Meet Patty McPhee
SNW: Please introduce yourself.
I am Patty McPhee, a Tacoma based artist and poet and a long time member of NWSSA and past Board member.
SNW: What is your life history as it relates to being an artist?
I found my medium fairly late in life. I had always known that I was an artist but it was not till I was forty that I realized that I am a sculptor. My husband gave me my choice of classes at the Kirkland Art Center and the only one that fit my schedule and looked interesting was a life model class taught by Janet Brown. We worked in clay and I fell in love with everything about sculpture.
After taking Janet's classes for a year she recommended that I take a Masters summer class taught by the recently retired, Professor Everett DuPen. I went in to the Seattle UW campus from Kirkland every Wednesday night throughout the school terms for the next eight years. Everett insisted that I join NWSSA and attend the Symposium at Camp Brotherhood.
At Camp Brotherhood I fell under the spell of stone and all of the possibilities that it presents. That first year I met many who would become my friends and mentors through the years. Some, like Ward Lynch, were there for some of my worst moments and helped me use my art to keep strong through it all.
SNW: What key life experiences affected your direction in art?
As a young artist I equated being an artist with being a painter. Painting was difficult for me as I have a tremor. It did not stop me, but I never experienced that feeling of attaining mastery of my craft. With sculpture the tremor is less of an issue and I found that I had always been a spatial artist. I like making "holes in space."
SNW:Who or what has influenced your art form?
It's hard to know where to begin. There are the usual historic figures like Michelangelo, Rodin, Claudel, Degas, and Brancusi. Everywhere I looked there were examples. Closer to home Everett DuPen, Rich Hestekind, MJ Anderson, Myrna Orsini, Meredith Earles, Janet Brown, of course, and almost everyone that has attended Camp Brotherhood.
SNW: Why is art important to you?
That is like asking why I breathe. I see art in every aspect of existence. It is transcendent and embracing, like glue holding our world together, holding us together. We do not all like the same artistic expression but it is there in every culture.
SNW: How does your art reflect your philosophy?
I find in stone sculpture a way for me to explore "the interdependent web of existence," the invisible threads that connect us, and I want to explore that in whatever way that I can.
SNW: How has NWSSA influenced your work as an artist?
NWSSA has been the catalyst for much of my work. I would not be the artist I am today with out the training, mentorship and friendships that I have found in NWSSA. From the thoughts, ideas and examples found in the NWSSA Journal, to the people that have encouraged and nurtured me. It is so much more than just a group of artists. It continues to open doors, introduce me to new ideas and sustain me.
SNW: Describe your art in your own terms.
I have written many artist statements over the years and I still find it difficult to put into words what my art is. However, I have found that stone allows me to explore the dichotomy of creating softness, movement and emotions in something that is considered hard and unyielding. I love that juxtaposition. To me my art is an emotional study, an exploration. Sometimes I just like to have fun. I find carving stone fun!
SNW: Is your work representational and/or non- representational?
I don't allow labels to control my work. I hear many different languages from the stone. I want to be open to all possibilities. That is to say that I do both. I know that I have a style that can be recognized but I sometimes find the line between representational and non-representational blurry. To me, they all represent something.
SNW: How do you get your ideas?
Ideas are all around me. I, however, am not always available to them. That is an ongoing struggle for me. There are times when the ideas swirl around and through me and other times when I am as empty as a deserted bird's nest in fall. Those are the times when I go back to my sketches and books and, of course, nature. And I have always found inspiration from seeing what others have done. We do not create in a vacuum. We are products of the world around us. After that I am not sure where they come from.
SNW: How do you develop your ideas?
I will use any method that will bring me closer to my vision. At times the stone's voice is very strong and I let it lead me directly. More often I see something in the stone and use that as the jumping off place by making drawings and maquettes to help keep me on track. I try to always stay open to the unforeseen, the unexpected. Some of my most satisfying works have evolved from "accidents."
SNW: What are you trying to express?
I want the viewer, whomever that might be, to have an emotional response to my art - anything from love to surprise to anger to joy. When there is an emotional response there is a connection. For myself, there is always the joy that I have in creating art. That is a part of what I want to express, in the end.
SNW: Describe a recent piece or two.
I recently finished several pieces that had been sitting waiting since last summer. The Flower and Garden Show is a great impetus for me to return to partially finished pieces. The two pieces that I finished for that show are dramatically different from each other. One is an abstract figure in white translucent alabaster incorporating a flame motif. I named that piece Let Her Shine. She is about the welling up of passions and being free enough to release them.
