Medium as message

When Raoul Pacheco went to graduate school, he had no idea he was entering occupied territory.

“There’s this battle between craft and fine art,” he explained, “clay being a craft medium.”

But clay was his primary medium and he created earthy, textured vessels that he considered art.

“I went in as a potter. I considered myself a potter. I spent a lot of time working side by side with Shishir [Chokshi, of Tire City Potters],” Pacheco said. “When I got to grad school it was a constant battle to prove myself and my medium.”

The California College of the Arts campus is split between Oakland, where Pacheco worked on the practical side of his art, and San Francisco, where he learned theory and critical thinking. Traveling back and forth between the two worlds, he struggled to build a bridge.

“I constantly had to defend myself as to why I was working with clay,” he said.

He experimented with other things, like Project Slowmover. The activist/aesthetic project had high aspirations of eliminating a danger to the common brown garden snail. The danger: Pacheco’s own feet. He often found on wet and rainy nights that he accidentally crushed them as he walked the city sidewalks.

The answer? Adhering blinking red warning lights on their shells. It didn’t work out that well. As it turns out, the adhesive he used was deadly to the snails. Still, one could crown it a Dadaist success.

But in the meantime, he worked on his wheel — “I’m dedicated to the wheel as a tool,” Pacheco said — and continued to develop his response to art’s idea of what art ought to be.

Ott talks back.

Say hello to Ott.

“This little guy helped to take the clay out of my work,” Pacheco said, indicating his knee-high claymate in the corner. The white, bumpy and slightly conical little doppelganger is Pacheco’s clay-dough response to the art world’s attacks.

Ott plays with the ideas of being and nothingness, social and artistic convention, and invisibility and social setting. In this way, he is still a vessel Pacheco created as a potter. But the content he carries is metaphorical and narrative in nature — although in many ways still liquid. People tend to fill him with their own meaning. Ott has been accused by others of being isolated, pathetic and phallic, yet intriguing.

His effect is similar to a Rorschach test, a nebulous ink blot imagined by the viewer into resemblance of a defined object. And it might say more about the artist’s psyche if Pacheco used Ott differently. But by placing him in scenes with implied but still ambiguous narrative, Pacheco’s work draws out of people their own pride and prejudices as they relate to social interaction. The result is a dialogue between intent and inference. The difference is the same as that between listening to a storyteller and making up a story to fit a situation.

Pacheco plays with that concept himself by using second-hand children’s coloring books to create art on paper. It grew out of his fondness for what he calls the “throwaway culture.”

“I really like things that are thrown away, temporary, ephemeral, whatever,” he explained, surrounded in his Ellis Street studio by the detritus of everyday life: receipts and other bits of paper, old photographs, things he finds on the street.

Pacheco looks for post-World War II/pre-1970s illustrations — there is simplicity of style and emotional earnestness that appeals to him — and he works Ott into the existing scene.

“I think of it like I collaborate with the kid who had it before me and create my own
narrative out of the work,” he said.

It’s a technique that would work well in helping the kids he’s taught at The Art Factory, the Jessye Norman School of the Arts and Augusta Preparatory Day School. That’s the kind of partnership he brings to his position as an adjunct professor at Augusta State University, where he teaches 3-D fundamentals and life drawing.

Much of his artwork — and his work in education — attempts to build a bridge between art and life. In his art, though, he juxtaposes the familiar with the alien, giving the viewer just enough to draw them into his storylines without structure. A name. A familiar illustration from a Richard Scarry book. A recognizable scene.

He provides just enough to start viewers on a journey. But where they end up is entirely up to them.

Raoul Pacheco and Dwayne Clark
Mary Pauline Gallery
Opening reception Friday, Aug. 10
5-8 p.m.
Show runs through Sept. 22


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