paintings by Pat Boyer

Essay by William Zimmer

De Kooning's remark, he's quoting Kierkegaard, that "purity of heart is to will one thing", has often seemed more cryptic than enlightening. But it's a practical observation: to get to the essence of your relationship to your art, your life as an artist, you must explore one thing deeply -as De Kooning did "woman".

Pat Boyer has always described objects in the world, through large gestures which might seem the opposite of concentration, but the gestures have always been in the service of exploring one thing in depth. For most of her career it has been the human figure coalescing out of generous mark-making. Lately, though her focus has become even narrower: an edifice which has come to fascinate her, the Coliseum in Verona, Italy, built by the Romans in the 4th century AD. The essential shape of a coliseum lends itself to Boyer's tendency toward amplitude in her drawing. Ellipses signify capaciousness even more than circles do. And the ellipse works because it isn't perfect; it can be played with, greatly distorted without being destroyed. A coliseum is innately rambunctious if you consider the kinds of activity that went on inside. The Verona Coliseum was the site of a Bacchic festival, whose date corresponded to the present-day Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras.

The choice of this antique subject wasn't a totally conscious one, although Boyer spends part of every summer in Italy. Italian architectural themes have persisted in her work, but the Coliseum might be linked to something so basic to human nature, that the first impulse might be to dismiss it. Boyer says that the shape might have come out of the practice of doodling on a telephone pad, the kind of rudimentary art made by anyone who's stuck on the phone but with a pencil handy. The common form this nonchalant, absent-minded doodling takes is repeated shapes, and round, interlinked ones are frequent.

It is one of the wonders of art making that something as weighty as this series of Coliseum works can have its genesis in something so insignificant. But such seeming unimportance has figured strongly in the history of 20th century art, most notably in Dada and Automatism, modes which depended strongly on psychology. But another rather obscure, yet vivid source for Boyer's architectural work might lie in a primary childhood experience. Her father was an optometrist but also, she says, a dreamer. He envisioned houses he would like to build and he took his family around the country with him as he brought these houses to reality. The notion that architecture and building should occupy a central point in one's life might have taken root in Boyer then.

Boyer's Coliseum work is multifarious. What gives it focus and unity is the persistent ellipse that figures in each incarnation of the building. Sometimes Boyer presents what is essentially an aerial view, and frequently lines adumbrating the central shape give it a kind of alacrity as if it is spinning or whirling. Sometimes the rows of repeating arches on the arena's face are the focus, and this repetition often gets lively as if the arches are a crowd of people, maybe the apparitions of those who once filled the coliseum at festival time. Even when an image strays far from the boldly declarative and becomes enigmatic and personal, there is the sense of a place haunted with memories.

Boyer uses a variety of media to create these works, but her colors usually partake of earth or terra cotta-like that instantly put a viewer in mind of a monument from the past that has survived. She continues to explore the human figure; another subject is fading flowers, but the Coliseum is especially rich, not only for its novelty but because it is large enough to contain everything else.

William Zimmer, New York City, 1999

William Zimmer is a contributing critic for The New York Times.


PAT BOYER - Essay by John Mendelsohn

Pat Boyer's "Arena Series" is a meditation on a classical theme, the Arena at Verona, Italy. Dating from the first century, AD, this edifice bears a distinct resemblance to its contemporary, the great Coliseum in Rome. In Boyer's vision, it has become the site for unearthing provocative dualities: antiquity and abstraction, containment and energy, culture and the body.

Boyer has taken the graceful order of the Arena's curved, arched structure, and made it move. The ellipse spins and whirls, become airborne. Layered and transparent, it multiplies into twins and triplets, and more. Like a glowing lantern, it hangs in the darkness, or cracks open in the light. Whipping lines trace centrifugal energies, while heavy concentric rings bind space within space.

Not only does the structure move, the viewer moves too. We fly high above the Arena, its elliptical lines constituting a kind of labyrinth whose impenetrability holds an unspoken mystery. Clues abound: here is an amphitheater devoted to cultural expressions, both vulgar and refined. It has housed gladiatorial combat and chariot races, as well as theater and opera. It is a monument, a ruin, and a living building, still used today. It is an arena of social drama, which in the artist's hands becomes a raw and elegant symbol for the self, capable of both a cloistered interiority and unpredictable vitality.

Using direct gestural drawing with graphite, as well pastel and acrylic paint, Boyer re-conceives architecture as something physically alive, a surrogate for the body. Allusions to the cell, the eye, the spine, and the womb recur in the work, with the Arena's identity shifting before us. This Coliseum, constructed of arched portals, is seen as a porous membrane. Like an ovum, it is rigorously self-contained, yet paradoxically open and capable of fecund transformation.

