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 email@example.com.
Special thanks to Albert Merola Gallery for their assistance in organizing this exhibition.