Louie Van Patten‘s paintings are dark and moving. They reveal parts of us we see at the last moment when we turn away from the mirror, the parts we know are there but often can’t, or won’t. They are colorful, vibrant, loudly emotive, and they plumb some of the deepest parts of the human condition. Check out his interview:
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Louie Van Patten and I am an oil painter. I’m generally interested in painting the human form. I previously worked collaboratively as a painter for many years.
Let’s start with the first thing one sees when they come to your site, the Sequence Study, an experience that is beautiful as it is horrifying. This guy gets the Ark of the Covenant treatment, he starts almost and then his face melts off. Dear god. But honestly I can’t look away. What’s going on here? How long did each painting take you? Did you paint them in the order they are shown? How were you feeling when you painted each different piece? What do you think happens to the subject?
I’m always attracted to painting portraits, or maybe more accurately, paintings of the human head. With the portrait sequence on louievanpatten.com, I wanted to do a succession of portraits that could function as an animation on the internet as well as either one contiguous or divided piece of physical art. Each portrait was painted in the course of a day with a sequential order in mind. In the process of painting them, I hoped for some heightened sense of drama to come from the changes of the paint. Like something jarring was happening to the little man trapped in the shallow space of this image. While I do like sequence I intended for the paintings, I had some fun playing with different pairings of images.
Know the Heart of Men is a much, calmer piece, more peaceful. Why have you chosen an elderly man to portray the heart of men? Which was the emotion behind each different piece of this triptych? Who is the man in the painting? How would you describe the Heart of Men?
After offering them for sale individually, the piece ended up a diptych, two triptychs, and one orphaned painting, along with existing as a primitive, but ceaselessly looping internet animation. Right now I rarely exhibit my work outside of the internet. This leaves the vast majority of my paintings not being physically viewed by someone other than me until they buy it. This is a strange, wonderful way to sell art and I want to interact with it rather than pretending I’ve got my work up in a decent gallery or god-forbid, a museum. While it is neat to sell paintings all over the world and I get some attention on the internet, it strikes me as almost a sort of a parochial way to exist as an artist. And yet it is a decent way to live as a little man that likes to paint and get little squirts of serotonin from instagram likes and tumblr reblogs.
The man in the painting “Know the Heart of Men” is filmmaker Werner Herzog. I often watch interviews of him on youtube and as a lot of my paintings come from video, it became tempting to paint his head. Some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard have emerged from that head. And while his ideas are certainly more interesting than his head, his head is damn interesting. The painting is titled “Know the Heart of Men” because Herzog once said “I know the heart of men” and I believe him.
For Entfalten I and Entfalten II you’ve focused on hands and abdomens, with your realistic, curved, visceral, fleshy work, and then added clean, distinct and stark lines of geometric shapes. How do the shapes relate to the human bodies in the paintings? They look like the encapsulate the hands, almost trapping them, was that your intent? Or are they an expression of the subject? We are such flawed creatures, yet we seek to creak perfection with our hands, we build straight buildings that in no way resemble our forms or the chaos of nature. Why is that? Are we trying to escape ourselves? Or build something greater than our own imperfection?
With my “Entfalten” paintings, I wanted to create diptychs with a sense of reflective movement, like two frames of an animation cycling back and forth. The compositions feature a primitive geometry that act as a container of sorts, being deformed by the movement of the figure. I don’t know that I can speak to what exactly these paintings are expressing, but for me they started as a reference to and continuation of the work I did with my former collaborator, Cara Thayer. I tend to think the bodies I paint are not quite the palpable flesh that oil paint is capable of masquerading as, so I must ultimately be interested in the tension between our quivering bodies and abstract geometric figures.
What about the human body calls to you? Your work is so honest in its depiction of the human carapace, and at the same time, so expressive. What do you do to prepare for a painting? How much prep work do you do, whether emotionally or artistically? Is there a greater narrative, or story you seek to tell with your work?
I like what Lucian Freud wrote “As a human animal, I am interested in some of my fellow animals in their minds and bodies.” I prepare for paintings by working with photography or video I shoot digitally. Typically, I have hundreds if not thousands of stills or photos I mine from. I also work from youtube videos that have little visual artistic intent. Really, in full-disclosure I also do paintings from television and cinema to make money on the internet, but I sincerely appreciate that we are not talking about that here so why am I bringing it up?
Where did the name Contempt of Mind come from? That is a very strong statement, how do you feel it prefaces the pieces in the series? How do you think it affects the perception of your viewers? What’s going on in VII and VIII? Those two are much lighter than the previous pieces in the series, but also seemingly more emotionally extreme. How did the series evolve as you painted more? How did it resolve in your mind? And what was the meaning?
The “Contempt of Mind” paintings are essentially oil stick fingerpainted self-portraits that I hoped would represent some kind of internal state, rather than a self-portrait of artist as artist in studio or what have you. At some point I had become sick of my own thoughts. I quite like the meditative idea of not identifying with one’s thoughts, so I thought I would take it a step more perverse by having outright contempt for the whole act of thinking and thinking about thinking. In some ways they are self-portraits about being a grubby lil manimal and they kind of become more lurid and sexual as they go.
Do you ever feel exposed painting so much self-portraiture? Or painting at all? Do you see your pieces as an extension of yourself?
I don’t know that I see paintings as an extension of myself, but I most certainly identify with them. I paint self-portraits a lot because I am always available to be painted and on some level, I must think I’m interesting. Admittedly, I sometimes grow sick of my own face, which I think leads me to paint animated narratives of it being melted off like in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I feel a little vulnerable at times, as though all of my little poems about being a human are being read by a few thousand people, most which are probably rebloggers on Tumblr. But I’m happy to have the audience, sincerely.
What is your goal for 2016?
In 2016, I would like to make more art and longer sequences of paintings. I am thinking of starting a sequence that continues on indefinitely, featuring the aged Alan Greenspan’s cute little head. But maybe that is a little too on the nose…