Interview With Ian Patrick * Los Angeles

I first came across Ian Patrick’s work in a group show at Karyn Lovergrove Gallery, here in Los Angeles. His two pieces depicted ambiguous interactions between human and animal parts, exquisite fabrics and intricate textures. I found his work meticulously insolent and festively perverse. These scenes carried a strong, theatrically organized dimension, as if they were conceived on a real stage beforehand. I felt unrestrained to contemplate the work and, through contemplation, reveal more of its complexity and elegance.

Then, back in December, I examined a wider range of Patrick’s production and considered his recurrent themes and explorations in the more intimate setting of a solo show. I was intrigued to uncover more about it. I met with Ian in-between studios to talk about his inspirations, his new body of work, the human senses, and the delicate topic of showing and suggesting.

Fette: I’d like to know how you decided to take the present direction in your work. You previously studied on the East Coast and were working with sculpture for a while. How did the shift take place?

Ian Patrick: I think the shift came from a need to work more immediately and to find a home for some of the research and interests I had. I have been doing a lot of reading. There is some wonderful research coming out of UCSD in cognitive science. Particularly dealing with phantom limbs and abnormalities of the nervous system and synesthesia. What was really amazing was reading these case studies that detail people having these sorts of abnormalities, like a missing arm, which not only can they feel, but which telescopes out into space. People have peculiar sensations, sort of sexual proclivities, because different areas of their body and their mind have been fused through these processes. So that was all really fascinating to me because it seemed to offer a model of the body as this fragmentary interconnecting dissociating reassembling sort of mess.

F: What about the Japanese aesthetic inherent in your work?

IP: I think I became interested in the Japanese Shunga prints because it’s a tradition of working that is blatantly sexual and graphic and always deals with a fragmentary, dissociated body—body parts and genitalia poking out through this lush fabric. This completely de-centered approach to composition seemed like a poetic marriage for me: between the case studies that I thought were so fascinating and this tradition of printmaking. From there it was a gradual process of learning how to, in a way, make my own prints that played with the traditional conventions, certainly, but not in a High-Low East-West sort of way. 2lt was based on an interest in de-centering and the use of pattern as a means of separating the memorable from the non-memorable, the erotically charged from the non-erotically charged.

F: Would you say that each scene or illustration could be associated with a particular illness or to a particular case you read? How did you choose these animal-human associations?

IP: First of all, I am interested in recombination. One of the most provocative stories that sort of gave birth to this one, was this case study of a test subject who had a phantom limb, who had an amputation. They were doing this mirror box experiment and I'm never going to be able to do it justice, but it involved a rubber hand, a rubber prosthetic hand, that the test subject—essentially through the course of the experiment—had trained himself to identify as part of his own body, to the extent that he actually felt pain when it was hit with a mallet, or believed that he felt pain, which is amazing.

The provocative idea, in particular when you are talking about sex—and these are obviously all bed scenes and all involve naked bodies, etc.—was of being uncertain in the heat of passion of where your own body necessarily begins and ends. Also at the time, I was looking at a lot of images from Burlesque Theatre, these wonderful vaudevillians striptease routine. Again and again, one of my favorite subjects was “Leda and the Swan”. Everybody knows this story from mythology, but it's funny that it had this sort of renaissance in vaudevillian burlesque, page after page these show girls were manipulating wonderful swan puppets.

On the one hand, it deals with a mythological biomorphic rape scene, and on the other, the sight of dancing girls with swan puppets was incredibly hot. So I felt like these things had to go together.

I think that our interest in animals has to do with wondering what it feels like to have antlers, what the connection would be between your antlers and your sexuality. These are often scenarios where men’s and women’s bodies become intertwined. Using animals, using non-human beaks and feathers and antlers and such, intensifies that question of identification. Desiring something so much that you actually want to appropriate it, or have it become part of you.

F: What about the fact that there are no human heads for instance?

IP: Oh, the totemic connection is also very interesting. You know, the swan as a symbol for grace and femininity, in a quaint 19th century way, is intensely recognizable. I've been reluctant to use faces because facial expressions are inherently psychological. I thought it was more interesting to have that window into psychology unavailable and, instead, enable viewers to project themselves into these totemic objects.

F: Where do you think this interest in animals came from? Did you grow up in a rural setting?

IP: For all the reasons that we are talking about. For totemic associations, the desire or affection that they evoke in people. For all those reasons it seems like the right tool. At the same time, I feel like it was a non-decision, something that found its way in gradually. At heart, I am really a cartoonist, steeped in illustrated children’s books, before I am an artist with a capitol A. In many ways, it is the language of children's book illustration and cuteness that, frankly, I feel fluent in.

F: Although your images are perverse, there is this idea of child play, something joyful. It reminds me of Freud’s description of the child as a polymorphous pervert. With the discovery of his/her body goes the discovery of pleasure, and basically the repression that accompanies those feelings.

IP: It’s funny because the sexuality in the pieces is always, in a weird way, actually sedated. I have never drawn anything that is a flagrant sexual act. There is a ton of nudity and exposed genitalia, even graphically sort of rendered, but these are not necessarily scenes of intercourse. These are scenes of touching and exploring, pushing, pulling and probing, figuring things out. I do feel like the animal shapes are a way of accessing that “playing doctor” type of investigation that kids do. I think there is something to that. It's interesting and I'm glad it has come across that way. I wanted to talk about the discomfort or even guilt surrounding, like you were saying, all of those repressed sexual, but not necessarily erotic, impulses people have.

F: So how do you see yourself evolving? Is sculpture definitely a deadly enemy?

IP: No, not a deadly enemy at all and I'm still very interested. I am having an issue with trying to create a hierarchy of marks, pattern, tactility, and texture. It’s something I could push even farther. Mark-making is a natural exit from this illustrative style. I'm still trying to feel this out, because I've always been interested in having an image that is clear, specific and memorable. I mean, obviously I've been working with the animal and figure combinations for a while, but I would feel really uncomfortable recycling the same kinds of imagery over and over again. Endless theme and variation is just silly when there is no real investigation behind it.

I'm more formally interested in cultivating the investigation, rather than looking to new areas of content. I am still working with a lot of these ideas and that's when a conventional illustrative style can be a hindrance. I tend to fall back on a habitual quality of line and I would like to challenge that in my next body of work.