JUNE 26 - AUG 2, 2014


Essay by John Yau

I first met Pat de Groot in Province­town, Mass­a­chu­setts, in the sum­mer of 2000, shortly after she had her first one-person show at the age of 70 at the leg­endary Pat Hearn Gallery, New York. I soon learned that she was a renowned fig­ure and long­time res­i­dent of this sea­side com­mu­nity, which has attracted many artists and writ­ers since the 19th cen­tury. Pat and her hus­band, the artist Nanno de Groot (1913 – 1963) became full-time res­i­dents of Province­town in the mid-50s. At the time, Pat was not an artist and, in fact, she did not become one until many years after her husband’s death. How she taught her­self to draw, and to con­nect her eye to her hand, bears repeat­ing. Decid­ing at the out­set to take a road dif­fer­ent from that of her hus­band, who was asso­ci­ated with the Abstract Expres­sion­ists, she set out to make her “own marks.” Never one to do any­thing by half-measures, she would pad­dle out in her kayak to the break­ers, where cor­morants gather on the rocks. In order to see them as closely as pos­si­ble, she would hold a pair of binoc­u­lars to her eyes with one hand, and use the other to sketch the giant birds in black laun­dry marker, all while sit­ting in a con­stantly mov­ing boat. Fierce and single-minded — this is Pat in a nut­shell.

In the mid-90s, after draw­ing out­side for many years, Pat changed medi­ums and loca­tion and began to make oil paint­ings of what she saw out­side her stu­dio win­dow. The change was partly pre­cip­i­tated by the phys­i­cal chal­lenge of draw­ing under such extreme con­di­tions. As with the draw­ings, Pat chose to work within a highly cir­cum­scribed sit­u­a­tion, which demanded a direct con­nec­tion between eye and hand. Each paint­ing is done at a table fac­ing the Province­town Har­bor with a view extend­ing to Cape Cod Bay. The sub­ject is the inter­ac­tion of sky and ocean, with the Cape’s chang­ing light ren­dered as both pass­ing reflec­tion and elu­sive pres­ence. She works on a small board that is less than 12 inches square, and applies the paint with a palette knife, fin­ish­ing the work in one six-hour ses­sion. If she is dis­sat­is­fied, the paint­ing is destroyed.

Both Pat’s draw­ings and paint­ings are one-shot deals. It seems to me that her way of work­ing comes from her love of jazz, in par­tic­u­lar drum­ming. An accom­plished musi­cian, she plays the conga drums and was friends with fel­low artist and jazz lover, Bob Thomp­son, who gave her a num­ber of draw­ings. By estab­lish­ing strict para­me­ters within which to work, she is able to achieve a tough beauty that is all her own. The paint­ings might be small, but they pack a wal­lop. Focus­ing on every kind of light and weather – from a calm, befogged sea to rag­ing waves beneath a con­stantly chang­ing sky, and from white morn­ings to a moon­lit night — Pat reg­is­ters the par­tic­u­lar con­di­tions of that day’s weather in a way that blurs the dis­tinc­tion between abstrac­tion and rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

I don’t think of Pat’s paint­ings as pic­tures, but as barely con­tained events. Even at their most still, you sense that every­thing is chang­ing, refor­mu­lat­ing, on it’s way to becom­ing some­thing else. She pos­sesses an exquis­ite sense of nuance and tonal­ity as well as a mas­tery of the vis­ceral qual­i­ties of paint, char­ac­ter­is­tics rem­i­nis­cent of J. M. W. Turner, but with­out the melo­drama and packed into a small paint­ing. Not only can Pat paint fog and foam, but I swear, if you stand close enough to her work, you can hear the waves rush­ing towards the unseen shore.

John Yau is an Amer­i­can poet and critic who lives in New York City.

Joe Shef­tel Gallery is pleased to present an exhi­bi­tion of paint­ings and works on paper by Pat De Groot, open­ing on June 26 and run­ning through — 2014. This is the first exhi­bi­tion of the artist’s work at the gallery.

For press inquiries and images, please con­tact the gallery at mail@joesheftelgallery.com.

Spe­cial thanks to Albert Merola Gallery for their assis­tance in orga­niz­ing this exhi­bi­tion.