David Pattee is an Ottawa-based graphic designer, artist, maker, and musician. He combines all of those elements into his work. I met him and saw his work at RAW Toronto Verve in August and I was really fascinated with how different it was from any of the other art that was there that night. You can read about my evening at RAW Toronto Verve here. I reached out to him about an interview and was glad when agreed to answer some questions.
1. You have a multi-faceted background. How did you get to where you are now as an artist?
This goes way back to being a kid. My brother and I had a pretty great upbringing, exposed to so much culture. My Dad was a diplomat and we moved from country to country and we traveled around the world. My parents made a point of exposing us to the world by exploring whatever country we lived in and honouring it by buying some of its art. We also did road trips around the country we were in and visited some of the neighboring countries. We did that when we lived in Morocco, ferrying to Spain and visiting Portugal.
My Mom was an incredible artist. Cook. You name it, you challenged her, she did it. She took lessons from some great instructors and became brilliant. She did some very abstract mixed media pieces back when I was a kid and that, is a huge part of why I do what I do. I still remember the pieces and they act as my personal guide; interpret it your own way.
2. Describe a typical day for you.
At the moment? Total artist. I have a few projects on the go and a few more planned. I like working with many ideas on the go. I can stagger when things need to be done, I’m not bored, and I don’t get impatient and such things, waiting for something to dry and diving in too early. It also lets me evolve an idea from initial conception.
So, the start of the day is coffee and smoke on the back deck with my cat and dog, I have the paint shed that is just amazing to have, and is perpetually in need of a good clean. This backyard is where I start pretty much every canvas by sanding it down. I also use the outdoors to drill, cut, Dremel, whatever raises dust, airbrush, let things dry.
I used to be glued to a computer. I find I rarely sit down these days. It’s exciting, I love what I’m doing.
3. Who or what inspires you?
Punk, the movement. I grew up in the eighties after Punk died down but I was a huge fan of post-punk bands and I always admired the Punk ethos of doing it yourself. Recording, distribution, marketing. It was underground but they got it done.
I watch a lot of documentaries, hate reality TV, love animated shows/movies. I love sci-fi, horror, surrealism, the absurd, the ridiculous.
An aside, but still sort of relevant, a few years ago, my ex and I were in an art store doing some shopping for some craft project of hers when I saw a birch cradled board, 24”x24” and I bought it. It was gallery depth and I had plans for it, I just didn’t know what it was yet. We split up last year and I used art to get through some of the worst of it. I did a piece using her as a model, EarHead, back in 2013 and I decided to make it real, with the waveform on acrylic and lights. And I wanted it big. I still had the birch panel and when I took the wrapper and label off, there was a marking in the wood that was just like a waveform. It couldn’t have been planned better. I’m not superstitious but that waveform told me, “Ha, Dude! Keep doing this!” That little mark on the board has really been fuel to keep me going.
4. In your RAW radio interview, you said that you find it more interesting to create art that is interactive and just doesn't sit on the wall. Why is that important to you?
As a commercial artist, I look at everything as a possible “how can I use that to sell something to a whole bunch of someones?”. Part of my artist statement I say, “commercialism” is an influence in my work and, it sure is. How can it not be? Attention spans, everyone’s, is a commodity that’s for sale and every marketer is vying for it.
I’m also a product of the Sesame Street Generation; spoon-fed small bits of information in 30-second chunks. I love looking at paintings but I get bored easily.
You can listen to the radio interview here.
5. How long on average does it take you to complete a piece?
The shortest, the one I’m working on now and has to be delivered tomorrow for a showing was a week. That’s way too short and I made mistakes.
I think on average it takes me about three months per piece. I have a few pieces (ha-ha) if you did some forensics testing you would find the start of a couple of ideas underneath. I don’t always know how it’s going to turn out unless it speaks to me the whole time.
My favourite pieces are the ones I don’t remember even getting the idea or doing, they just kind of happen. And those are the ones that also resonate with the viewer the most as well. It’s strange. It happens to me in graphic design as well.
6. Who are some of your favourite artists?
Claude Monet, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Salvador Dali, H. R. Giger, Zdzisław Beksiński, Dave McKean, M. C. Escher, Banksy, Picasso, Joan Miro, Cuixart, Leonardo Da Vinci, Wassily Kandinsky, Tamara de Lempicka, Steven R. Gilmore, René Magritte, Roy Lichtenstein… I’m sure I’m missing some and I like them for different reasons.
7. What's been the highlight of your art career so far?
It’s the fact that people actually like my stuff. It was really really scary at my first show, I had no idea what the reaction would be. It was overwhelmingly positive and it has led to more opportunities and that in turn leads to credibility. Credibility, in my opinion, is a solid currency in the art world and suddenly, I have some. Wow.
8. What's the most ambitious project you've worked on to date?
Kevin. He was baptized through a Facebook poll. He’s disgusting and creepy and he turned out pretty much the way I wanted him to. I used media and materials I had never used before and it was like, “if I pour this all over him and it doesn’t work (epoxy resin), this is ruined. It turned out better than I could have hoped. He’s also the longest (four months) that I’ve spent on a piece. I took a bit of a break due to issues with my airbrush compressor.
9. Do you have any advice for aspiring or emerging artists?
Don’t be routine. Learn the rules and then break them. That’s what we did in design, back in school. In the first year, learn all the principles and fundamentals. In the second year, be yourself.
It’s the same with art. Why use oil or acrylic on canvas when you can share your vision better with a dried lacquered flower arrangement, an old road sign, stencils, spray paint and an Arduino making animated hearts on a LED display? (specific example, but it’s a new piece I’m working on about “Love”)
10. What's next for you?
I want to incorporate more audio and video, and interactivity. I’m working on a piece for an IoT conference here in Ottawa in the spring, that will let a user create “music” based on the types of data they select.
I also want to maybe slow down on the art and focus on some training; woodworking, welding, sewing (seriously, I want to make wearables) and, very importantly, become adept at 3D modelling. Technology is here to stay and I’m using as much of it as I can.
If you are in or near Toronto, your next chance to see David's work will be between Sept 16th - 21st, 2016 at The Super Wonder Gallery in Toronto as part of MUSE, A Group Representational Art Exhibition. The opening reception is a two-day event on Friday, September 16th and Saturday, September 17th, 8pm - 2am on both days. I'm planning on going on the 16th. If you see me, say hello.
If you'd like to keep up with David and see what he's creating next, you can do so here:
Interview by Glodeane Brown
All photos provided by the artist