"I saw your garage light was on": A conversation with Patrick deAngelis

Patrick DeAngelis is the new curator of local art at our Octane Westside location. Patrick has an MFA in painting from the New York Academy of Art and has been showing art in Atlanta for the past 10 years. His current show, “I saw your garage light was on,” kicks off an ongoing ‘pass the torch’ curatorial system, in which the featured artist will select the next artist to show. “I saw your garage light was on” is on display at Octane Westside through January 15.

Jess Bernhart:  Tell me about this work. Let's start with "I saw the garage light was on."

Patrick DeAngelis: It started with thinking back to some childhood memory of passing my dad wrenches in the garage. I remember my grandfather’s garage, too, and the workshop in his basement. My dad had the same setup – all the dads in the neighborhood did. And every dad built a "work bench" which is just a series of 4x4s that you screw together and put some plywood on top, but you were proud to have it. And at the time, cars weren't made very well, so you had to be able to tinker a bit. Every night, the neighborhood dads would pull the car in and have to do something with it. And I think that was cool.

JB: Why’s that?

PD: Well, my dad was always a little socially off, but when he got to the garage – and when I was sent out there after dinner, like I was every night, to sit in boredom and hand him things, – he was much more charismatic and social, and he’d approach other dads when he saw their garage light was on. He'd take a beer over and say hello, and they'd "talk shop." I liked that. I liked watching them interact. And then I thought, what does the garage look like now? It looks like a pile of Amazon boxes. So what about the dads? How do they socialize? Without the garage, my dad would probably never talk to anybody. I started thinking about how that affects us, to be absent of that creative space – and I do see it as creative space. That’s how this series came about. In the imagery, it's always my dad's legs sticking out from underneath a car.

 JB: That's such striking image. You just don't see people lying on their backs in...most of society. It's a little sinister and strange.

PD: But that was my relationship with them - I walked into that imagery every night. Even the lighting was cool - it was those pull-down lights that make things look so dramatic.

JB: Directional.

PD: Chiaroscuro. Before I even knew who Caravaggio was, I was sitting in these modern Caravaggio garages. And I liked that the motor oil was always spilled everywhere. When I was really little, I'd rub the parts, especially the spark plugs - I'd try to get my hands dirty because my dad's hands were always dirty. In the work, I use charcoal powder and get the mess going, get the sense of spilled oil, and there are little hints of cardboard boxes, which for me start to address the contemporary garage, what it feels like to be in the garage now. A figure is always central but kind of obscure. These also started much smaller, with no intention of going this big. 

JB: I see the seams. This one is...three pieces?

PD: More than that. When I started, it was just going to be a little thing. But for several of these mixed media pieces, I've been working in an additive process. I don't like that we're always planning out a rectangle and composing solely within that format. 

JB: Is the stitching important to the work?

PD: I'm not really sure why I started stitching. It feels more additive somehow, rather than just stapling or taping or something. I'll stitch a piece on and like it at that size, then I'll stitch another on, and suddenly I'm building out. Even with these large pieces, I could add three more pieces and I'd like them even more, but the framing gets so expensive I have to stop. 

JB: This one you stapled.

PD: Yeah, this one I did staple.

JB: So this is more “manly.”

PD: Yes, I felt masculine while I was doing this. This one I felt emasculated by. My dad always made me feel like that, actually, because I didn't know anything about cars. He'd ask me to get tools for him, and for an American made car you have to know all the fractions, because it's all fractions of an inch. He'd say "7/8ths!" and I wouldn’t know which one it was. I'd grab a 7mm, and he'd say, "Wrong, try again." So maybe that's why I stitched on this one, and on this one I felt up to stapling. I even drew the proper wrench in there.

PD: The largest piece is “Between Memory and Reality.” It plays with three types of imagery: drawing as an interpretation of reality; film prints, which are "reality"; and painting, pulled from memory. The three occupy some in-between space. I took a lot of trips to North Georgia to get those tiered blankets of smoky mountains, painted in a way that's very hazy, the way a memory emerges – not the clarity of a landscape but a hint towards it. The piece is sort of a reflection on how we remember, document, perceive, a step removed and floating between subject matter a little bit. 

"Bubble Test," is a watercolor of those chair-desks schools use for exams. I always get anxiety when I see those desks. Sometimes I have to proctor exams, and I stare at kids doing the bubble tests and feel this weird nostalgia and paranoia.

JB: Why watercolor for this?

PD: When I was in high school, the only thing we had to work with, really, was watercolors, because there was no money in the art program to do much beyond graphite and watercolor. But I studied under a watercolor artist named Frederick Graff. This summer, I went back and took a workshop with him after not seeing him for twenty years, and it brought me back to my old way of painting. Which are these - I don't know if you'd call them glazes - they're singular, monochromatic layers of paint used to build tone from zero to whatever value I want to reach. 

JB: Is that all one palette? 

