The Following is a guest article from the Brooklyn-based art blog And Freedom For.
New York-based artist Sky Pape’s work is like an intangible sense memory of the natural world. They are the feel of rain on your skin or reeds scratching your legs, but they are more importantly an expression of the underlying force that moves and grows it all. By guiding Sumi ink around a page, tracing graphite across a board or pasting together delicate strips of handmade paper she creates potent works that resonate with our experience to the natural world without telling us how to interact with it.
AndFreedomFor What would you say is the main driver in your work? Your main influence or inspiration?
Sky Pape Among other things, creativity is a way of being, and a way to well-being. Mostly, I find myself fumbling with the conundrums of existence. Themes of transience, continuity and mortality pull at my sleeve. Creative pursuits not only offer a catharsis for unwieldy emotions, doing this provides a context and means to grasp otherwise inexpressible sensations and states of being, like fear, beauty, wonderment, and decay, which often coexist in opposition. It’s enough to make you nuts, but in art, all these tensions and enigmas can actually dance cheek-by-jowl as a compelling whole.
AFF You work almost exclusively with Sumi ink. What about that medium do you like?
SP Primarily, I use what would be considered drawing materials – paper, ink, and graphite. I like their immediacy. I like their availability too – they are very special, but not exclusive. The ink has a pleasing fragrance that sparks something within me, the way odors have of triggering deep memories. The nuances of the ink feel limitless. The history and natural origins of these materials are charged with meaning, and there are things to be learned from their physical properties. Using earthy materials like water, Sumi ink and paper is a consistent extension of my relationship to the natural world. On one level, water refers to my beginning; the soot, ash, and organic components of the ink disclose my end. I’ve found that reflection on death proves to be integrally bound to a full consideration of life. Really, it’s not nearly as morbid as it sounds.
AFF A lot of your work looks somewhat representational (as in landscapes). Do you work from images? Or is it intuitive?
SP I haven’t done any work that I would consider directly representational, figurative, or naturalistic in about twenty years. I don’t reference other images or preparatory studies. Observation, immersion, and experience are presently significant to me; imitation and literal description are not.
On the whole, drawings from my Ligurian Suite and Bellagio Suite are the only work suggestive of landscape, and even those vistas quickly dissolve upon closer inspection. There is no scenery, no tree or lake there– just the residue of mist and rain and plant soot, the trails of palm fronds used to make marks. I recently learned there is a word for this: pareidolia. It’s like seeing the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast. Our minds are wired to work that way.
AFF Your work is so emotionally evocative – is it cathartic, draining, fun, or exhilarating to work on a piece?
SP Oh, yes. The process of making this stuff is cathartic, draining and exhilarating. It is expansive and educational in the way that life experiences can be – uncovering some glimmer of awareness. Chasing the aha. It is demanding and consuming. It is a holistic, comprehensive effort that is analytical, emotional, visceral, and contemplative. It can be frustrating and difficult, but it is never, ever boring. As a passionate endeavor, it’s both depleting and satisfying. Very.
AFF Can you talk about your enthusiasm for nature? How does it affect your work?
SP I’m the sort of person whose entire day is made by the sight of a mushroom sprung up in the forest. The natural world is both my refuge and my resource center. The woods and the studio are great places for an introvert.
Often, I work outdoors in and with the elements. Water, such as rain, mist, ice or snow, can be a very active component of the drawing. Nature imprints itself on my work in different ways, one being that the materials have a tendency to express something of their own physicality. Water, for example, will leave marks that can call to mind its movement, feel, appearance and force.
We, each of us, have concerns that engage us deeply, with various issues coming to the fore over the course of a lifetime. Speaking for myself, environmental stewardship is a moral and existential imperative. Incrementally destroyed, what sustains us is gone before you know it, and I take that very personally.
Maybe there’s something to that pareidolia – our minds are so ready to conjure images of nature because our connection to it is so primal and essential.
AFF What’s next for you?
SP I develop ideas and techniques through experimentation, putting a great deal of necessary effort into making things that I may never show anyone. That makes me kind of hesitant to say much about what’s next.
For the past year and a half I have been slogging away with various concepts and methods. Some have been tangential explorations, some have been instructive failures. During the past several months, I got a grip on something that I’m excited to run with – or it is running with me? Growing out of the ink, water, and paper work I’ve done, there are new layers of physical and metaphorical substance, incorporating some use of text and limited color. I’m curious and eager to see where it will take me.
For more of AndFreedomFor’s interviews with artists see here.
The WallBreakers would like to thank And Freedom For for this wonderful interview with Sky Pape. There’s so much inspiration that we can pull from nature. It’s this inspiration that can help us find our way through the uncertainty that is life because through this inspiration grows, in all of us, a desire to create. Sky Pape, we think, would agree that the creation of art is a way to try to understand the mysteries of life.