Five Points Gallery’s April exhibit featured the work of three artists: Patricia Carrigan, Cat Balco, and Eva Stengade. The show ran from March 30 through May 6, 2017. This month, Pat and Cat answer questions about their process, the role of scale in their work, how they became an artist, and the impact they want to create through their work.
Q: Was there a moment in time when you decided you wanted to be an artist, or was it something that you realized over a period of time?
Pat: I always drew; I was always good at art. When I had problems in my family, drawing was always a place I could go to. But the attitude of my family was to make a living, so I became a teacher. I fell into art because I loved doing it so much; it took over.
Cat: I decided to major in art in college, but then I abandoned it because I was always unhappy in the studio. But at 27 something shifted, and I decided to become an artist.
Q: What excites you most about making art?
Pat: What excites me about art is the process of painting. I like moving paint around and not knowing where it’s going—blindly trusting the process as it goes along. Color, mixing colors, mark making, drawing—those are all important. Just being able to do this.
Cat: Art is a place where I feel most at home, where I feel most myself. I have such a gratitude for the art process, and it deepens as I get older.
Q: What role does scale play in your current work?
Pat: I have painted really large, but right now I’m in a small studio—my garage. That does dictate how far back I can get from what I’m painting. I think about scale with the faces and heads. When you stand in front of the heads, you’re immersed in an environment. You have to look at it. The fact that they’re square, they’re even on all four sides. The reason the drawings are so small is because I’ll do a drawing a day, 15 minutes. I don’t spend too much time ruminating on them, before moving on to something else.
Cat: I usually work pretty large. But this current series emerged from short blocks of time in the studio. I sat down and started working. I was attracted to the beautiful color, the flat matte texture of the mark, the spontaneous, clarity of stroke. With these works, I can’t work much larger without changing materials. So I thought: why not make small paintings? I have plans to go back to the larger work, and I think this series will change how I approach that work.
Q: What are your primary influences for creating your current work?
Pat: For this body of work: storytelling, folklore, saints and symbols. Symbols, or little objects that stand in for a person. I like symbols.
Cat: As an abstract artist, there isn’t anything specific that influences my work—but I like to think about what my work has to do with what my mind is on at the moment of making it. So in that way they’re about my shifting consciousness—a new awareness of the world in light of the current political climate. This work began to remind me of stop signs, or caution signs.
Q: Are there any artists who have always inspired you?
Pat: My standby artists are Richard Diebenkorn, Francis Bacon, Joan Mitchell, Ann Hamilton, Marlene Dumas, and Dana Schultz. I’m also really influenced by short story writing. I read a lot. The work of Flannery O’Conner is especially inspiring to me. I had a residency at Vermont Studio Center, and the poets I met there really changed my thinking about the relationship between art and poetry.
Cat: So many. And I’m inspired by different artists at different times, for different reasons. I like Stephanie McMahon for the lightness and spontaneity in her paintings. And of course Richard Tuttle. I would like to have that kind of conviction in my work.
Q: Do you work on one piece at a time, or multiple pieces at once?
Pat: Multiple. They kind of evolve together.
Cat: I work on two at a time. This accounts for drying time, but they also begin to influence each other, and how you read them. They form a relationship, but it’s not conscious.
Q: Do you work in a series? How do you know when a series of work is done, and when it’s time to transition to the next body of work?
Pat: I do, I stretch them all ahead of time. I work on a piece for an hour at a time. I learn off of each canvas. I only spend an hour on each one because I have a tendency to overwork. There are more in the series than in the show. I hate the feeling of being between series, and that’s kind of where I am now with my work.
Cat: The artificial deadlines of shows or applications determine the number of pieces. I unconsciously have a number of paintings for each project. When I’m shifting to a new body of work, it’s more about experimentation, about searching versus getting ready for a show.
Q: Is there something you wrestle with in your artwork, or find yourself constantly coming back to or contending with?
Pat: How much realistic or recognizable imagery to include—what level to go to with that. My work is not realistic. It has recognizable parts, and abstract parts. It’s like when a memory comes to your head, or when something drifts into your consciousness. Some aspects are clear and some are not. I’m fighting to not give the viewer too much information, to give them the essence of the image. They can come to a painting, and decide what to take from it. I’m always wrestling with that.
Cat: In my forms and compositions I’m continually drawn to symmetry. It’s a more prehistoric, non-western, central form that’s fascinating to me.
Q: What do you hope people take away from your work?
Pat: To have a connection. Because the colors in my paintings are so bright, and because they’re not painted in a realistic way, my paintings are confrontations. They’re there and you have to see them. By painting them with those really bright colors, you can’t miss them; you’re drawn in and you can’t look away. It’s always fascinating to me what people get out of my work; they always get something different.
Cat: Joy. I want them to take away a sense of liveliness, a sense of light. A new consciousness.
April 22 Launch Party
On April 22, Five Points Gallery’s board of directors hosted a “Launch Party” for the FPG-HAS/UofH Launchpad Program. The event was sponsored by ECI Screenprint Inc. and featured a reception in the gallery, with speeches from FPG executive director Judith McElhone, President of the Board Ed Cook, Torrington Mayor Elinor Carbone, and Hartford Art School Associate Dean Tom Bradley. The Launchpad is unlike any opportunity in the country, speakers said: offering affordable studio space, a mentorship program, a serious artist community, and a Five Points biennial exhibition opportunity.
Launchpad artists met and talked with guests before welcoming board members and attendees into their studios for a tour. Guests had the opportunity to see what an artist studio is all about—to ask questions, see artwork in process, and learn about how having an affordable studio space, with ample natural light, and a community of peers is essential to continuing an artistic practice.