Patricia Bellan-Gillen: Biography

Dorothy L. Stubnitz Professor of Art, Carnegie Mellon University


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Artist's Statement

Writer Paul Krainak described my recent work as, “Formalist canon meets zoological illustration, penetrated by medieval spiritualism and glossed with personal dream imagery.”

After years of studying cultural, dream, mythological and religious symbols, I am beginning to believe that the most interesting signs are the images that appear and keep pressing on one’s mind with no explanation—unexpected images that flash across the brain when phrases like “war by proxy,” “turn to salt” or “separation of church and state” are heard. Or the nascent compositions that appear while revisiting the “Spy vs. Spy” pages of vintage Mad Magazine or stumbling across a yellowed photograph torn from the New York Times. Honoring these puzzling visages maps the direction that I have begun to follow in my paintings, prints and drawings. In very simple terms, I want to make work that combines ideas and imagery generated through study and research with ideas and imagery that are felt, intuitive, and enigmatic.

I concur wholeheartedly with Arturo Scwharz when he states, “The poetic quality of the work depends on the fact that its creator is motivated by forces and drives of which he is unaware. A great artist is an unwitting alchemist. He explores the memory of an archetypal world without realizing it. The motifs of archetypal symbolism emerge in his work independently of his will. It is not the artist who creates the symbol, quite the contrary, it is the symbol that imposes itself on the artist.”….And with Duchamp when he says, “To all appearances, the artist acts as a medium who seeks his way out into the open from the labyrinth beyond time and space, if we give the artist the attributes of a medium, on the aesthetic plane we must deny him the awareness of what he is doing or why he is doing it.”

This current body of work continues to build on the use of imagery that suggests a narrative and attempts to engage the viewer’s associative responses: imagery that is at once forgotten but familiar. The work also celebrates a return to drawing—the sheer love of the fundamental act of working with the most basic of materials.

With everything said, I must add that I am an artist that finds absolute exhilaration in mark making, from the controlled and academic to the childlike and spontaneous. I often look to the work of outsider artists for inspiration and awe. I want to achieve a weird elegance. I welcome provocation and puzzles. I would like my paintings to confront the viewer simultaneously with beauty and awkwardness and to mediate grace with humor. I place great trust in the viewer. Then again, maybe I just like to paint animals.