SFA: You currently have a series of self-portraits on view in the group exhibition “Getting Personal” at SFA Projects. Tell us about these portraits.
PF: After the 2016 election nothing felt normal. I found myself feeling waves of intensely strong emotions — anger, sadness, confusion, shock — every single day, often in combination. I had begun painting self-portraits for the first time in decades, after coming across some student work at my parents’ house, and I decided to incorporate these emotions into the work. It felt imperative to confront myself, go deeper, figure out who I was and where my place is in this new world order.
I don’t work from photographs, I make the faces in the mirror and paint from life. On some level this is my own set of personal emojis.
SFA: Your more recent self-portraits are woven, after being sliced and shredded. How did this begin? What is the process behind them?
PF: At the same time I was starting the self-portraits, I was taking older, less successful paintings, shredding them and weaving them together: destruction into re-creation. A friend suggested I combine the two ideas and try weaving the self-portraits together, et voila. Each woven self-portrait consists of two paintings, one shredded vertically, one horizontally, woven together. The entire process is done by hand, with a T-square, mat knife and cutting board. I also realized that the weaving process allows me to combine the two emotions I’m feeling. Sometimes the news makes me both angry and sad. Sometimes a story is funny and horrifying at the same time. Sometimes the process of combining the two allows a third emotion to emerge: defiance, resolve, despair.
It was pointed out to me once that within each of the woven self-portraits is another hidden self-portrait. The parts of each painting that are not visible (because they are covered by the weave) would make a separate piece. I’m interested in that duality as well. The face you show and the face you keep hidden.
The process of making the woven self-portraits results in a certain amount of scrap paper. I have also been repurposing these scraps into abstractions, mounted on panels. I call it nose-to-tail art.
SFA: The portraits are a sharp deviation from your earlier work. What were you interested in before, and how have you noticed your work has changed?
PF: Prior to this series, I was making decorative abstractions. They were very process-oriented and at times very obsessive and tight. I had been working on loosening up my brushwork, making it more gestural, in the series I was working on immediately before starting the portraits. This looser, gestural quality carried itself over into the portraits as well. I’d never worked from life with water-based paint before and found myself really enjoying the freedom it gave me to experiment with color and form. I felt, in the wake of the election, that this was not the time for purely decorative work.It didn’t feel important or essential. While I have tended to change up my work with some frequency, this was a real departure for me. I have never before, as an artist, felt that I NEEDED to do something as much as I needed to make these self-portraits. It was a bit scary to present such radically different work, but I almost immediately got a solo show, which forced me to push myself, go bigger, deeper, bolder.
In the lead up to the self-portraits I had also been moving in a figurative direction: going to life drawing sessions and working on a series of political pieces called paper dolls, so I guess it wasn’t as abrupt a change as it might have seemed from the outside.
SFA: You recently “co-organized” a great group show, “Among Friends,” featuring a large number of works. Tell us about it.
PF: I went to see the Rauschenberg retrospective at MoMA with Beth Dary and we were both bowled over by his piece Hiccup, in which he zipped together 97 9 x 7” paper panels. We came up with the idea of recreating the piece with friends each making a panel. A conversation with Alexandra Rutsch Brock led to her joining the team. Together we cut the paper to size, glued and sewed on the zippers and handed them out to 132 friends. We were pretty blown away by the work that came back to us. Everybody gave it their A game and several artists have since told us that making that piece sent their work off into a new direction. We mounted the work, hung in random order, at Beth’s studio as part of the DUMBO open studios weekend. It was a tremendous success: out of 132 pieces we managed to sell 95 and raise over $3000 for Planned Parenthood. We are really hoping to do this again, in a larger space, so we can include more people. Space constraints required we exclude some amazing artists and that was really difficult. Alexi, Beth and I worked beautifully together, I honestly can’t imagine a better team.
SFA: What’s next?
PF: I have a long-term project in mind that I have only just started, in which I would weave my self-portraits together with those of my loved-ones, creating in effect a group self-portrait. I am also working on a series in which I weave my image with an abstraction, loosely based on eastern imagery — mandalas and the like. They look a bit like religious icons. And when I get tired of looking in the mirror, I have been working on an ongoing series of simple geometric abstractions. I have not shown them to anybody yet.
I am also very interested in continuing my curatorial practice. I have several ideas for shows and am actively looking for spaces in which to mount them. I really enjoyed Among Friends and discovered that I’m pretty good at promoting and selling other artists’ work, perhaps better than promoting and selling my own… perhaps a studio/gallery is in my future as well.