Whitehot Magazine

Physical Manifestations of Psychological States of Mind: A conversation with Artist/Painter Richard Pasquarelli.

 Richard Pasquarelli in front of John No. 1. Photo by Abe Frajndlich. ©2016


Brian Block: Tell me about the new paintings you've been doing.

Richard Pasquarelli: My practice is making a shift. For the last 15 years, my work had been building on the tradition of pictorial American Realism, infusing it with subtle psychological charge. That work came out of observation. My new work is moving into a more conceptual space, focusing on our psychological relationship to our physical surroundings.  

BB: What prompted the shift? 

RP: I would say it came out what some might call a derealization experience I had. I began to question my relationship to the world around me and my place in it. This led me to research concepts in psychology, quantum science and eastern philosophy. During this time, I was obsessed with my physical environment and trying to create a sense of order. To get some sort of control.

BB: Is this where the interest in OCD came from?

RP: Yes, sort of. After my experience, I started studying the relationships between mind and matter, mostly from the perspective of quantum physics and psychology. Our thoughts have an impact on our physical reality, both perceived, and real, and two environments that exemplified that relationship were those of hoarders and organizationally obsessive compulsive people. I thought that was a good place to start. So, I immersed myself into those environments as part of my research. 

Richard Pasquarelli. Left: Harold No. 1, 2016, 76” x 56”, oil on Linen   Right: Catherine No. 1, 2016, 56” x 38”, Oil on Linen

BB: You mentioned your own obsession with creating a sense of order, did you draw inspiration from that?

RP: Yes. I like order. If there are objects on the table that are supposed to be in a line, and they're not, I am compelled to move them back in line. What is it about my physical environment that I feel compelled to affect it? I think that’s what intrigued me to delve into this subject.

BB: I’m very sympathetic to Foucault’s idea that an artist/thinker who works on the problems of which they are afflicted is in a place of significant agency. And it sounds like in this case you’re really moving in on the meaning of what you were experiencing, or suffering from. Have you had a sense of awareness of your own compulsive tendencies for many years?

RP: I just thought of it as habit or instinct, but after practicing meditation, I've become more observant of my own thinking.

BB: When you first told me you were working on paintings of both interiors of hoarders homes with OCD settings like minimal table top arrangements, I was struck by the emphasis this placed on the interpretive space between the two. How did that come about? 

RP: On my way to visit and photograph a hoarder’s home for the first time, I noticed how anxious I was about the idea of being in his space, because I am a neat freak. The interconnected relationship occurred to me. It fascinated me. You know, until recently, these two opposite disorders were both clinically defined as OCD.

Richard Pasquarelli, Barry No. 1, 2016, 33.5” x 44.5”, (8” x 10” ea), Watercolor on paper.

BB: In your recent solo show Compulsion, how did you decide that to show the two together rather than separately?

RP: Juxtaposing the two types of images together forced the idea of the relationship of the mind to our physical surroundings. If I had just done hoarding, it would be a painting show about hoarding and if I had just done organizational OCD, it would have been about order. I’m wanted to foreground the dialogue between the two types of disorders.

BB: So, this is the conceptual aspect of the work that you were referring to?

RP: Yes. Having the two together made the project more about the mental action.

BB: So, the viewer is negotiating the relationship between the two.

RP: Correct. The viewer gets into that mental space. My shows are about a single concept I want to explore and the paintings included are ones that best inform that idea.

BB: And what led you to the transition from your old working method to include more research?

RP: I wanted the paintings to do more. As a representational painter, I didn't want it to just be a representation of some thing, I wanted the paintings to represent specific mental actions.

BB: So, what was the first painting that got things rolling?

RP: Harold no 1. While making this painting a new language was coming out of this realist image. It was becoming more about the physical mass of the objects, not what the objects were.

BB: So, the title is the name of the person whose house you visited when you started your research on hoarders?

RP: Yes.

BB: So, how have you found their reception so far?

RP: It's funny, when people see the paintings they say things like “oh well, I'm definitely like this”, or “I'm like that”.

BB: There’s a strong element of psychological identification.

RP: Absolutely. That's why the titles are the person’s name. When I'm painting, I feel like I'm painting a portrait of their mind. It's a portrait of them, their identity, their internal workings.

BB: Well, the way their psychological disposition towards materiality manifests in their world, their environments.

RP: That's why I describe it as the physical manifestation of psychological states of mind. It’s portraiture in a way but at the same time it's also a still life.

BB: Are there certain aspects about the translation into painting that you pay attention to?

RP: I look at my reference photos for form. When I transform images into paintings, I simplify the forms, taking out any text or logos. It’s not about what the objects are, it's about their mass. To me it’s about the physical presence of the object.  

BB: One of the things that I think is interesting about painting right now is that we’re in such a hyper digitized world and when we come up on a painting, we are aware that it represents the summation of a lot of handmade labor, even if it's digitally produced, for the most part painting is a manipulated image, manipulated by hand, and manipulated by mind and attention. And that gives it an attractive alienation from the regular digital flow of information and imagery. An otherness. So, in this regard I think painting is very relevant right now as a medium. And you're right in there, translating photographs into paintings and so I'm curious if there are any aspects of that that you want to comment on? In terms of how you translate, because it's a very detailed and painstaking process that you go through, having known you over the years. It seems like there's a very specific translation that you do.

