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Pat Passlof exhibition at The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation

The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation is pleased to present Pat Passlof: Authors & Poets, 1999-2000. The exhibition is on view May 9 - July 20, 2024.

The paintings came first—the titles came after.

For Pat Passlof, the primary concern of the painter was not meaning or design, but her confrontation with the medium of oil paint itself, a seemingly magical substance that possessed dimensional properties. It could enlarge the mind of the viewer and tunnel wordless passages between people. The pressure of the brush, its velocity, its direction, the overall disposition of paint on the surface and the resulting relationships declared or implied, were paramount. They were what painting was.

A picture could appear as no more than a congress or communion of brush strokes, assertive yet subtle, and hopefully surprising as well. Resemblance or reference was generally left to chance. A stroke of paint might conjure a centaur’s leg or just remain a stroke of paint. There was no favor bestowed on the one at the expense of the other. Each were valid to the same degree. Looking meant, “not knowing.”

That goes double for the new direction Passlof began to take at the end of the last century when, with the Authors and Poets series, the Eighth House series, and the Hamlet’s Mill paintings, she began to deliberately introduce taxonomy — classification — to her paintings’ names, suggesting or teasing out meanings. Whether the names of famous authors — poets like Frost, essayists like Emerson, or tellers of tales like Bret Harte — all of them American — had any relation whatsoever to the paintings of hers that carried their name would likely be denied by her. After all, a Passlof was always named after the fact, and the pictures themselves remained resolutely abstract.

Yet Pat was not unaware of the ontological value of names, the reflexive mystique by which the thing itself eventually ‘becomes its name.’ By employing the name of a poet as a device for presentation, Pat was taking advantage of it while at the same time willing, even eager, to acknowledge its absurdity. Doing so, was she teasing us or merely reminding us that a gratuitous referent is still irresistible? She often maintained that all art worthy of the name proposes an “as if.” To Frank Stella’s “What you see is what you see,” she would likely have replied, “oh yeah?”

The art critic Karen Wilkin described Passlof’s paintings from the period in question (1998- 2004) as “organized into a kind of instinctive, not quite Euclidean geometry, insistently repeating strokes and motifs in ways that seem dictated by the pull of powerful vertical and horizontal forces.” The ‘stripes’ of the poet series, specifically the nervosité with which they were painted, suggest not just conduits of energy but the electricity itself that still courses through them. She wanted her bands to “buzz.” And buzz they still do, as we all do while we draw breath.

This is an excerpt from Geoffrey Dorfman’s essay “Pat Passlof’s Poet series: A Meditation.” You can read the full essay here.

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