an INTERVIEW with painter Joseph Pendergast
During the summer heatwave of 2018, I asked myself a few questions about my recent work and inspirations.
How do your recent paintings compare to your previous work, from your exhibition from three years ago?
I am still working with a botanical theme, to create a type of picture oasis. Before, leaves were the main subject, now its wildflowers. They are somewhat abstracted, so the specific type of flower is not always evident or even important. It is mainly a repeating shape, and botanical feeling that dominates. They are ultimately all about exploring painting.What else is new in your recent work?
There are figures and faces in some of the paintings. These are sometimes me and sometimes no one specific. I have drawn figures in my sketchbooks for a long time, but not in paintings. Some of the works remain without figures and are about color and pattern.
You previously created your paintings with stencils, that you made yourself. Why did you stop using them?
It was time for a change. I no longer enjoyed making stencils, or painting with them. The work became too much about perfection and control. I wanted to move more freely with the paintbrush. I am still very attracted to print-like textures that happen by mashing surfaces together and pulling them apart, like mono-printing.
There are already so many paintings of flowers in the world. Why are you painting them? and do you have an urge to paint other things?I find wildflowers and botanical forms intoxicatingly beautiful. So I draw them, and paint them often. I do not know many flower names. I am mainly just interested in their color and shape, for whatever my painting may be about. I have also been painting faces and birds, as well as other works that are just about color and repetition. I always experiment, this is one of the most important parts of working for me. I always come back to drawing and painting plants and flowers though, between whatever else I do.
Emil Nolde’s paintings of wildflowers, especially Poppies are very well known. Are his works an influence?
They were not a direct influence, initially anyway, but I find Nolde’s paintings undeniably wonderful and I love looking at his work more and more. He is like a Poppy painter godfather of flower painting. I have also been influenced by other big artists like Matisse, and Chagall, and many others. Lately, I have been looking at Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s work too. I love his colors and the angular shapes of his figures. I love learning about painting from history, but I also want to have a dialogue with painting that is happening now.
Your studio is in the attic of your home. How does this affect your work?Hot days in summer are a challenge, but it is usually very convenient. It is not a huge space and difficult to manage sometimes. It is becoming crowded now after being in the same space for 7 years. I have to paint with acrylic paints now, which is fine for me. I have not used oil paints in a long time. There are a lot of stairs as you walk up, and this is where I hang some of my works in process.
How do you like living in France as an artist compared to living in the United States?
I left the U.S. in 2000, so it feels too long ago to compare. I love France and am happy to call it home now, after having lived in Switzerland, and Brazil. I live in a small village in the Rhone Alps region, bordering Switzerland. I tend to stay close to home, helping care for our two sons, age 10 and 12 now. Geneva is the closest city, about 30 minutes away.
You’ve written that your overall wish is for your work to be “calming and rejuvenating”. So why do some of your paintings have super bright colors?
I love intense color sometimes, in certain places, when it makes a high contrast like a silhouette. I find bright color can even be calming sometimes too, somehow. Color can be very surprising, and for me it is one of the most powerful ingredients in a good painting.
Lastly, what else do you think makes a good painting?
Strong color and bold lines are important. But more than that it's the certain feeling of a painting, more than technical skill. Indescribable feelings become visible, and ideally transport both the painter, and the viewer to another place, to an oasis.