Art for the World
Patton Blackwell’s work is “deeply rooted in her experience of her surroundings and her desire to translate this experience to the canvas.”
By Katherine Pettit » Photos Jay Browne
Her paintings are larger than life – or perhaps as large as life can be when you’re standing in front of a mammoth visual delight. And Patton Blackwell’s aesthetic is strong: “to go further with each brush stroke, each choice of color, and each nail that I have to hammer into a stubborn wall.”
The Columbia native was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota by a family with deep Kershaw roots. She took art lessons at a time when most women didn’t pursue that as a career. “My art teacher took my father aside one day and said, ‘Let her go further.’ Papa was very supportive of my studies.”
Her parents, Shannon and Dorothy Blackwell, helped influence her direction. She remembers her mother’s beautiful gardens and her father’s love of nature. His profession as a chemical engineer involved the use of various plastic materials including acrylics. “That may have attracted me to this medium,” she said.
After graduating from Macalester College with a degree in Cultural Geography, Blackwell traveled for three years. She worked, studied and spent time in Israel, Turkey, North Africa, and throughout Europe. Along the way she studied French and Literature at the Sorbonne in Paris, worked at a chateau vineyard near Bordeaux, lived in a Kibbutz in Israel, and traveled – enthusiastically traveled.
She painted everywhere she went. Upon her return to the United States, Blackwell moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, to The Experiment in International Living (a multicultural college), and completed her Master’s in Intercultural/International Management.
And then she moved to Brazil. “The Sao Paulo Biennial created a lively stage for cultural cross-pollination and commerce,” she explained. “I studied with wonderful artists and was fully immersed in the cultural center for the 80s generation. I went for a six-month internship and stayed 14 years.”
In 1988 Blackwell spent a month in Japan, visiting temples, gardens, museums, galleries, collections and other artists. “I was on my own, but stayed with a Japanese friend and her family I had known at the Experiment in International Living.”
The experiences were transformative to say the least. In fact, wander through the current exhibition at City Art in downtown Columbia and you’ll be filled with aha moments. Without a doubt, there will be a particular work that really, really speaks to you.
“I spend years on my pieces,” she said, noting that the past two years of pandemic living has already begun to reveal itself in her work, “and probably will become more present for at least the next ten years.”
Her paintings are abstract, influenced by the work of William de Kooning and Wassily Kandiinsky – and so many years in culturally and physically diverse environments. “Travessia pelas Aguas” evokes the blue of the Aegean Sea, the straits of the Bosphorus and the world that is Turkey. It’s a moment captured in time, and an invitation to interpret what you see.
She doesn’t paint landscapes, however, “Nature with its strong re-creative spirit inspires me with its diversity of light, luminosity, trees, vegetation, water and its creatures.”
Another piece, “Carnaval,” was completed on the last day of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. There is a ticket within the painting that helps mark the experience.
And the pale green, pink and white colors of “spring2020” cover darker greens, lightened as the pandemic began to ever-so-slightly lift its haze. “This was the first piece I finished during the pandemic and you can see the evolution,” she said.
In 1996, Blackwell moved back to South Carolina, to Camden, where her father lived. The inspiration continued. She took yoga classes from Stacy Millner Collins, founder of City Yoga, and traveled with her and her husband, Dr. Brad Collins, who teaches modern and contemporary art at the University of South Carolina. “Traveling with them deepened and enriched my experience, understanding and my ability to translate into paint, the splendors of Turkey,” she said. “In addition, Stacey’s informal exploration of consciousness, via the yogic path, shimmers in my colors and brush strokes. I began with Stacey as my teacher in 2006 and continue now in 2022, although it has been more sporadic during the pandemic.”
For 20 years she lived and worked in Camden, still traveling, but immersing herself in the local culture. “I loved equestrian events and the horses who were all around us.” She also painted what she saw – even on the golf course.
Her paintings have lived international lives as well, touring as part of the United States Art in Embassies program in Egypt, Qatar, Romania, Honduras, Guatemala and Myanmar (Burma). “My work went around the world to help share what America is through its art,” she said. “I love that these paintings helped facilitate International understanding. It’s been a very important part of my life.”
Just before the pandemic hit, she spent a part of 2019 as an artist in residence at Borgo Santo Pietro, in Siena, Italy. “I enjoyed meeting people from everywhere,” she said. “For one month I taught, painted and immersed myself in Italian life.”
Since the world shut down for COVID, she’s been closer to home, and has moved to Columbia – full circle – where she’s sorting out the next phase of how she’ll live and work. Meanwhile, collectors and art enthusiasts travel to Columbia and City Art to enjoy (and buy) her work. And she keeps painting the world and looking forward to traveling again – soon. g