the petal to the metal
Patrick Gracewood prefers life calm and free
from distractions, so that sculpting is the most exciting thing.
After the high profile of several Hollywood-related sculpting
jobs in the early 1980s, the Huntington Beach, Calif., native
has found quiet and relative isolation from city hustle-n-bustle
at his Northwest Portland studio, home and garden since 1988.
The eye can linger
Patrick Gracewood's sculptures can be a race against time. The
week it takes to model a panel can be the life span of a flower.
The art grows, the flower dies.
"Flowers to me are both a calling of awareness
to the present moment of perfection and a contemplation of mortality,"
he said. "My art is about nature and our relationships to
it. I have a special love for flowers."
Patrick's technique is affected by his ongoing work
to restore ornate, early 20th-Century terra cotta building façades.
In studying the work to repair or replace missing elements, he
discovered a modeled surface very different from today's usual
flawless, smooth surfaces demanded for molding and plastics.
"Up close, the earlier work bears clear markings
of hand tools on moist clay the visible truth of material
and process," he said. "The forms are full; the surface
is vigorous and fresh. Light is caught on tiny irregularities;
the work sparkles. The eye can linger. I want that quality in
Carvings by Japanese artist-monk Enku inspired Patrick
to explore the nature of wood.
"I look for the simplest way to blend my ideas
with what the wood wants to do naturally," he said. "This
has carried over into my work with other media directness
is what I am after."
Patrick has combined his two loves art and gardening
for as long as he can remember.
"My childhood was spent drawing and gardening,"
he said. "I'd muck about, digging in heavy clay soil, and
actually model the clay from the yard. I hated Playdoh
still can't stand the smell."
He recalls first being overwhelmed by the power
of art while at the Los Angeles Museum of Art, where he sat in
silence with enormous Assyrian bas-reliefs.
"They were in the basement, so there was rarely
anyone else around," he said. "I could sit undisturbed,
gazing at these thousand-year-old mythic winged gods and kings.
"And seeing my first da Vinci drawing
unimpressively tiny with red stamps of the Queens' collection
all over it was very poignant. This tiny slip of paper
has outlasted kingdoms.
"The quote 'Eternity's love for the productions
of time' sums it up."
Sweet smell of success
Patrick attended California State University at Long Beach, where
his art training was based on the human figure and used formal
techniques and exercises.
"Every week we had to model a portrait from
life," he said, "taking only three hours each, and working
on the face only during the last hour. Which meant the first two
hours were spent modeling the skull, neck and shoulders. 'How
do you recognize a friend from behind?' In bad figurative sculpture,
the face floats like a mask in a sea of hair that grows from an
undefined skull. Sculpture is a lot like cooking, if you don't
understand the recipe, it's gonna fall flat."
Not caring what he did as long as it was artistic,
Patrick's first job out of college was for a mannequin manufacturer.
"I was in heaven. In school, we did one life-sized
figure each term," he said.
"Suddenly, I was expected to produce one every
two weeks and I was paid well to do it!"
In the early 1980s Patrick did design work and sculpting
for Hollywood. He worked on "Legal Eagles" with Robert
Redford and Daryl Hanna, "Legend" with Tom Cruise, "Explorers,"
"Poltergeist 2," "Little Shop of Horrors,"
and minor pilots like "Wizard of Elm Street."
"Film work was exciting and legitimizing,"
he said. "What I'd been doing for years became real to family
and friends when it was for Hollywood. With 'Legend' I did a lot
of drawings for character development, then modeled all the designs
as part of the sculpting team.
"I left it because much of the set work was
modeled or carved in foam, which is pretty toxic. I realized that
aside from foam work, I'd be sculpting monsters and dead bodies,
so I moved on and haven't looked back.
"I did enjoy the collaboration involved,"
he said. "As part of a team, problems were solved and I got
to be a part of a process and product that is much larger than
any I could make alone."
Since moving to Portland, Patrick has worked for
architectural firms, restoring historic building façades
as well as creating new ones, such as the exterior frieze on the
Aztec Willie's restaurant on Northeast Broadway.
"My commercial work is always teaching me new
skills and techniques," he said, "and it frees me from
the pressure of having to sell my own work."
In 1999 he founded Gracewood Studio, offering commercial
sculpture services and fine art. Several new projects combine
personal and professional. The Community Foundation of Southwest
Washington awarded Patrick a $10,000 sculpture commission for
a new city park (see top photo of sculpture
being fitted to boulder before park installation for city of Ridgefield,
"It's work I love doing that is also in service
to the community," he said.
"It's perfect. The bronze relief depicts the
wildlife refuge surrounded by fruits and vegetables of the surrounding
Patrick is also working on a larger-than-life-sized
dog to be cast in bronze for the new headquarters of the Delta
And each spring he develops a workshop for Procession
of the Species, a community celebration of art and the natural
world in Portland and Olympia, Wash.
A yearning for the ocean is the inspiration behind Patrick's most
of two-foot wave
"I've been missing daily access to it,"
he said, "so I'm creating my own.
"They're beautiful liquid waves, two feet long.
My goal is for them to be four feet and in bronze."
The dictionary defines "contemplation" as a concentration
on spiritual things as a form of private devotion, a state of
mystical awareness of God's being; an act of considering with
attention; and, the act of regarding steadily.
"All these definitions are a pleasurable part
of my creative process and, hopefully, offered as part of the
viewing," said Patrick.
"Paradise for me is both in being in nature
and in being in a creative state, an active meditation. As I make
art inspired by nature and the garden, I get to return to paradise
again and again. And the finished art is a doorway for someone
else to enter the garden.
"It's funny, but I wonder if we each get only
three or four ideas or inspirations. Each new discovery I make
is really something I've been interested in forever, just seen
from another perspective and in greater depth. I recently cleaned
out my paper drawer and found a collage from 20 years earlier
that foresaw exactly what I'm doing now."