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Patrick Gracewood
Putting the petal to the metal
by Kathy Anderson

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."

"Love Letter"

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 my work."

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."


Budding artist
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, Wash.).

"Last of Spring"

"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 farms."

Patrick is also working on a larger-than-life-sized dog to be cast in bronze for the new headquarters of the Delta Society.

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.

Making waves
A yearning for the ocean is the inspiration behind Patrick's most recent work.

Detail 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."

Contemplating paradise
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 found.

"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."

Reach Kathy at kanderson138@attbi.com, and draw on other Sketch Pads.

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