Paul Pagk: "Drawings from the Series: The Mesquite Drawings"

ESSAY by Chris Ashley

About Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space Joan Ockman writes, "…space is the abode of human consciousness[1]." In this book Bachelard, "considers various kinds of ‘praiseworthy space’ that attract and concentrate the poetic imaginations: spaces of intimacy and immensity[2]," such as rooms, closets, corners, cellars, huts, forest, nests, shells, and human bodies, what he calls "primal images." His interest is in how we subjectively experience “intimate” spaces as we daydream within them; he writes, "I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace." Dreaming, in this sense, means to imaginatively inhabit these spaces, to associate towards and from them, and to feel and think about these spaces and our place in them. These primal images are attractive entities of concrete essence that transcend memory and hold intimate, fundamental values.

Paul Pagk’s paintings, larger and materially denser than his drawings, are more heavily worked and layered, often undergoing radical changes in form and color during their making. This text’s concern, though these comments can also be applied to his paintings, is his "looser," quicker work on paper, in particular The Mesquite Drawings, about which Pagk says, "I made these drawings and others in two drawing pads during and after my visit to Marfa (Texas) and the Chinati Mountains."

The spaces and construction in Pagk’s paintings and drawings appear logical but are often slightly and suddenly otherwise: they may not abide by the absolute rules of perspective or physics, or are sometimes simply incomplete or unexpected. Each work’s image, however, a combination of field, diagram, and gesture, is a definite structural place emanating light and atmosphere. Scale may be either or both intimate and monolithic. Color is strong yet natural, marks are searching yet confident, surface is built yet porous. Pagk’s work hints at primal imagery, presenting a wide variety of spaces of "intimacy and immensity," and create material situations, visual structures, and pictorial space that prompt affective responses, the poetic imagination, and identification of and yearning for archetypal places and spaces, and the body’s relationship to these things. While the handmade spaces Pagk draws can function as primal images, the several ways he draws does not aim straight at archetype but is instead intentionally ambiguous and open for the purpose of varied personal and public experience. Using poet Jules Supervielle’s words, which Bachelard quotes (p187), we become:

Habitants délicats des forêts de nous-mêmes

(Sensitive inhabitants of the forests of ourselves)

On paper, using pencil, crayon, oil pastel, and watercolor, Pagk develops and rehearses motifs that may or may not find their way into the paintings. His imagery incorporates geometry and nature, design and incident, rendering and marks. Spaces and structures are made with line, gesture, colored field, outlining, and overlay. Skewed or incomplete perspective creates cubes and open boxes, wedges, channels and canals, planes, frames, notches, braces, curves, shells, sprials, and a sense of assembling and collapse. Diagrammatic drawing, schematic like a wire frame model and composed of straight, curving, spiraling, and repeated and layered lines, make both solid and fragile human spaces. There is the architecture of design and DNA, order and wildness, inside and outside, measured proportion and rhizomatic progression, and there is a full sense of light and atmosphere, whether natural, urban or artificial. Additionally, and in contrast, there is a touch of the (decidedly lower-case) surreal, "the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal; fantastic[3]." But always, as David E. Denton’s comment about Bachelard’s images affirms, "The image always breathes the vibrations, the rhythms of intimacy, warmth, and attractiveness, and always functions on the ‘human plane[4].’"

There is nothing without narrative; that is, everything has a story, and without story nothing exists to us. It is how we experience and know and remember everything. To deny narrative is to deny past, present, and future, and to deny our relationships to each other and the things around us. To deny narrative of any type in an artwork is to be in stark and terrifying existential denial. Narrative in an artwork has multiple strands, the immediate of which are: our seeing, reacting to, and thinking about the art work; the evidence of the work’s making, the materials, the artist’s hand, and the process; its place in history and relationship to other art; the context and institutional frame in which the work is seen; the memory carried away from it; and so on. Pagk’s art not only works within and uses these narrative strands, but also allows us entry as sensitive inhabitants to the structures, spaces, and forests of the spaces he creates, as well as the structures, spaces, and forests of ourselves. This is a complex yet fundamental and necessary visual, intellectual, reflective, and meditative function. 

A final Bachelard quote reminds us of the primacy and experience of the kinds of images Pagk conjures: "The grace of a curve is an invitation to remain. We cannot break away from it without hoping to return. For the beloved curve has nest-like powers; it incites us to possession, it is a curved corner, inhabited geometry[5]."

Chris Ashley

Oakland, CA

April 2011

    1. Joan Ockman. Harvard Design Magazine. Representations/Misrepresentations. Number 6, Fall 1998.
    2. Gaston Bachelard. The Poetics of Space. Beacon Press. Boston. Translated by Etienne Gilson. 1964.
    3. "Surreal."
    4. David E. Denton. Notes on Bachelard’s Inhabited Geometry. Environmental & Architectural. Phenomenology Newsletter. ND.
    5. Ibid.