds don’t belong in the grass—control. Once humans have what they need and are settled, they start to think about what they want. The impulse to build homes and communities is followed by the development of things like art, and culture in general, which, like the home, is an invention. Unlike the home, art has no functional utility. If we don’t have art, we might be ignorant, but ignorance is survivable. On the other hand, not having a place to live or things to eat is a much more precarious state than being without art. 

My latest work examines the relationship between the assumption that our homes and machines are distinct from nature, or that we behave as though they are. We build fences, sidewalks, roads, foundations, sewers, houses, grids, communities, theatres, surveys, apartment complexes, etcetera. The world we build lives on top of the environment that was once without communities and homes. As climate change accelerates, we are reminded that our manufactured states are temporary and ephemeral and that the earth will reclaim it all. 

My work contrasts the chaos of the organic with our machine-made order, and it reminds the viewer of this dichotomy. This dichotomy is both frightening and beautiful all at once. Once we settle down, we want beauty—control—but our will conflicts with the will of nature. We want control, but it is illusory. One need only look at places like Chernobyl to see nature metering out its order. Art is the ultimate symptom of this desire to control. Art’s utility is that it shows us to ourselves, and forces us to ask certain questions: What does it mean to be natural? Are manufactured and natural objects discrete from one another? Where does the natural world begin and end? Does the manufactured object suggest control? When the natural encroaches on the manufactured, are we losing control? Is art a form of control? These questions will be asked and answered differently by each viewer. The work, in the end, is about the viewer—you. 

— Pat McDermott, May 2024

Sonnet Paintings

Humans often categorize their experience: exciting/boring, abstract/representational, black/white, boy/girl etcetera. The Sonnet paintings dwell in the spaces between categories. The paintings possess a photographic quality, but what they depict is not certain. This lack of obviousness raises questions: How are they made? What is being represented?

In the Sonnet Paintings, I have tried to depict the abstract with clarity to explore a world that has not been seen. Because I have depicted a world that the viewer does not know, the viewer is free to really look. The observer feels the relationships, tensions, quandaries, dilemmas, support, and warmth that exist within the work and themselves.

Painting Statement

Paintings often represent physical things. Upon seeing a painting that does not appear to represent something, the bewildered viewer asks: What is it? Language comes out of a need to name and share the world and our experience of it with words that represent concepts, ideas, and things. Attaching words to objects and ideas represents a failure of sorts. Beyond the communication of day-to-day existence, there are moments one experiences that are beyond language, beyond articulation. Everyday language is functional and absolutely necessary for our day-to-day lives. Art has no value in terms of this everyday utility. It is difficult to create something that does not at some point refer to our physical world and our system of naming it. A thin line that stands vertically is a tree or a figure. A thin line that runs horizontally across a page is often seen as a horizon. The physical world is with us and in us and so is language. The failure of this naming system is reconciled with painting. When painting negates the naming system of language, painting becomes an experience for a prospective viewer and a challenge for a prospective viewer. I am interested in creating an experience in the viewer that conveys what it feels like to be alive, without using words to describe this feeling.

Letraset Drawings

Drawing is a process that reveals its own making, both to the artist as it is being made and to the viewer as it is seen. Looking at a Van Gogh drawing one sees many crosses and dashes in a bush. The viewer is made aware that Van Gogh is not just mimicking a bush with line; he is creating a language to describe the bush and developing a conceptual approach to representation. The idea is bound to the aesthetic. In my work, marks do not only obliquely suggest objects, marks are part of a language that describes and reveal a process and an approach.
drawings deny what they are made of and yet we recognize aspects of them. My drawings employ a readymade medium (Letraset) and while they transcend the medium’s original intention, they still manage to employ part of their original intention as a narrative and as something obliquely recognized. I am using one system to describe another, but part of that original system is never completely submerged.

Wax Reliefs

My wax reliefs deal with the discrepancy between what is seen and what is understood. The viewer thinks that she is looking at fabric, only to discover that the fabric is actually wax. Things are further complicated by the fact that some of the objects used in these works are real (human hair, needles, rusted steel, stone etc.). In this regard, my work also deals with the nature of perception. In the past artists were concerned with painting as a document of reality. My reliefs are documents, but in the tradition of Realist painting, they are also illusions, as they are wax and not real fabric. In Realist painting the viewer knows that they are looking at a painting, but in my work, the viewer does not automatically know what they are viewing. I am interested in suspending the viewer’s understanding as a way to make the work resonate beyond itself.