The other piece is a marble shard that I got at one of the stone auctions some time ago. I knew that it would be an abstract but I thought that I would be pinning it. I found that this piece of marble was filled with mica and not very stable. In fact, it was rather soft. This caused me to have to explore some other ways of presenting it. It became the center for an idea that I had sketched out months before. At that time I did not have a stone in mind. It was great to see it all come together. The stone is woven into a weft of wires supported by upright copper pipes set into a wood round cut from a local tree. I named it Woven Shard. In the stone there are paths smoothed, as if by many feet, traveling its length. This is a reminder that though a path may seem impossible there have been others to show the way.
SNW: What is your working process – do you do one piece at a time or do you have several in process at once?
I always have several stones in various stages around the studio. They spur me on and give me a chance to work through ideas as they sit waiting for their turn.
SNW: What tools do you use?
What ever will do the job. I am a tool junkie. There, I said it.I have a 60 gal. Compressor with a 1hp motor, a Foredom, a Matabo angle grinder (my pride and joy. It is probably 15 year old) and an assortment of hand tools. The lift table and Jawhorse that I got for last few birthdays, have been wonderful. They really help me keep healthy as well as making working easier.
SNW: Where do you exhibit your work?
I have been involved with Gallery 3 in Puyallup for the past three years. I am out of that gallery for the time being, though. I have several pieces in outdoor galleries in Puyallup and Longview. I am currently looking into Etsy online and galleries in the Tacoma and Olympia area.
I also, have a website. I have not sold much from that but it has brought me several clients for other work.
SNW: How much work do you complete in a year?
My production is low right now but I expect to complete seven or eight pieces this year. I have done several commission pieces lately.
SNW: Do you teach art?
Yes. I often have apprentices that I teach and in exchange they help with finishing, moving and setting up shows. I find this to be very satisfying. Helping emerging artists to realize their vision and potential is stimulating and gratifying. I loving seeing the blossoming of new talent and seeing the pleasure that comes from learning that one thing, that they did not know they needed to know. Being a part of the transformation and then stepping back and watching them fly is a major source of joy for me.
SNW: What scale or size do you work in, and do you have a favorite scale?
I work mostly in what George Pratt likes to call coffee-table pieces. I have worked larger and smaller. I find that the factors that regulate the size I am working has more to do with my ability to maneuver it in the studio and transport it to shows rather than what I am inspired to do. I have a dream of a studio with a hoist on tracks that will allow me to work larger.
SNW: How is your work area set up?
The area that I have for a studio was once a covered hot tub pad which meant that it had 220v coming to it. It is roofed and on the south side where there was a gap there is now Lexan ripple roofing which allows great light into the work area. I have shelves and cabinets that I have collected from garage sales and craigslist along the walls and my rolling tool box off to the side. I have old freezer shelving along the sidewall of the garage where I store my stone pile. All I have to do is pop around the corner to find base material or stone for the next project.
Because I have several pieces going at once there are several workstations. These are what allow me to have apprentices working with me in such a small space. There is an area just outside of the studio at the end of the driveway that comes up to my studio, where I sometime stage work and do the final finishing and basing.
SNW: What have been your satisfactions in your life as an artist?
Working with and helping others to see their potential is one of my greatest joys. And nothing beats having something that I have created touch someone. When they love it enough to take it home it closes the circle of creation.
SNW: What obstacles and challenges have you overcome?
There have been times when I have been in places where I could not do sculpture such as when I was living on the East coast on a boat. In the end, though I found that I spent time sketching ideas to work on during the summers back home. At times my hand tremor gets to be a problem but then I turn the compressor on and it is hardly noticeable. It does sometimes influence how detailed I make my work
SNW: What are you looking forward to (goals, commissions, new ideas?)
I want to continue to explore different and unique ways of approaching how my work connects to the earth. I have done many pieces that use unconventional methods of basing like Desert Thunder, Falling Leaf and The Shard. I look forward to seeing where that may lead me.
SNW: Finally, I just want to say.......
Sculpture, stone sculpture in particular, has been the anchor of my life. It holds me steady when nothing else can. In looking back I know that becoming a member of NWSSA was one of the pivotal events in my life.
Art is everywhere. Our job, as artists, is to bring it to life. There are those who would say that art is unnecessary and to them I would say that they are not looking, because art, that wondrous, nebulous, ubiquitous glue that holds the universe together, is in the very air that we breath. I am grateful to some small part of that wonder.
Editors' note: See more of Patty's work at: http://www.pattymcpheeartist.com