19 February 2009

Spotlight on... Patti Roberts-Pizzuto

(Forgotten History of Indeterminate Identities, Mixed Media on handmade paper)

I met a wonderful artist and friend in Patti Roberts-Pizzuto when we were both artists-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center in 2006. In just 4 weeks in Vermont she transformed her studio into a space of tranquility and creativity that I loved to go and visit! I was and still am totally in awe of her calm approach to her art. She is an amazing person who projects total peace with her artistic process. Patti makes amazing, delicate, celestial works on handmade paper using painting, drawing, embroidery and beadwork.

Here she shares some of her insights.

What are your interests? (outside of your artistic practice)
Reading (fiction and non-fiction), the New Yorker. I like to read books, articles that open up new worlds for me, as they expand my horizons in terms of my world view and the possibilities for making art. I love the New Yorker, because every issue always has something to read that's a total surprise and relates to something I either didn't know about or didn't realize I was interested in. It helps that everything in the New Yorker, fiction and non-fiction, is so well written! Good writing is important to me--no matter what the style. I will often put down a book (as in stop reading) that others have raved about if the writing doesn't resonate with me. I also like film, but again I'm pretty selective and have a hard time with movies that are just mindless entertainment.

Do you have a daily ritual that gets you ready to get to work in your studio?
Not really--I'm just in there every chance I get, if I'm not reading. Those two activities are sometimes at odds with one another. Reading is food for being in the studio. My husband and I have recently begun doing yoga in the mornings before we do anything else (just working with DVDs) and that has helped reframe my attitude about other aspects of my life and helps me to feel more in balance. If I don't have enough time in the stuio, I get kind of cranky!

You have such a calm, zen approach to making your work, this is something we have talked about a little bit because I am the exact opposite. How do you maintain such calm and patience? What does it feel like to be inside your mind when you are working?
I think in some ways it may be cyclical--the work that I do is slow, meditative and requires a calm, zen-like approach. It wasn't always this way--for many years I was searching for myself as an artist--what was my work supposed to be? What was it about? What was my style? etc. These are all the questions that we ask ourselves continually in the struggle to make a life in art. I think it was about the time I turned 40 and we built a house where we both had studio space of our own, that things began to come together and I began making the work I am making now--it just evolved as I began working in drawing on handmade paper. After a time, I realized I understood that the work was coming from the inside out and not the outside in (the answers for me don't come from outside) and that the artwork was the vehicle through which I questioned and began to understand the world and my place in it. I began to relax and to trust that the process would eventually yield the work. I still struggle, but ultimately I trust the place that work comes from and if I find myself trying to make "art" I step back and begin again with play, which comes from the inside and not the outside. The work continues to evolve and I find that I can't imagine my life without making work, as it keeps me aware of what I know and don't know...it keeps me in touch with the yearning. Being inside my head while making the work, means that I think through my hands. I find that there is a real connection between keeping the hand moving and a meditative state and slow revelation. I can't describe it any other way!

What does your artwork mean to you? What words do you use to describe it?
To others who ask what it is that I do, I say that I make mixed-media drawings on hand-made paper, which is such a broad definition that it doesn't really say anything. I think I've already said what it means to me. I think that there are people who get their energy and their self-image from outside of themselves, from their interactions with others and with events. I get mine from inside and it is only after the experiences that I have filter through my pysche and often through the making process that I understand things of any signficance. I am definitely not a truly outgoing "people" person--a little goes a long way for me and then I must retreat. It's the difference between being an introvert and an extrovert.

What is your process? Do you get an idea and stick to it-- or do you play with your materials and see what happens?
I definitely do not get an idea and stick to it--for me that always spells disaster. There are times when I'd love to be able to work that way, but for me, I've finally learned to trust my own process and it has to evolve, often changing entirely from the beginning stages. If I'm honest I know when something is not working and even though I may like parts of it--the piece isn't resonating or I feel detached and don't yet know what it's trying to tell me, so I must let go and forge ahead in the destructive, constructive play. Often during the beginning stages of any piece, as I wait for the work to tell me what it is about and what I am thinking, there is a real struggle, but at a certain moment, I "know". And in that moment and it is often a real "moment" of knowing--I know exactly what the piece is about and exactly what needs to happen to finish it and what it looks like finished. It doesn't always happen exactly that way, but often. The moment of "getting it" is very satisfying and then I settle in to the finishing, which is often a very long process if there is a lot of embroidery!

