I have always admired those artists whose impulse to create overrides the trap of the contemporary art market, where the cream doesn't always rise to the top. It always amazes me to see the incredible capacity we have to articulate the most powerful and profound aspects of the human experience, while evoking every possible emotional response.
Patricia Kushner is such an artist, and for as long as I have known her, she has been true to her vision creating a prodigious body of emotionally charged work which delves into darkest recesses of the human experience. For many in Penticton their only insight into Patricia's artistic output are the paintings hanging in the Bellevue Cafe and the works she has included in number of gallery exhibitions and fundraisers over the past number of years. I have long admired her dedication to her work, her craft and have wanted to delve deeper into her artistic process and to learn more about her artistic journey.
Art is a social document, one that reflects the history of our collective passing as seen through the eyes and experiences of the individual artists whose voices and vision form the warp and weft of our cultural fabric, weaving together our collective consciousness to form the backdrop of our lives. While the experiences are unique to each of the artists, the language of art is universal and within each brushstroke, among the notes and between the pages we not only see ourselves but find comfort, understanding, and a way of connecting ourselves to a larger community network.
Patricia's work is raw and honest, both beautiful and ugly, large and small, loud and quiet, evocative and provocative, graphic and painterly and are full of complexity and depth. This is an exhibition that's not for the faint of heart but for everyone who has a heart.
Patricia Kushner was born and raised in Vancouver in 1939. She was married in her teens and raised three children in an abusive marriage, in the lonely isolation of suburbia in the sixties and seventies. After taking a class in batik, Patricia was encouraged to apply as a mature student to the Vancouver School of Art and was accepted in 1971. Over the next four years she would experience many challenges and ups and downs, but through it all she discovered much more than her art, she found her voice and along with it a confidence and resolve that would change her life forever and free herself from the bonds she found herself shackled to. Working as a figurative artist at this time was not easy, as the art world was divided by the finely taped lines of the hard edged painters and the conceptual ideas of artist collectives like N.E.Thing Co. and General Idea. In spite of the challenges she found inspiration in the work of the American artist Edward Kienholz whose figurative assemblages crossed the lines between the narrative and the conceptual and in whose work she found license to continue down the road she had chosen.
Reflecting on this important period of transformation, Patricia writes “I got involved with sculpture and when I was in the sculpture department, the classes had male and female models, and the class would be creating replicas, (I thought), in clay and would then later cast them in plaster. I tried it for awhile and then got quite bored. The stuff I loved and was attracted to was the stuff they were throwing into the trash! There were wooden armatures covered in mud and bits of wire, etc., and they were so much more interesting to me! I started looking for and collecting bits of material to make my own type of sculptures. During the time at the school, my marriage continued to worsen and I was becoming more fragile. I worked harder and harder at the school. I also started to make sculptures in the basement of our house. I would look for things that would express my anguish and despair. I discovered a mannequin store in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and over time I purchased several. At home, I would haul them into the basement and start to bash out my desperation, agony and pain. There is one that I painted and battered with a hammer, as that was what I felt like inside. I was being beaten down. I had no one to turn to, so I took out all of my rage and hurt on the mannequins. Nearing the end of my time at the school, I brought some of them to the school, and the teachers were amazed and speechless when they saw them.” Patricia graduated in 1975, majoring in lithography and design receiving the distinction of Honours in both majors, receiving numerous government scholarships and being awarded the Norman Rothstein Award.
Upon graduation Patricia left her husband and over the course of the next 40 years she has lived and worked in Vancouver, New York and Montreal eventually finding herself here in Penticton. Through it all she has never wavered from her vision and conviction. Her work has grown out of the sixties and parallels the rise of the feminist movement and deserves to be viewed today in context with her contemporaries such as Judy Chicago, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer and Ana Mendieta.
Reflecting on the driving forces behind her work, Patricia writes, “For most of my life I have been creating art, working with my ideas about people, emotions and feelings. In my work I wish to capture, and portray, not the physical or external self, but more importantly to me, our inner selves and our relationships to each other, and to the world at large. The human figure is the genesis of my work. I have created a simplified human figure to express the essence of who we are. The figures I use represent our human selves, evolving and growing in a rapidly changing and complicated world. It is my vehicle to talk about us, as people, living in the shifting landscape of our contemporary lives.
When working with ideas about communication, I feel there is a whole world within each person, a world rarely seen due to societal, cultural and other limitations, which form a barrier to true communication and to our really "knowing" one another, to seeing into each other's hearts or souls. Will burgeoning technologies and mass global communications take us into the future as a glorious tapestry of humanity or will we draw back, become more insular, fearful and alienated from each other?”
Its with great pleasure that we are able to present this survey into the life and art of Patricia Kushner and I hope that it will not only inspire you to seek out more of her work but those of other feminist artists whose work have come to define the rise in social equality over the past 50 years. This is a powerful body of work and while it may be a document of one persons life experience, there is a universality of experience to be found in her work and if you choose to look beyond the surface and let yourself go you may be confronted with something you do not expect, an aspect of your past, providing a window into that eternal struggle we all face when life has our backs against the wall. I hope this exhibition provides us all with a cathartic experience, and as dark as it may seem at times, please keep in mind Patricia's summation of her work, “My art is intrinsically about moving forward through life with love, hope and optimism” something we all need to be reminded of, more often than not.