Wednesday, March 9, 2011
After 35 years and multiple incarnations, Francis X. Pavy remains a work in progress. By Anna Purdy
Photos by Robin May
Francis Pavy’s studio is impossible to miss. Located in Freetown — Lafayette’s answer to the East Village — it is a bright fusion of color with a carefully crafted amalgam of small squares coating the front doors, each with its own backdrop color and center circle of contrasting color. In Chinese custom the entrance to a home is designed to tell the guest who the person inside is, how they live, what’s important to them. Pavy’s studio is a candied dot among the greenery and Acadian architecture. Like his studio, Francis Pavy stands out.
“If an artist is tense and focused an artist should be good,” he says. “It’s a spirit. I don’t know what makes people do what they do. I don’t know why I like to work so much. For me it’s an internal search. I’m making these things and they’re a part of me. You’re making this expression you share with other people. I think of myself as an archeologist excavating this interior world.”
For 57-year-old Pavy this search means never being the egg, the larva, the pupa or even the butterfly. It’s a constant expansion and curiosity.
“Nobody quite does stuff like Francis,” says Herb Roe, local artist, muralist and graphic novelist. “His stuff has raised awareness of Cajun art outside of the area. His success has focused more of a spotlight on art and Acadiana. I like the way he incorporates mid-20th century Cajun culture into his stuff now. He’s one of the more successful local artists internationally.”
The Acadiana Center for the Arts thinks so, too. Starting March 12 Francis X. Pavy, Currents and Flows opens and runs through May 7 in its main gallery. The show will honor Pavy’s contributions in a retrospective spanning 35 years.
Raised in Lafayette, Pavy was always supported in his ambitions by his parents. “I worked offshore for a year as a cook,” he recalls. “I think my mother was disappointed I wasn’t doing what I set out to do.”
After graduating from UL Lafayette in ceramic sculpture in the late 1970s, Pavy got his first commissioned work. “After I got out of school there was an architect in town that wanted me to do his whole patio. I was apprehensive, and he could understand it was beyond my capabilities then and instead commissioned a smaller piece from me for his wife. So I figured getting right out of school, getting a commission, this will be a breeze.”
Though imbued with the hope an immediate commission can bring, Pavy soon learned that it ain’t easy out there for an artist of any type. But it didn’t take long for him to realize his convictions, which was to be an artist and work for himself. “I didn’t go to graduate school. I was accepted, but I decided not to pursue that avenue.
I like Louisiana too much. So I got a job at a glass shop making stained glass and leaded glass, doing glazing. I opened this studio in 1981 after working for five years, saving up money to buy tools.”
A few years after moving into his rented space, Pavy bought it. He continued to make glass and toy with painting it, beveling it, making use of the way light is transmitted and plays through the glass with sunshine. “I like the primitive expression, really raw,” he says. “Using raw lines and transmitted light through glass.”
When the oilfield business took a nose-dive in the mid-1980s, people left town and commissions for glasswork dropped. Within a few years, Pavy was moving in a new direction. “I did [glasswork] until about 1989, but at the same time I had started [oil] painting. The whole idea was to be able to work and develop other skills in my spare time. I wanted to continue to develop my skills. I took portrait commission work and learned that if I could draw and paint like that then I could paint anything. I had the discipline to be able to express myself in any manner,” he says. “I started developing this painting career, and by 1988 I was making my living full-time as a painter. By 1989 I sold all my glass stuff, finished with it.”
In no time he had achieved national attention. Pavy was being asked to show in galleries and even had an article written about him in Rolling Stone magazine. Art collectors seeking the latest and greatest, galleries that wanted to make discoveries and simply people who dig great art came calling. And his painting career continued to expand.
“It eventually evolved,” says Pavy, “to where I wasn’t showing so much nationally anymore. Got married and had kids. I was still painting and people still knocked on my door. I had this expression, this way of painting that appealed to people.”
Pavy’s media have changed, but the constant has been rich, vibrant color that saturates the piece and either intimidates your eye or enchants you. Clearly, most have felt the latter.
“I got bored with paintings in the mid-90s. I felt like there was a need for me to do something else,” he says.
Turns out that something else was something he’d never done anything like before — something Pavy terms “a construction.”
Roughly speaking — because it changes from piece to piece — it is a large canvas that incorporates printmaking and other raw materials like glass or metal to form a visual narrative, sometimes including bits of prose that Pavy has written or simply images to which he feels drawn. Each in a series of mid 1990s metal constructions sold immediately. But, inexplicably, Pavy returned to the brush. “My life was rushed at the time, and I just completely forgot about [the constructions],” he says.
In 2003 he was walking through a library and spied a children’s drawing of a dance scene, which started the wheels turning in yet another direction. “I had this idea for a series of large paintings,” the artist recalls. “I was looking for a different expression. Usually I utilized perspective and had never juxtaposed scale size that closely. I created a 6-by-18 [foot] big bar scene. It was very successful. We held a party and everything. Got some press and somebody saw it in the paper and bought it site unseen. This expanded into a series of four large pieces, each with a different narrative. “What was different about that was that it was really saturated imagery.
These pieces were not the paintings of the past with the focal point being the subject in the foreground with recessed background, letting the subject star. These were foreground and background coming together to form a chaotic saturation of color, dancers’ commingled bodies heaving and swaying, taking the painting’s audience right into the action.”
Pavy defines it as “saturated imagery, saturated color.”
After these large scale paintings Pavy was drawn back to his narrative constructions of the mid-90s. “I gradually started making constructions [again]. Mined my past iconic images. Started doing prints. Unique block prints, one-of-a kind works on paper. It’s a very intuitive process.
“Saturation of color, imagery and layering,” he says, “those are probably the key words right now for me in my expression.”
In 2010 Pavy was offered an artist residency in Seaside, Fla., where he joined different artists, from musicians to writers to dancers to varying visual types. For a month, they lived and ate for free, encouraged to develop themselves and their work as much as they could. Pavy took this time to toil up to 18 hours a day doing printmaking, bringing only the essentials for his work. With no mechanical press Pavy had to rely on body strength, and he returned to Lafayette with an astonishing 70 pieces he’d created in 30 days, using water-based paints rather than oil so they would dry faster and allow him to layer the images.
This year Pavy is being commemorated at the Acadiana Center for the Arts for 35 years as a working artist, a time book-marked between his constructions of today and the first piece he was commissioned for out of college in 1976.
“Francis Pavy is one of the most significant and nationally known visual artists in our region,” says Gerd Wuestemann, AcA’s executive director. “His work is deeply rooted in local culture, which allows us to reflect in our sense of place in an often colorful and whimsical way. This show represents his first retrospective in his prolific body of work.”
As he’s done so many times before, there is yet another Francis Pavy on the horizon.
“Just lately I started incorporating neon into my pieces. Dealing with transmitted, not reflected light. They look like TVs to me now. My next goal would be to incorporate video and video projection [onto a construction]. I’d like to do a series of those.”
So Pavy’s next stage will tack video artist to his curriculum vitae. And it most likely won’t be his last.
He leans back in his straight-backed chair, legs crossed and relaxed, smiling in his studio: “I’m always looking to expand myself, my repertoire.”
|The Pavys — Francis and wife Cathi, creative director at BBR Creative,
along with their pug, Lincoln — relax in the kitchen of their home
near the UL campus.
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