John Mendelsohn has written art reviews and articles for Cover Magazine, the Jewish Week, ArtNet, and Internet magazine. His essays have appeared in a number of exhibition catalogs. Primarily focusing on contemporary art and photograph, he has also written on historical exhibitions. He taught at Illinois State University and the University of South Florida. He currently teaches at Fairfield University in Connecticut.


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Pat Boyer says that elliptical forms arise naturally from the subconscious mind when people allow their hand to trace marks on paper while they think of something else. In the history of twentieth century art great importance has been given to the subconscious mind, and it is certainly part of the expressionist heritage.

It was in 1967 that Anton Ehrenzweig formulated his idea of 'sub-conscious exploration' (though this was simply the continuation of Worringer's expressionist theory of creativity of some fifty years earlier) and this can be summed up as, spontaneity, a rejection of conscious vision, the 'subconscious chaos', the undifferentiated structure of subliminal perception. These he considers to be the real sources of creativity.

But what is immediately striking about this American artist's work is its unsettling quality, its passion. Without a doubt the unconscious element in Boyer's work leads her inwards and then, without cutting herself off from the world, she openly reveals all the emotion she finds there.

For Boyer the process of abstraction can only be realized through emotional exploration and by following the expressionist path first indicated by Kandinsky, a path she says to have been one of her main inspirations as a girl: from the primitive intensity of Emil Nolde to the creative significance of Chaim Soutine's passion.

It is above all by this last artist that Boyer has been inspired to express - through the resonance of color, the deformation of lines, and the exaggeration of physical characteristics - the impact on the senses felt by the artist and conveyed to the viewer.

Using large and ample gestures that push out and explore space, Boyer sparks into life a universe of twisted and turning ellipses, at first sight seemingly animated by a centrifugal energy. We have the impression that we are being propelled by all this into the perceptual and existential world of the artist.

Pat Boyer's travels have been extensive since when, as a child, she followed her brilliant dreamer of a father in his nomadic life. The journey was both fantastic and terrible, but she came to know new people, landscapes, and marvels.

And this came to be a part of her existence, something she has digested and that has become part of her being, an itinerary that both unsettled and propelled her creativity. But Pat Boyer's journey is in no way geographical any longer: she is a tourist of herself. This is the interior path she follows through a series of lines evoking airy and light elliptical forms, forms that almost float in space, apparently weightless.

In one of Spielberg's films the protagonist follows an uncontrollable interior compulsion to search for a real confirmation of a form, one that he has created and that contains a deep mystery. He finds it and discovers what links him to that form.

The emotion of such a discovery of something both all-inclusive and absolute, is fundamental for Boyer and becomes clear to us the more we study her floating, apparently weightless forms: the oval and transparent lines multiply and redouble, triplicate, become uncountable; the repeated series of arches seem to become crowded with a silent human company, a kind of identification of place and memory where the memory encloses an unfathomable mystery.

Using pastels, pencils, and luminous acrylics applied in thick strokes - often vigorous and swirling, at times in a more contemplative manner - Pat Boyer evokes, from a structural point of view, the dense color of ancient stones, of antique metal, and all these she illuminates with a cloud of light and flashes, an evaporation of lines that often enlarge as they rise, creating an effect of lightness and of vertigo. What we discover is a monument, an ancient ruin, a 'historic palace' but one that still lives today, one that has 'a cloistered interiority and unpredictable vitality' as John Mendelsohn has written.

Verona's Roman Arena is the place where the artist finds both herself and the object of her interior research, an identification of antiquity and abstraction, culture and physicality, past and present. And yet while this reading of Boyer's work underlines our feeling of uneasiness, we should also note that its innermost and profoundest part is full of vibrations that liberate sounds, voices, and music through the expansion and contraction of the form, just as we should note the almost germinal reproduction of the work through the growth of the arches and shafts of light, and through the sudden amazing rising and plunging of the structure.

Boyer makes the architecture something living, a 'surrogate for the body' as John Mendelsohn says. And we can read the allusions to the physical body too: the eye, the cell, the backbone, the uterus which are all inherent in the architecture. We can even discover hints of a kind of porous membrane, like an ovule closed in on itself but, even more paradoxically, fecund with change.

The first century Veronese amphitheater is interpreted as a splendid and extraordinarily alive mutant, one that, in its journey through time, is the custodian of the mystery of origins and their variations.

Pat McCoy has said that when we look we are not always prepared to grasp the whole object we see on front of our eyes. But, he continues, this is not the only way to look, as Pat Boyer teaches us. This is a unique occasion for seeing, through the sensibility and the art of this fascinating and disturbing American, an Arena that probably we were never previously aware of.

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