PD: It's a palette of red, purple, and yellow. But purple and yellow, being complementary and both very translucent, layer over each other well. I'll do a layer of yellow, then a layer of purple, which cancels the yellow out. Then another layer of yellow which will cancel the purple out, and so on. I warmed it up by hitting a little more red into it. But really, I'm terrible with color. It's funny, I'm reading a book about Van Gogh right now, and I didn't realize, but he was terrible with color, too. He read color theory books and was all about complementary colors. He'd take hours to set up a palette, just getting the mixtures set, mostly driven by complements. He worked a lot with oranges and blues, or yellows and purples. I have no intuition when it comes to color. I have to set up some weird system with rules. I think, "Ok, I'm going to do complement, complement, complement. Then tertiary one way, then complement that…” I list it all out. Sometimes it's hideous and other times it works. At least I have a system, so that I don't kill myself trying to pick a color out of the blue. I'll never be able to do that.

JB: Generative constraints.

PD: The second watercolor is kind of a post-election piece. On my way down Peachtree Industrial, I always pass one of those old iron works where they have pillars and wrought iron gates, all kinds of dumb shit for neo-classical government-looking buildings. In America, every government building has to reference some Greek democratic ideal, which I think is hideous, but these iron works places have all that stuff. The crap just piles into the back, and they're falling on top of each other. It felt like an interesting way to look at our –

JB: – crumbling democracy?

PD: Yes, exactly. So you have the classic Greek pillars, and a little youthful figure in the foreground. The gate has kind of a prison feeling to it - a way out or a way in, of this thing that's falling in on itself. And everything’s falling, but staying somewhat in the same position - somewhat stable - leaning against each other to keep from collapsing entirely.

JB: This is watercolor too? I like your treatment of it. It's really energetic.

PD: It's one pass through. I quickly stripe through things, one color at a time, and then just slowly work the darks in, play with the allusions, play with the abstractions.

JB:  It's a lot sharper than I expect watercolors to be.

PD: Watercolor on gesso is a totally different thing. I never did it until this summer. I had always worked on paper, but the artist I was working with, Graff, he experiments with more slippery surfaces. It's a big deal right now for watercolor artists to paint on Yupo, because it's the smoothest, fastest material, but Graff used gesso before that - either gesso on paper or gesso on board. When you put a mark to the gesso, it's really great, but you cannot fuss with it at all. With watercolors in general, any fussing tends to overwork them, but you still have some room to adjust. This way of working forces you to make singular marks – and you cannot touch them. If you put a brush to it twice, it'll lift the paint off.  

JB: What's your favorite medium to work in?

PD: Oh man, I like everything. I can't even pick one. The mixed media work that I'm doing is almost a relief, because I can paint, then draw with charcoal, which is loose and painterly, and draw with graphite, which is tight and controlled. If I can work with film, charcoal, oil paint, graphite, and then collage it all, that’s great. I do go through periods when I just want to draw in graphite - I think it brings me back to my first love of art – just pencil and paper. Oil paint is definitely the most complicated. The most confusing. The most majestic. At times, you can't even believe what the paint is doing. And I paint the mountains with a roller, mostly. It's an odd tool to use, but I paint in almost van Eyck layers. The paint’s so translucent, being rolled. I thin it with linseed oil, which lets me build opacity. I think of the classic encaustic painters – all Rembrandt's whites are opaque, so the light catches them, but his shadows are translucent, and show the ground underneath. I try to work in a similar way.

JB: Let's talk about the launch of your new curatorial program at Octane Westside. How do you see it unfolding?

PD: The idea is to have a “pass the torch” curatorial system. I’m kicking it off with this show, then choosing the next artist. It’s a way to make a connection, compliment someone's work, and help promote, schlepp, hang their work, have a great opening. Then that person will pick the next artist, and have a chance to connect with someone they admire, and so on. We have the ability to show people's work in this kind of space with this kind of traffic, which I think is the best part of Octane. I show in galleries all the time, and you get really geared up for the show, and the opening will be a big hit, but then people just trickle through for the rest of the month.

JB: The traffic is just not there.

PD: It's really not. Collectors will come, and critics – and that's important, but it's people who are already keen on the art scene. I've always been more interested in people who aren't into the art scene, and having a chance to bridge them into it. This is a good space to do that. Galleries can be the most intimidating places to walk into. The language is confusing, and you don't feel like you're a part of it. And I just don't think it should feel like that. By contrast, the general population appreciates music on a level where it's accessible. They don't feel odd or self-conscious about what they like and what they don't like. Why should visual art be any different? A gallery is only what you imagine it to be, whatever pedestal you put it on. This isn't a gallery, but it is an incredible space, with a diverse clientele, and you can show your work in front of hundreds of people every day. Why shouldn't we treat it like a gallery, even if it's non-traditional? 

JB: What was hanging in the space like?

PD:  It's a great amount of space. I spent a month staring at the walls, trying to figure out what would fit. And finally, these pieces fit perfectly. Actually there were a few more pieces to begin with, but people have acquired them.

JB: That's rad! So who’s the next artist?

PD: Her name is Erin Tapp, a former student of mine. I like her work. It's very painterly, kind of soft-pallete. Scenes from Atlanta and some non-objective work. Good intuitive sense of color.

JB: Unlike you and Van Gogh.

PD: Unlike me and Van Gogh.

Patrick deAngelis’ “I saw your garage light was on” is on display through January 15. Follow him @patrick_deangelis and www.patrickdeangelisart.com

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