Is there beauty in the bite, something to learn inside each of the things we fear? What more than appearance might the spider contain? What color, what mysterious geometry, what inspiration? PD Packard's artwork explores the complex interweaving of entomology and the parallels with our more human selves, attempting to express the principles of unconditional love, as opposed to conditional romance. "One may find something quite hideous about bugs," PD says, "but I discovered through observation and the causal study of entomology that though there is horror, there is also beauty, even love in a world that parallels our own." Shed skin, shark teeth, sun-bleached fish bones, the pattern of a beetle's shell, ours is not the only world to think about here. What surrounds us, what do we see, what don't we see? What are the almost invisible relationships at work in the air or just beneath our feet, how different are they, how similar? "I am attracted to things that are very different from me and make me feel uncomfortable." PD says of primary influence, "Feeling uncomfortable is a significant part of creativity, causing a curiosity within me to look closer at the subject matter." Packard talks us through her life's work, and the multifaceted experiences she strives to create, reminding us that "the most sacred aspect of art is the artist’s hand upon their work" and the many worlds we stumble into, and out of, along the way.
AHC: What has your own personal evolution towards a life in art been like, are there a series of moments you can recall where this path, this calling, began to become the one clearly marked for you?
PD Packard: I’ve always had a natural love of color. When growing up in Washington, D.C., and trying to determine how I would make an income with this love of color, I believed that going to a university would be the answer. I began studying fashion design at Parsons School of Design in NYC. Through an exchange program, I applied for and was awarded a full scholarship to Saint Martin’s School of Art (aka Central Saint Martin’s), in London. There I obtained a BFA in Fashion and Textile Design. At Saint Martin’s I was given a lot of creative freedom, something that had been missing at Parsons. Most of my days at Saint Martin’s were spent working in the textile department dyeing and printing fabrics, and then executing many self-indulgent, crazy-butt ideas for clothing and accessories that weren’t viewed as very commercial by my teachers. It was a wonderful foundation and even today experimenting without restraints is a very important part of developing any of my ideas, helping me discern and refine each step towards completion.
In truth, I really must give due credit to my mother who definitely marked a clear path of art for me. She was an avid reader and was always interested in knowing about the life and work of the most popular architect, artist, writer, director, or whomever represented hip and happening at the moment. Much of what she claimed was worth knowing about, or insisted I know about, I found completely baffling or did not agree with. As a young teenager there was always the pressure from peers to be social. Although I liked going out with friends on Friday and Saturday night, I equally liked staying in just to redecorate my room. This act of reorganizing has always been incredibly therapeutic for me and another way of articulating my love of color. Once my room was completed, I would joyfully set myself up in front of the TV with a big bowl of popcorn and watch old black & white movies like Mildred Pierce, starring Joan Crawford or anything by one of my favorite directors, Alfred Hitchcock. My mother was extremely social and thought it very odd that I would prefer to be at home, alone, even if it was creating, instead of out and about socializing with friends. It’s always been important for me to be able to spend time alone and separate from the world in order to hear inspirational thoughts.
AHC: Could you explore and expand on some of the motivating ideas at work in both the images that you make and the process behind the making of them? How does the idea for you begin and what does its evolution look like during the stages of its development?
PD Packard: Scientists use the word “discover” when talking about their work. For me, to discover, means that it’s already there, it just has to be revealed, or uncovered. Art isn’t a default for me because I don’t understand math or science. It is math and science. With this in mind, my work is focused on the discovery of the cause and effect of color. I also find inspiration to be something that is instantaneous, occurring without thought and when I am not actually trying to create. Many of my ideas come to me in the middle of the night when I am in deep sleep. The creative source within me, within each of us, actually calls my name, waking me from my sleep, and shoves the idea into my consciousness. After which I am desperate to remember the idea the next day when I awake.
I am called a mixed-media artist combining printmaking techniques with watercolor painting. Before I actually commence work I do lots of sketches. Every time I get an idea I try to quickly put it down on paper, preferably in my sketchbook. I then select some of the ideas to take further through a period of experimentation with more drawings, making a boat load of prints, painting watercolors, and building small prototypes out of bookbinding board. Executing the final piece is an additional lengthy process spent working out how all the various pieces fit together harmoniously to express the principles of unconditional love, not conditional romance.
AHC: You've written that your work is created to express the principles of unconditional love, not conditional romance. Could you talk some about what you mean by this and if it in any way connects up with the patterns of insects you document, which are indefinitely complex, as are we. Is unconditional love, as you see it, a recognition of our own indefinitely complex (as opposed to simplified romantic notions) messiness and modes of being with each other, that are perhaps more honest when we're in it for the long haul with each other, so to speak?
PD Packard: When I was five years old. My new friend had a big playhouse in her backyard. As we entered her playhouse, the small, silk ball caught my eye and I reached out to grab it. To my horror a spider jumped onto my hand, wrapping around my middle finger. The more I tried to shake the spider off, the more it clung to my hand. It bit me and then fell into the grass. Being stung by bumblebees while running barefoot through the clover fields behind my house was nothing new to me, but the spider’s bite made my hand swell and throb in pain, later turning completely purple. I do not recall how the day ended, but I am sure my mother came to pick me up. I never did see my new friend again.
