Q + A with Pat Colville
ARTIST PAT COLVILLE RETURNS to Houston after 30-plus years teaching and making paintings in New York City. As Colville settles in and begins to absorb what she sees as an active and exciting cultural life here in Houston, A+C contributor NANCY ZASTUDIL interviews her about her consistent yet curious abstract paintings, her experiences operating between art and science, and her return to Houston.
A+C: You have a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Houston so when and how did you become interested in painting?
PAT COLVILLE: I always wanted to be an artist. I had been accepted into the architecture program at Rice University but was lacking math credits, so I enrolled at the University of Houston to make up the difference. My professor in art history discouraged me from architecture and suggested a major in art at the University of Houston. My stepfather saw no value in a Bachelors of Fine Art, so I signed up for a Bachelors of Science in abnormal psychology with a double major in art.
A+C: And how did you decide on your painting materials?
PAT COLVILLE: A number of years ago my eyes were burned by overexposure to volatile chemicals. I decided to change my painting medium from oils to acrylics and spent the following year painting circles and squares until I felt comfortable with the new medium. It changed my approach to painting.
A+C: How do you generate your painted imagery and compositions?
PAT COLVILLE: I have a commitment to abstraction and the 2D surface but am also drawn to the illusion of space, from the earliest paintings up the architectural drawings of today. My latest acrylic paintings have been influenced by a study in landscape design history of early Chinese and Japanese landscapes from the 13th and 14th centuries as well as isometric drawing. While creating tension through contradictory elements of color — both local and chemical, imagined space and distorted scale relations — I try to bring a sense of resolve.
A+C: Are there other artists (or other thinkers makers, doers, etc.) with whom you feel a kind of kinship, familiarity, or understanding?
PAT COLVILLE: Throughout my life many artists have influenced me. I have wanted to paint as aggressively as the Abstract Expressionists and also to be as sublime as the Minimalists but, alas, this is what I do and I have accepted it.
A+C: You’ve had a consistent exhibition record since 1974, complete with some stellar awards and inclusion in several major collections. What keeps you interested in painting specifically and art-making in general?
PAT COLVILLE: This is what I do. I can’t imagine a life without art. While complaining one time about the life of an artist, a friend suggested I stop making art. I was horrified because the thought had even occurred to me.
A+C: Tell me about the pieces in your upcoming show at Moody Gallery, “New Works.” Some new characteristics such as the hexagonal chain-like or fence-like elements appear, along with a looser, freehand paint application which harkens back to some of your work from the 1990s. How do you manage these kinds of variations within such a consistent body of work?
PAT COLVILLE: The work is constantly evolving and being influenced by my life. For example, a pine tree in my yard was dying so I found a book to see if I could find a cure and I saw the interior geometric structure of the pine. I found geometry every way I turned — chain link fence and the makeup of a tree — and I found local color and artificial color…on and on. So those early squares and circles turned into cubes and spheres, and the squares turned into more geometric form and units of form.
A+C: What are your ties to/relationship with Houston?
PAT COLVILLE: I moved to Houston when I was 17 and attended the University of Houston. I married and had two sons. In the 1970s, I received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and went to live in England for a year. After my return to the United States, I moved to New York City where I have lived for the past 35 years. Every year I have come back to Houston to spend time with my family. Now I have a granddaughter and have moved back here to be a part of her life.
A+C: What can you tell me about your experience as a teaching artist?
PAT COLVILLE: Teaching has always been a large part of my life. I have taught at the Houston Museum School, St. Thomas University, The University of Houston, Bennington College, Sarah Lawrence College and the Cooper Union in New York City where I have recently retired after 20 years. I loved teaching; it was always a rewarding experience for me.
A+C: How would you describe the relationship between art and science?
PAT COLVILLE: Well, this is difficult. While science reveals, explores, and tries to resolve the mysteries of our world and universe, the artist tries to describe the unnamable and the grace that exists in our world.
—Nancy Zastudil is an itinerant curator and freelance writer who cant seem to stay away from Houston. Her other writings and projects can be found at www.thenecessarian.com.