Artist Spotlight: Sculptor Lisa Patusky

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When you walk past the List Gallery these days, you might be drawn to the muscularly shaped, flowing sculptures inside. These sculptures are part of the senior thesis of Lisa Patusky ’14, a senior from Ohio who is majoring in studio art and minoring in English literature and art history.

Patusky’s reasons for choosing sculpture as her primary form of art are very person. “It’s a physical medium,” she explained. “I used to play sports in high school and clay can be very heavy and requires a lot of muscle to move it. That’s the … physicality of it.”

Most of Patusky’s sculptures are slab built. When she rolls out large pieces of clay to a quarter or a half inch thick, she can work on their internal structure. The clay hardens to support itself, so she can then mold it and pull out details. Besides slab building, she also throws clay on pottery wheels.

In addition to her fascination with the physicality of sculptures, Patusky shares with other sculptors the common passion for space. The interaction of space between different objects intrigues her.  “I’ve always been intrigued by spaces. It’s important for me to see how I interact with everyday things, how people organize themselves in the space, physically and aesthetically — what materials they are using, the organization and flow,” she explained.

Patusky also shared some of her favorite sculptors, both present and past. “I used to be in love with Auguste Rodin. When I first saw his work, I was in Paris in his sculpture garden. I found his robust hands and expressive faces great,” she said. After this initial appreciation of Rodin, her appreciation in sculpture took a divergent path. She began to be drawn to simplified sculpture, such as that of Jean Arp, whom she considers her “go-to.” Her tastes are not limited to such simplicity, though. They include “another artist that does both 2D and 3D work whose name is Louise Bourgeois. She does this big sculpture and published a book with very linear drawing etchings.” The more chaotic Louise Bourgeois and the simpler Jean Arp have both become artistic icons for Patusky, and their influence is apparent in her sculptures.

Abstraction and representation are usually viewed as being in opposition to each other; however, Patusky has her own ideas on abstraction. “Sculpture can never be abstract because it actively exists. People think my sculpture is abstract because it is not representational. There are things that I am drawing from nature, but they are not the exact representations of trees or bones,” she said. “A lot of my sculptures are about movements, in and out of space. It can be abstract in a way — it is about the formal quality more than it is about an object, so the object becomes the combination of those formal elements.”

Nature has always provided inspiration for Patusky, who keeps a selection of natural items in her studio, from pinecones to sea shells to leaves. She looks at the spaces between tree branches and the texture of tree trunks to see how they are formed and connected in nature, where one space ends and where another begins. “It’s like getting down to the actual quality which makes it beautiful. So that’s a formal quality that I tried to find in my sculpture, such as bones and muscles in our bodies, anything human-oriented,” she said.

Patusky studied in Rome during her junior year. “It was totally fantastic because Rome has so much art. I went to two museums a week. People there appreciate art and beauty,” she said. Patusky believes that many people at Swarthmore have a different view on art from that she experienced in Italy and consider it to be “impractical.”

“Other subjects are more exact, where you are looking for an answer, while art is focused on the questions, or the experiencing of something. There is no calculation in sculpture. It’s not dealing with the scientific aspect of the materials, how they react,” she said.  Unlike science or mathematics, art is much more subjective, and a piece of sculpture does not have the same effect on everyone who views it. Patusky cherishes this type of subjectivity and the unknowns that are inherent in viewing art.

Near the end of the interview, Patusky shared with me some guidelines for appreciating her sculptures and art in general. She said that people always try to pull something directly out of art and look for something they already know. In Patusky’s view, however, art is supposed to arouse feelings of unfamiliarity. “Everyone has a certain impression of my sculptures, whether it’s understanding, bewilderment or isolation. People should just appreciate that feeling. After the feeling, they should think about what about … the sculpture makes them feel that way. Everyone here is too … into dissecting it,”  Patusky said.

“Just don’t think too much about art. Feel it,” she concluded.

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