There is a time of day, just beyond dusk, when the light is so minimal and the colors found in nature are allowed to glow in their richest, deepest hues, without the enhancement of sunlight. When I enter the space containing the work of Christopher Pekoc this is what I see. For Hand Made, The Akron Art Museum has painted the walls of the Bidwell Gallery a cool gray, darker than middle, just shy of charcoal. It creates the same sensation of color and luminosity that I’ve experienced during those times just past dusk.
I have mixed feelings about this museum trend – the painting of walls in bold colors for special exhibitions. Since the light reflection on dark walls is cut down significantly, it often makes me yearn for brighter spotlights so as to view the details of the artwork more clearly. In this case, however, it seems to make sense. As stated previously, the dark walls create an ambience of impending darkness, and the artist himself has a great affinity for the night. Pekoc has a preference for working in his studio at night, and his body of collaged pieces reflects this habit in color and atmosphere.
The pieces are handmade constructions using polyester film, paints, metallic leaf, paint and photographic imagery – all machine stitched together. The initial impression of the pieces is of richly colored, lacquered screens or stained glass church windows. There is a repetition of metallic surfaces, bold jewel tones, the darkest blacks and bright, luminescent ochres. Some of the surfaces have a distressed look – perforations, scratches, wrinkles, roughly painted hues, and various sized shapes cobbled together. The artist describes this as “the texture that we find in life”. He has perfected this scarred and scraped technique over the last few decades, after abandoning his previous style of highly rendered paintings. They are damaged looking intentionally, describing “what life is like for all of us”.
There are two brand new pieces, created specifically for this exhibition: The Architecture of the Sky (Portrait of Jan Saudek in Blue with Bees), and Portrait of K. as Eve with a Black Heart. When I say “new” I mean to say that they are newly finished. One can see by the date on Architecture of the Sky (2001-2014) that it has taken some time simmering, morphing and growing in Pekoc’s studio. This is certainly not the only piece dated with such a lengthy span of years. The original photo of Jan Saudek was taken in 2001 when the artist spent time in the Czech Republic during a residency. The look of the piece is influenced by Ronald Fischer, beekeeper, Davis, California, May 9, 1981– a photograph by Richard Avedon – and brings attention to the subject’s eye, a tool of highest importance, as the subject himself is a photographer by calling.
When questioned about the importance of hands in the work, Christopher Pekoc cites an essay by Henri Focillon, In Praise of Hands, which influenced him greatly. The artist feels that what is left after we are gone is the work we have done – and that this can be a greater representation of a self-portrait than the face. He also states that he sees the hands as agents of ideas, directly connected to our thoughts. Pekoc admits that his use of hands reaches back to a day when he would photograph hands and faces to make highly representational drawings from. It was later that he realized the significance, after he had been using the imagery almost intuitively for years.
The combination of symbolism: a variety of hand gestures, the use of wings, hearts and flowers, perforations and circular forms that are celestial in nature – concoct an enchanting experience for the viewer. Most pointedly is the use of hand imagery that reflects the artist’s belief in the importance of hands, but also reflects the purpose of Pekoc’s hands as agents of his thoughts and ideas.
Chripstopher Pekoc will give a gallery talk at the Akron Art Museum on January 29, 2015.
Christopher Pekoc, Hand Made, Bidwell Gallery ,Akron Art Museum
Exhibition runs November 15, 2014 – April 26, 2015
Claudia Berlinski is an artist who teaches at Youngstown State University. She enjoys photographing clouds and dabbles in printmaking/collage. She previously wrote art reviews for Dialogue magazine which was a vital and vibrant print media source for the visual arts in the Midwest. You can contact Claudia at firstname.lastname@example.org.