Science provides artist with a way to understand
“How do we deal with irregularities within a generally orderly system?”
“Why does our mind try to fix the thing that’s wrong?”
Those questions have dogged artist Sky Pape for years. “Patterns can grab your eye or elude your perception,” she notes.
Looking at Pape’s body of work, particularly her latest, gathered together under the banner Beauty Marks, and Blemishes at the Garrison Art Center, one might perceive symmetry and repetition. That’s not what Pape is seeing. “Blemishes and anomalies are always part of the process of the work,” she says.
Pape, whose work is owned by many museums, including the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art, started off as a painter, working primarily with oil. After a period of “extreme loss and difficulty,” she switched to drawing, and from representational work to abstraction on paper. “Something about the new materials, plus starting to use repetitive actions, helped me understand things emotionally and provided me with a different way to interpret the world around me.”
Her art is informed by a parallel career as a scientific researcher — she spent 14 years studying schizophrenia, genetics and traumatic brain injury. “I’m drawn to cross-pollination of disciplines, including math, physics, biology, astronomy and social sciences — all things I’m always looking at,” she says. “Art and science art give me a way to understand a lot of things.
“I begin a piece by starting with paper on the floor and getting down for this body of work; I don’t map the whole thing out,” she explains. “I start with some idea or repetitive mark, and as that’s happening things get off-kilter, and some irregularity in the pattern will start leading the dialogue I have with the piece.
“If the pattern gets disrupted, will this bring it to a tipping point? I begin from a place of not knowing and I try not to jump to conclusions. There are also intentional decisions on where to break a pattern, using intention and intuition. I will start seeing unexpected connections. That’s the ‘Aha!’ moment: Will it completely fall apart? It’s a period of peril.”
When is it finished? “Tickling a work to death stays in my mind,” she says. “My creative path is spiral, needing a period of gestation of weeks to years, and some works take me over 10 years to complete. I set them aside, then bring them out again, repeatedly. There’s finally a do-or-die moment when you’re like: ‘I would rather go all the way with the piece or ruin it and come out of the process.’ If it’s mediocre, I’d rather destroy it, so I run with it and bring it to fruition or set it aside.”
The Garrison Art Center, located at 23 Garrison’s Landing, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Monday. Beauty Marks, and Blemishes continues through Jan. 7. See garrisonartcenter.org and skypape.com.
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