RP: It about the final idea. What information is in that original reference image that's going to translate, translate isn’t the right word, it's more like transform. I’m transforming one type of image into another. What information is going to be in this painting that's going to communicate the end idea; that’s what directs me as to which images to choose.

Richard Pasquarelli. Sara No. 1, 2016, 42” x 56”, Oil on Linen

BB: It seems to me that in a larger sense, our awareness of these OCD conditions has really increased in recent years.

RP: There’s less of a taboo surrounding the topic.

BB: Do you think the rise in our awareness of the prevalence of these conditions is related to capitalism and consumer culture in any significant way?

RP: I think, having worked in advertising, that the way we create a desire for something, to get an individual to want it, to need it, to buy it, we ascribe psychological desires onto inanimate objects.

BB: I have to say, I've never thought about hoarding so specifically in relation to the psychology of advertising. And it totally makes sense.

RP: In a way, this also comes back to Buddhism, which I’m studying. Buddhists talk about one type of suffering we go through surrounding desire. Some describe it as the hedonic treadmill. If I get the bigger office then I'll be happy. Sure, you’ll get that bigger office and be happy for a month or two, but then you're going to want the second house, or the boat, it’s a never-ending cycle, and that feeds the advertising industry.

BB: There’s been a lot written on that lately.

RP: Also perception. The way the mind thinks about and creates things, there’s a lot of science researching that now. Some of it seems real and some of it unreal. One scientist I read, Dr. Robert Lanza, said two people may be standing next to one another looking at a rainbow, and just because of a slight difference in angle from where they may be standing, one might see it and one may not, so to one it is real, and to the other it is not.

BB: And there’s the element of cognitive bias.

RP: This relates to your work, in the way one reads the reproduced wall texts in your paintings; their mind creates the image of what’s not present. In this way, you’re doing the opposite - you’re creating an object in a cerebral way.

Richard Pasquarelli Left: Ed No. 1, 2016, 60” x 40”, Oil on Linen  Right: Stephanie No. 1, 56” x 42”, Oil on Linen

BB: Those paintings mostly involve descriptions of absent artworks.

RP: Specifically, the painting that says “in this painting…”, and the viewer automatically has a framework to work within, so in their minds eye they create a two dimensional object. And if you were to say “sculpture”, they’d create a 3d object.

BB: Kind of brings me back to the hoarding and the psychological relationship to objects. So, in the images you’ve chosen to engage hoarding, what's the psychological charge between people and their relationship to objects. What are some of the poignant aspects to that relationship that you're interested in?

RP: The recent piece I made for the Spring Break Art Show was inspired by a hoarder interview. Relics, is made up of four paintings, three of individual broken objects. People hold on to things. We all hold onto objects because of what they connect us to. In this piece, I painted the objects in a heroic way, because, to the hoarder, the objects are meaningful things in their life.

Richard Pasquarelli, Left: Relics, 2017, 18” x 14” ea., oil on Linen   Right: Relics (muffin pan), augmented reality film, duration 30sec.

BB: And there’s an additional digital component to this work?

RP: For the show, the curator wanted us to create augmented reality components to our work. I created four 30 second films, one for each object, that represent a “memory” associated with that object. They’re simple films with minimal or no editing. I didn't want them to be movies, it’s not about that, it's about representing a thought.

BB: How does it work?

RP: You point your phone up to the painting, using a special app, it launches the film directly over the painting. The painting goes from being inanimate to being animate. That is the relationship we have with our stuff. For example, if you look at that baseball on your shelf, it reminds you of that game you went to you to with your dad when you were twelve. It's amazing how physical objects can be portals to past experiences and memories, like Proust’s madeleine cookies. Using AR was so relevant to the work I'm making. It added another level that I’m really excited about, a possible vehicle for introducing some quantum science concepts into my work.

BB: In what way?

RP: That we might be affecting the matter around us. There's an experiment called the “double slit” in which physicists observed matter acting differently depending on whether it was being observed or not. Unobserved, it acts in a wave function. Observed, it acts in a particle function. Some physicists think it's the instruments used to measure the experiment and some believe that it might be the observer affecting the outcome. It’s called the “observer effect”. I think using augmented reality might help me introduce some of these concepts into my work.

BB: “Observer Effect” is a really good title for a show.

RP: It would be. To be continued. WM

Brian Block and Richard Pasquarelli will be exhibiting together this spring in “Muse in the Mews”, curated by James Salomon. www.salomoncontemporary.com

Richard Pasquarelli can be found online: https://www.richardpasquarelli.com 


Brian Block

Brian Block is an artist based in New York City. His practice explores relationships between language and perception, looking at ways that thought and perception are co-constitutive. He works in printing, painting, research and writing.



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