Storytelling with Patricia Bellan-Gillen

posted by – 04/02/11 @ 2:47pm

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In her exhibition at Tinney Contemporary, Stealing Stories, Patricia Bellan-Gillen strings together a collection of stories, both dreamlike and virtuosic. Whether arranging a bouquet of silver-point/acrylic flowers into the silhouette of a bear, or sketching a renegade wolf, running off the edge of her composition, Patricia Bellan-Gillen establishes herself as the ultimate storyteller: she presents her narrative and cast of characters, but allows the viewer to inject his/her own voice into the recanting o the tale.

It’s not very often that a gallery intern such as myself gets the chance to rub elbows with an artist like Patricia Bellan-Gillen. I caught up with her on this lazy Saturday afternoon at the gallery, merely hours before the bedlam of tonight’s First Saturday Art Crawl. Approachable, relatable, and poised are words that only begin to describe Bellan-Gillen. Keep reading, and see for yourself.

Tinney Contemporary: In your artist statement, you mention that you place great trust in the viewer. What do you think is the value of this approach, and how has it evolved?

Patricia Bellan-Gillen: My ultimate hope is that my work is visually intriguing enough to draw the viewer in, and I always quote Joseph Campbell: “If you tell people everything about your work, you deny them the full experience.” Some people call it copping out, but I believe that everyone has their own associations with my work, to something as simple as the color, and my wish for that to continue has grown. People will often tell me something about some of the objects or symbols [in my work] that I didn’t know. For instance, I had done a painting, and someone had burst into tears, and said it was about losing people to AIDS. I hadn’t thought about this, and he explained his association. I think it’s naïve to believe that I will get a strictly one-to-one idea across with my art.

TC: Some of your paintings and drawings explore the connections between science and religion. What is your ultimate goal in exploring this linkage?

PBG: To me, it’s more of a fascination of the two things [science and religion], but I wouldn’t say it’s paramount to my art. I’ve always been interested in asking myself questions, like: Why does science become politicized? I was raised Roman Catholic, and that was my first introduction to art, but also to this curiosity, in exploring challenging questions. I actually found a portfolio of work I had done at age ten, and I found a drawing of Pope John XXIII, John F. Kennedy, and a watercolor of a bear—I would say that this thread between animals, science, and religious imagery has been consistent throughout my life.

TC: What is the greatest challenge in your work?

PBG: For me, the greatest challenge is to do something really well, but not to become formulaic. I try to find a thread of connection in the works, but at the same time, I’m not necessarily looking for a signature. I have a fear of formula.

TC: What is your greatest accomplishment?

PBG: My greatest accomplishment has been the ability to continue working and be able to support myself, and to have it be a big part of my life. I feel that one thing I am happy with–that I have been able to maintain–is a balance between teaching and making my own work. I may be one of the few people out there who think I am a better educator than an artist, and I think that I need to keep working as an artist to be true to my students.

TC: Do you anticipate a new direction or vision for your body of work?

PBG: I see my work coming as a series of bumps and waves, as something cyclical. I notice that ideas from as far back as college will make reappearances in my work, even on a subconscious level. I was struck by how much the drawing of the bald figure [in Beautiful Stories Remix/Rocky J. Squirrel as Ratatoosk] related to some of the pieces I drew in college. I was always drawing bald men with neckties.

TC: What kind of advice do you give to your students?

PBG: I always tell my students that you have to learn how to be your own best critic and cheerleader. You have to learn how to listen to advice, and sort through it. Some students find it easy to dismiss it, while others find it too easy to grab onto everything. You really need to have the intelligence and the heart to say that this advice truly applies, but also the courage to say that this is good advice, and doesn’t apply. I believe that you have to understand the whole situation: who is giving you the advice, and where is their aesthetic advice coming from?

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