Swimming is one of those primal physicalities that is a ripe metaphor for life: struggling against the tide, staying afloat, going with the flow, fighting the current, jumping into the deep end. It is also the rich domain for Sky Patterson's art, which is full of "heroic bodies and humbling gestures."
"I like that dichotomy," says the 34-year-old artist, who rarely places his faceless figures actually in the water. "Swimming, like life, is a solitary act. Life, like water, is something you have to move through. Water is life-giving, but it can also take you under."
Patterson, who was a competitive swimmer at Churchill High School in the mid-'90s but hesitates to call his work autobiographical, has been returning to his Swimmers Series
since he started painting a decade ago.
In that short time, he was named the San Antonio Art League's Artist of the Year in 2008, was included in the national juried show New American Talent 23
that same year and has participated twice as artist-in-residence at the Robert M. MacNamara Foundation in Maine.
After taking a two-year hiatus to recharge his artistic batteries, Patterson returned earlier this year with an exhibition at Blue Star Contemporary Art Space curated by University of Texas at San Antonio faculty member Scott Sherer.
"For his viewers," says Sherer, who directs the UTSA Art Gallery, "identification with figures and scenes of swimming is possible, but in wonderful ways, viewers are challenged by the handling of the paint, a compelling mix of drawing, intuitive marks and accidents in application."
"I look at painting like poetry," says Patterson, who took art courses at San Antonio College but doesn't have an art degree. "It starts out very personal and transcends into something else, something broader."Swimmers
the latest configuration of Patterson's work — more than 20 small acrylics on paper painted over the last couple of months, as well as some recent large-scale canvases — remains on view at San Antonio's Anarte Gallery through Dec. 8.
There is a melancholy quality to Patterson's swimmers, who stand arms akimbo staring into the water, crouch poolside, hover over the water in a diving stance. In one image, a partially submerged female swimmer holds her head in her hands, elbows on the edge of the pool.
It's difficult to tell if these athletes are triumphant or defeated, or simply overwhelmed. Have they just emerged from the pool or are they preparing for a race? All, however, are introspective, contemplating what just happened — or will soon take place. It's another paradox the artist embraces.
"I like to do work that I feel will engage the viewer's own personal experiences," says Patterson.
Where previous Swimmers
works have been somewhat dark, Patterson's new "series within a series" of 11-by-9-inch works on paper - actually cut-up beer posters with advertising words and graphics bleeding through - pops with vibrant color. With messy splotches of greens and oranges surrounding solitary figures, it's as if the artist has come up gasping for breath after being underwater.
"Sky's color palette is absolutely magical," says Anarte owner Ana Montoya.
The swimming pool, the artist rightly points out, is "an arena where danger, competition, play, struggle, angst and uncertainty exist." Consequently, "man-vs.-man, man-vs.-nature and man-vs.-himself" are themes running throughout the work.
Like the work of two of his favorite painters - English artist Francis Bacon and American Indian artist Fritz Scholder - Patterson's work has a sense of mystery, tension and ambiguity.
Raised in San Antonio, Patterson moved back to his family's historic ranch near Comfort several years ago. His great-grandfather was Adolf Stieler, known as "the Goat King of Texas" in the '30s.
Patterson comes from an artistic background; his father is an architect and songwriter; his mother an artist and writer. His grandfather was Hondo Crouch, the humorist, writer and self-proclaimed mayor of Luckenbach.
"I never knew Hondo," says Patterson, who is wearing a "Don't Mess with Alamo" T-shirt, his thick reddish-brown hair sticking out in several directions. "But from the stories I've heard about him, if I inherited anything from him, it would be his sense of play."
Patterson says he's never "lacked the support" to pursue an artistic career.
"I've envisioned dropping the news on my parents that I wanted to be a banker or a lawyer, and them saying, 'Son, we're so disappointed in you.'"
SKY PATTERSON STATEMENT:
Patterson says, "Themes of man verses man, man verses nature and man verses himself recur through out the work." "Swimmers" was borne from Patterson's imitations of the human condition and features a series of works defined by anonymous portraiture with "figurative gestures" that define them. Patterson says that these figures are "seemingly young and heroic swimmers, bound by their own common habitat - the swimming pool."
Artist Of The Year 2008
San Antonio Art League Museum SAN ANTONIO | TEXAS | USA
SEPTEMBER 07, 2008-OCTOBER 19, 2008
Source: Article by Steve Bennett, November 26, 2012
Submitted by: Ande Rasmussen