Artist Spotlight, Arts & Culture, Interview, Local Flavor

Looking Through “The Eye’s Mind”

BH in conversation with Drew Pate on his long-awaited gallery exhibition


[ED. NOTE: At the Boston Hassle, our main goal has always been to encourage our community to experience art and culture in person. However, given the confusing and sometimes misleading climate of the COVID-19 era, we can no longer fully endorse this message, nor can we personally attest to the safety protocols of any given establishment. For this reason, we urge our readers to take caution before visiting any institution we cover. We also urge folks to take proper precautions and do necessary research before attending a local gallery. Please see the italicized note at the end of this article for ways to view art and support local spaces in these times. We hope that soon we can recommend, unequivocally, that our readers experience the outside world to the fullest. Thanks — BH Art Team]

“kK.” Drew Pate.

Through Saturday, November 21, Gallery 263 in Cambridge hosted The Eye’s Mind, the first ever solo exhibit by artist Drew Pate. Part of the jury-selected Exhibition Proposal series, The Eye’s Mind was originally scheduled to be on view last spring, but was pushed back due to COVID-19. I asked Drew about his process and how his finished product may interplay with other media as well as the eyes of the viewers.


Boston Hassle: How do you hope viewers approach your art with their own eyes? 

Drew Pate: My hope is that the first thing to draw a viewer in is the color. Color can call to mind so many things, a time, a place, a shirt, candy, a cartoon. I hope that the color can do this for the viewer in a personal way that I could never predict.

Next, and kind of on the same level hierarchically, would be the structure of the image. One of the things that got me first excited about painting was how you can set up a visual space with its own internal logic. One could make or break the rules at will–I try to play with the way that we see, how we perceive objects in space, on an abstract level. Simple painting decisions like how shapes overlap, or how one color might suggest that it comes in front of another based on temperature or value.

So I hope the viewer might spend the time with the color and the structure to kind of puzzle out the image, see what comes to mind, and think about how we perceive our world. I want the viewer to feel free to make associations or have feelings that are unique to them.

“Leaning.” Drew Pate.

BH: What do you hope to achieve by playing with the lenses viewers have developed through their own experiences? 

DP: I went to an artist talk where the late Jack Whitten said “all art is about perception.” I love that you used the word “lens” because I think of a lens as a tool for either enhancing or distorting our perception. I’m interested in movies and photography. Because my work is so formal and abstract, I think it lends itself to playing with perception. One person might see or feel one thing and the next might experience something completely different. I hope the viewer can be aware of this fluidity–and it might even be subconscious–and possibly think about how one’s difference of perspective, and perception, can differ greatly.


BH: Your work references growing up on a farm, picture framing, and sharp edges and boundaries that can apply to contemporary social distancing. How do these all come together in your work? 

DP: I think of my painting decisions as each having a part to play. And each of those decisions referencing one of the things you mentioned. A shape, a line, how the paint is applied, and the surface. With these recent paintings, I’m developing a vocabulary that to me feels personal and specific, and only I could truly decode them piece by piece.

I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I did work for my father on his farms in high school and after college for a bit, and I lived in rural communities until I was 18. When I was cutting or raking hay (it’s a lot like mowing grass), it was very repetitive. Once you get the hang of it you can shut your mind off and simultaneously focus on the task.

Picture framing can be the same way. I work in a shop with several other people and we are all doing our best to follow CDC guidelines throughout the day. You get really good at making the most of your time and movements or workflow–especially now, in a shared space, when one has to sanitize when using shared equipment.

Balancing a full-time job, and now a growing family, studio time is in short supply–I’m doing my best to be economical as well as thoughtful.

“After The Storm.” Drew Pate.

BH: How does sound in memory play a role in your images? What about video games, like Pac-Man? 

DP: When I was in undergrad, one of my mentors, a very talented artist and curator, Marc Mitchell, introduced me to the electronic music duo Boards of Canada. The way that they sample old sounds from television and pop culture and seamlessly blend it into electronic beats has always fascinated me. I keep stuff like that in regular rotation for studio listening. Somehow I think it finds a way into the work.

Pac-Man is just one example but there was an amazing cabinet at a restaurant we used to go to where I grew up. It was one of those machines where you sit and look down into it. I simultaneously associate that pulsing and zipping sound with the bright colors of the screen. In one of my paintings, “After the Storm”, I was imagining that experience of looking down into that screen, but also navigating the shallow, flat space of the video game. The title references a song by Kali Uchis and featuring Tyler, The Creator. I finished the painting after going through tremendous loss of a loved one early this year, so focusing on those sounds and that visual memory, and painting through, was very cathartic.


BH: What’s the difference between your mind’s eye and your artist’s eye? 

DP: I think of my mind’s eye as my expectation and my artist’s eye as reality. The artist’s eye is quite literally what I actually see and perceive. The moment I actually start the painting my artist’s eye keeps the mind’s eye in check. This interplay of physical and metaphysical pushes and pulls me as I work on them, and I always feel that when the painting is done, I never could have predicted what the result could be.

Gallery 263 is located at 263 Pearl St., Cambridge. Though The Eye’s Mind ended on November 21st, the gallery is open Wednesday-Friday 4-7 PM and Saturday 1-4 PM. All public health guidelines must be followed. 

All photos courtesy of Gallery 263’s website. More of Drew Pate’s work for this show can be seen here.

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