This experience created within me fear, disgust, and even horror towards insect. Only many years later were I able to think anew about insects while gardening at my home in Brooklyn, NY. One may find something quite hideous about bugs, but I discovered through observation and the causal study of entomology that though there is horror, there is also beauty, even love in a world that parallels our own. Painting insects is really, me, just trying to release myself from conditional, human opinion that creates frustration. I try to listen within myself for ideas that are unforced, free and unconditional.
AHC: Who are some of your artistic influences? Is there anyone outside of the art world who has had a huge impact on you and your work or who just generally inspire you on some level, writers, filmmakers, comedians, musicians etc.?
PD Packard: I am attracted to things that are very different from me and make me feel uncomfortable. Feeling uncomfortable is a significant part of creativity, causing a curiosity within me to look closer at the subject matter. This uncomfortable object of interest is obvious in my watercolors of insects, or scanagrams of shark’s teeth, sun-bleached fish bones, and snake sheds.
I’ve always loved bold graphics, with self-similar images and mathematical order. In the late 80s, a friend took me to hear a lecture on graphic design given at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), in NYC. I had no idea who the guest speaker was, and in my naive mind he looked like some regular, middle-aged man wearing a suit and heavy, black-rimmed glasses. He was introduced as Saul Bass, the American graphic designer and filmmaker. From the start, I was incredibly impressed with his work especially when he showed his title sequences that he had created for many well-known movies, like The Pink Panther and for films by Alfred Hitchcock. For Hitchcock’s movies, North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Psycho, Bass invented this new type of kinetic typography in his title sequences that I love. Bass was also a prolific logo designer and many of his logos are still in use today, showing the longevity and strength of his work. Longevity and strength are traits that I greatly admire in anyone's work.
AHC: What do you consider, personally, to be the most sacred and enduring aspects of art? How does it enrich our world and our cultural memory? How has it enriched or altered your own life? In your opinion, what does art, at its finest moments, bring into the world that would otherwise leave us more impoverished without it?
PD Packard: The most sacred aspect of art is the artist’s hand upon their work. Their soul, their mind, their everything is placed mentally and physically upon their work and it’s obvious. I am very compelled to express this concept in my own work as an artist. For many years I worked as a designer creating products, original textile and surface designs primarily for the cosmetic industry. What I very much enjoy about designing is that it’s about solving problems by developing products that are useful and functional for your client or customer. Simply put, you work as a team with designers, manufacturers, and distributors. It’s very natural to have many minds and hands evolved during the process. With my art, I am not trying to solve problems; I am trying to create an experience.
AHC: What is the first work of art you encountered that took your breath away, that lit a fire in you?
PD Packard: When I was 16 years old, my mother brought home the first book published by the German photographer, Helmut Newton, called White Women. I immediately loved his black-and-white and color photographs of women that were at the time considered very controversial and reflected the changing image of women in Western society. In the book, his images contained nudity and eroticism in the world of fashion that definitely made me uneasy yet intrigued to know more. Today anyone of any age can easily find booty shots or even more illicit images on social media, but I’d never seen images of women in the fashion world looking decadent yet elegant or masculine and beautiful at the same time.
AHC: Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for young artists and other creatives who are experiencing self-doubt in their art, frustration or blocks? What are the types of things that have helped you to move past moments where you may have become stuck creatively?
PD Packard: Suffering is a natural process in any form of creativity. The initial inspirational idea I get for my next project is really the most exciting part of creating. The actual process of executing the idea causes me a lot of discomfort because I am trying to be as real and honest about my work as possible. I am very isolated, working alone in my studio and this can sometimes be challenging. It’s essential for me to be open to rethink, adapt, or change if something is not moving as planned. If things are not going well with a piece, I work hard to remain committed to completing the project. Completion creates the confidence to continue on, even if it appears there’s no outlet for my work.
It’s important for artists, for anyone, to learn to talk about money. The thought that we just love our work so much that we are willing to do it for free is not necessarily true. Artists are as committed and hardworking as any other profession and must be paid fairly. Talking about money can’t rob you of your creativity.
AHC: Do you have any upcoming exhibits or new projects you'd like to tell people about?
PD Packard: I strongly believe in the principle that Black + White = Color. To articulate that idea, I’ve been making scanagrams and black-and-white photos using a macro lens primarily of plants, insects and nature from the northern seashore. The series is strongly influenced by the works of Karl Blossfeldt, a German photographer, teacher and artist best known for his close-up photographs of plants that were first published in 1929. In his book, Art Forms In Nature, he wrote that the “plants could be described as an architectural structure.” In my work, I am trying to convey the architectural patterns of plants.
I am always welcome to opportunities where I can demystify color and show how natural and approachable color is for all of us. This September 24th, I have been invited by the Artist and Craftsman Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, to hold an in-store demo on the Japanese decorative papermaking technique, Itajime Shibori. Free and open to the public, participants from 5 years – adults are welcome to a hands-on experience on how to create the 1000 years old decorative paper. In addition, on October 7, 2017, I will also be conducting the same workshop at 1241 Carpenter Studios in South Philadelphia during the Center For the Emerging Visual Artists program, The Philadelphia Open Studio Tours (POST). The POST event is also generously sponsored in part by heavy bubble portfolio websites for artists.
For more visit PD Packard: http://www.pdpackard.com
Artist and Craftsman Chestnut Hill: http://www.artistcraftsman.com
Center For the Emerging Visual Artists program, The Philadelphia Open Studio Tours (POST): https://www.philaopenstudios.org
Heavy Bubble Portfolio Websites for Artist: http://heavybubble.com
All images © PD Packard (Provided courtesy of the artist.)
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