Nothing is what it seems to be in the work of Patty Wallace. When we are poised to admire photographs of beautiful and dramatic landscape paintings, we are actually looking at the paintings themselves, created and immortalized by using advanced computer and photo technologies. When we believe to be looking at small precious paintings with textured and seductive surfaces, we are actually looking at complex and beautifully executed photographs. Trained as a painter as well as a photographer, Wallace is fusing painting and photography to an unprecedented degree. As if compelled to fulfill the legacy of the early 20th century Photo-pictorialists, she 'paints' using photographic techniques. In the process she subverts all of our accustomed notions of the properties of painting and photography alike. Wallace's work evolves in series, and the importance of the central concept is strengthened though its development within each individual piece.
In The Weasel and Western Culture the destruction of war is the theme that ties the series together Ñ in this year of the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII. The weasel puppet is the narrator and observer alike, leading us through the ruins of Western civilization. 'I have used a puppet weasel as a main character for several reasons,' states Wallace. 'This puppet is an infantile and 'cute' cartoon-like construction; it references (and invokes) emotional immaturity, and emotional reactions winning out over reason and sound judgment. Weasels have a reputation for being conniving, cunning and underhanded - the very traits of those humans who bring us wars.' 1
In The Weasel and Western Culture, the puppet, sewn by Wallace was set against a neutral background and photographed in various poses. The resulting prints were digitized and combined in a computer with digitized images of various historical architectural monuments destroyed during the carnage of the two World Wars. Wallace then produced negatives of these montages and printed them onto photosensitized linen which was treated with various chemical toning baths. When dry, the image-bearing fabric was stretched onto a wooden stretcher and airbrushed with acrylic based, metallic pigments. The result is an image possessing the painterly surface while retaining the veracity of the photographic image.
Various animal characters, standing in for humans, are incorporated in another series called Natural History, which addresses our view of the natural world. Our position as spectators separated from true nature is underscored in these works. Wallace relegates us into the position of voyeur, forever distanced from the spectacle as a result of our own misconceptions and destructive attitudes toward our universe. In this group of works, Wallace appropriated historical landscape paintings through the use of a digital scanner. Using a mouse she then drew and painted the animal 'characters' with Fractal Design's Painter program. These two groups were montaged together and the composites reworked extensively by hand to create a seamless image. The resulting montages were committed to color negatives through a film recorder and printed onto photographic paper.
Wallace's work, rich in context and complex in the use of technology, leads photography from its earlier sphere of portrayal into the territory of experimentation, open to countless possibilities.
Charlotta Kotik (c)1995
Patty Wallace lives in Buffalo, NY and NYC. She participated in Light Work's Artist-in-Residence program from March 1-30, 1995.
Charlotta Kotik is a Chairman of the Painting and Sculpture Department at the Brooklyn Museum.
1. Conversation with the artist, New York, June 3, 1995.