Pat McDermott received his BFA in 1989 from York University, Toronto. He currently lives and works in Kingston, ON.

 

McDermott’s creations “are part of a language that describe and reveal a process… an approach that suspends the viewer’s understanding as a way to make the work resonate beyond itself.” *

 

McDermott's latest paintings, viewed at the Toronto International Art Fair, seemed to me to be inspired by Philip Guston, whose book I have recently finished reading (Philip Guston Collected Writings, Lectures and Conversations edited by Clark Coolidge Introduction by Dore Ashton). McDermott’s tube like, organic machines, pulsing and percolating unfold a unique narrative, resonating with an evocative opacity… an in between.

 

Laura Horne-Gaul: It would be intriguing to talk more about your new paintings, they

are so different than your previous work. What inspired them?

 

Pat McDermott: I've always been interested in painting. Early on I liked ab ex painting, but with a few exceptions (Kline, Motherwell, Reinhardt etc) I've really grown to hate its lack of restraint and its macho indulgence. I don't think grandiose statements are very interesting. The in between moments comprise our lives, and they reveal their subtlety slowly. These current paintings came out of earlier paintings, in the sense that they deal with weight and fragility or building up and tearing down. Wax won't reveal it's own making, but painting and what one paints are both real events and analogies for other things at the same time. In the wax and letraset pieces the hand is gone. In the paintings, the hand is there, but it is slow and orchestrated, but I'm not sure it comes across as such. I want the paintings to be strange, in a way that wax is too volatile to convey. Paintings are painted, but how are they painted? What is being painted? I'm looking for something that asks questions while seeming intentional. I still want mystery and strangeness. So, I guess they come out of a desire to address a more direct kind of expression as opposed to a mediated and sometimes slow or very quick process. The eye sees what the hand has done and once in a while it is surprised!

 

LHG: What is the object in your new paintings conveying? Is it rooted in reality? The

works are very minimal which adds to the mystery, but all of your work (that I've seen)

has a very minimal aesthetic. Are you conscious of that?

 

PM: Anything longer than it is wide has figurative connotations. Whether the figure is a tree, it is also a metaphor for movement toward light or movement away from other figuresavoidance. I'm not really interested in figures per se, however; I am interested in the problems figures encounter: congestion, struggle, gravity, weight and ultimately death. I am conscious of their minimal nature. The more I complicate my work, the more ineffectual it becomes. Keep it simple. Keep it clear, but keep the message complex and resonant. If you can pull a viewer in and not give them everything right away, they will come back. I liken painting to poetry. The best poems are dense and clean and weird. Art comes from a desire to make what is really an environment, a home.

 

LHG: Who are your favorite poets? Your recent work reminds me of organic machines

what do you view them as?

 

PM: I like E.E. Cummings very much. Emily Dickinson, as well. Organic machine eh? That sounds interesting. I see them more as beings than machines, things with presence. Some of these beings are making decisions and some are being decided upon.

 

LHG: Do you feel a resurgence in abstraction in painting? Who is the most non derivative painter you can think of? Is it possible to be original?

 

PM: I feel that painters in Quebec are more in tune with painting. Historically, I prefer the Automatistes to Painters Eleven. In terms of Contemporary Art, David Urban mines a modernist heritage and I respect that. Many people who paint in Ontario paint with irony, as if it's not enough just to paint. One must be ironic. Irony in painting is dumb. Perhaps the difference is their French heritage, although I'm not sure. I don't think in terms of things being derivative, unless it's flagrant. I don't think we'll ever see aesthetic breaks like we saw in the late 40's in New York. Can a painter be original? I think they can, but it is a subtle thing. Anything that tries for bombast ends up looking the part. I think Ron Martin's black paintings were original, but one can trace his influences back to Reinhardt, Franz Kline and Pierre Soulage. With Pollock there was a clear break with the past. He was really all alone. Is it possible for a break of this magnitude to occur again? Possibly, but I guess I just can't conceive of it. However, I'm confident that in the mid to late forties other artists could not have foreseen what Pollock would bring. So, I guess my answer is, I don't really know. Truth is a better guide than originality. Stick to your own ideas/concepts and keep hammering away at it. Something will come. If you work hard enough you will start to recognize things; take these variables and look at them as you would parts of any object. Rearrange them; change their colours; distill them; keep doing it. Distill them and distill them again, until all that is left is carefully edited meaning. I guess it means more to look inward than outward and if one looks long enough, something will come outside. I don't know if that makes any sense.

 

LHG: Can you give me an example of who you consider to be an ironic artist?

 

PM: Probably one of the first ironic artists was Duchamp. Duchamp's use of irony is more resonant and important than what I complained about earlier. A urinal has all the properties of sculpture and Duchamp recognized early on that the place a thing resides in largely determines how we understand it. Art is usually seen as the apex of human culture whereas a urinal is near the bottom of this spectrum. The problem with most contemporary artists' use of irony is that it is usually both the beginning and end of the work; the work doesn't resonate as Duchamp's work does. Richard Prince is a good example of someone whose work is ironic and nothing more. Often the work is like a good joke (or sometimes not even a good joke) and that's it. It usually has a visual component, but in my experience he is no better than Adbusters. Once you get the joke/irony, you are finished.

 

LHG: Where do you prefer to paint? Are you always thinking about a work in progress?

Are you inspired by nature? Does your running training play a part?

 

PM: I paint in many places, the basement, school and my living room. Yes, I think about

painting when I'm not painting. Painters in the end, are people who keep painting and peoplewho are allowed to keep painting. Yes, I am inspired by nature, by gravity actually. I've always been interested in the resistance of life, what pulls us down, what we must resist. Running is part of that resistance. We are all going to die, but we must fight what is inevitable simply because we can. Being fit means having a clear head, and while one might be literally old, one doesn't have to be old. I feel like I'm really just getting started.

 

*Quote taken from Pat McDermott’s Artist Statement 

PAINTING THE IN BETWEEN: An Interview with Pat McDermott,

January 10th, 2015

mending wall, 2014
oil on MDF panel
24 inches by 24 inches by 2 inches

no heroics, please, 2014
oil and gesso on MDF panel
24 inches by 24 inches by 2 inches

toward, 2014
oil on MDF panel
24 inches by 24 inches by 2 inches