How do you get through artist's block?
Play. Quit trying to make art. I long ago answered this question for myself, but I think it is very important to be honest with yourself when you ask this:
If no one ever saw what you made, would you continue to make art? Make art as if no one will ever see it. And perhaps stop trying to make "Art." That's what works for me, but everyone is different.

What are you inspired by?
Reading, gardening, the bittersweet, fragile unfolding of the universe...the overlooked moments...the accumulation of history.

What are you currently working on?
In addition to my current pieces (I work on several at a time which are at different stages of development), I am working on an altered book. At the library where I work, we are hosting an altered book exhibtion, which will open next month. I decided to start with a book and started blocking out with white paint all the words that don't begin with the letter "a". Once I knew that I wanted to approach an altered book through blocking out text, this idea came to me and also the realization that I would make 26 books, one for each letter of the alphabet! So, the total work will be the shelf of 26 books--I'm starting with a book written in 1916--a scientific treatise on animal behavior. I found once I started painting out words with my small brush and my white paint, this proces was entirely suited to me. It is slow, meditative and pretty obsessive compulsive!!! I must admit, the process is so addictive that I force myself to go back to my "regular" work!
It's been a couple weeks since I began and I'm on page 211 (out of 266!). Because the text is justified and the pages are a cream color, the words painted out (but still fairly visible beneath a thin layer of white acrylic) and those "a" words left, make a beautiful pattern. It is also a process that lets you read....very slowly, as you work line by line seeking the "a" words. Reading a scientific treatise from 1916 is a reminder to me that knowledge is always changing and that perhaps we, in 2009, ought not to be so sure of ourselves in terms of what we know. So, that's what I'm working on now...along with all the other pieces I'm working on to get ready for a big show in Sioux Falls this summer!

What's on your reading list?
We just finished watching the John Adams HBO series (on Netflix) and now I'm reading the book John Adams by David McCullough. I am fascinated by the early history of this country, as the whole thing was so fragile. The "founding fathers" didn't know what they were doing exactly, but forged ahead one step at a time, figuring things out as they went. It makes you appreciate all the more, that the United States actually succeeded and held together, as the outcome was anything but certain. Off the top of my head at this moment, I can recommend Somserset Maugham, the autobiographical work of Nabokov and my favorite, W. G. Sebald! For my reading future, I'm not sure--still several hundred pages to go in John Adams!

What is your dream project?
I don't think I have a dream project--I think I am doing it, which is a really wonderful thing to be able to say....and I am very thankful that I am in such a place.

What words do you live by?
Hmmm. I can't thinking of anything that can be boiled down to a saying. Perhaps, in the end what I can say is that my approach to life is to watch for and express the unexplainable through my work. This thing we call life is so immense, so vast that I can only urge people to realize it's all so much bigger than we make it out to be. It's a good thing to keep in mind, when we try to boil things down, when we look for easy answers and when we think in black and white. There is room for so many different ways of being and seeing the world.

Patti Roberts-Pizzuto attended art school at Ringling School of Art and Design (now Ringling College of Art and Design). After receiving her B.F.A. in painting, she took what she thought to be a temporary job in the library at Ringling, but found that the work suited her temperament and cataloging books fed her artistic and creative life.

After twenty-five years working in the library, where she served as the cataloger and curator of the artist’s books collection at Ringling, Patti relocated to South Dakota in 2005 with her husband, Johntimothy Pizzuto. Currently she is working as a part-time cataloger in the I.D. Weeks Library at the University of South Dakota while she continues to pursue making and exhibiting her work nationally.

Most recently, she was the focus of an article entitled, "Meditations in Mixed Media" by
Lynn Cornelius Jablonski, published in the April/May 2008 Fiber Arts Magazine. Patti’s
work is also published in the Gallery Issue (September 2006) of Surface Design: The
Journal of the Surface Design Association and in the Fiber Arts Design Book Seven

She is finding much inspiration in the history and spirit of the land of South Dakota and
the Midwest, which continues to inspire new and evolving works of art. She and her
husband have just completed a new home on the banks of the Missouri River and she
looks forward to the works that will follow. Take a look at her website!!

Thanks Patti!!