Review: the work of local artist Jacob Pedrana
Artist review by Anthony Frater of Arts Wednesday.
It’s about colour, it’s about movement, metaphors, man and beast, it’s also about art and expressionist painting.
Emerging expressionist painter and sculptor, Jacob Pedrana, hails from the Noosa hinterland in Queensland but has lived the last 15 years in Bondi. Lucky us because at the time of writing his latest body of work is included in “Ravel”, a group show at the Twenty Twenty Six Gallery at Bondi Beach. He also has a solo show coming up in June at the gallery.
Pedrana came to full time painting not that long ago. Last March in lockdown gave us all the opportunity to recalibrate and reconsider where we were going. Living in the now, mindfulness, meditating, focussing on the laws of attraction brought about an epiphany, Jacob decided he was going to give away years working as an artisan tradesman – a plasterer extraordinaire – to commit himself to his lifelong passion: working full time as an artist. Like many of the greats, he is self taught and has always painted or drawn or created – for some it is a natural gift.
Speaking of artists and artisans (or tradesmen) I am reminded of a time when artists and artisans were considered equally talented, equally respected, equally skilled. Arguably the greatest painter of all time, Baroque artist Diego Velazquez, was Royal Court painter to King Phillip IV of Spain in the seventeenth century. Not content being compared equally to an artisan tradesman, Velazquez campaigned hard to raise the status of the artist or painter to someone whose talents were recognised for their sublime, god given skill; a more unique and celebrated practitioner of fine art relative to high culture; an individual of high personage and breeding who painted exacting likenesses of their Royal patrons, even Rome’s Popes; with formal training, they were the person who designed things as opposed to the person who toiled building it from the plans and schemes set down by the designer or artist. Well he succeeded but fast forward 350 years and the lines between what we consider a tradesman or artisan, and an artist painter today have become blurred once again: for example many Contemporary artists are also builders, metal workers, cabinet makers and electricians – they don’t just paint; likewise many artisan tradesman are brilliant, highly skilled, successful visual artists.
Nonetheless, living in North Bondi Pedrana says there is inspiration all around for subject matter and colour. For example the pink and blue pastels that form the background of his current works are inspired by the art deco colours of the buildings in North Bondi. He uses acrylic paint and oil stick on canvas. His oil stick meanders its way around the canvas to trace the outline of his subjects (horse and cowboy) giving them form and shape. He places his subjects directly at the centre of his large scale canvases so that the viewers’ gaze is drawn and fixes immediatley upon them. Then there is colour – shirt, trouser, skin, hat – it is added loosely, a wash, a scratch, an impression, it gives definition to form and volume to emotion. His backgrounds are an expression of colour that serves to empower his metaphor. His passion is for depicting movement and in what seems uncharted territory, a frontier unexplored, still-life is not for him for as he says, “I couldn’t paint a bowel of fruit”, for Pedrana it’s just too still. But movement there is: the cowboy clinging to his horse or being thrown by his horse – the cowboy trying desperately to subdue the beast. His mount in this case a metaphor perhaps for self destructive behaviours, pervading negative self-talk; the doubts that undermine and make us question our direction, our convictions and course; floundering in a morass of uncertainty. Then there is resolution: subduing and subjugating the beast within.
These works are a study of the rodeo and its iconic characters – man and horse. But this is not your average rodeo, cowboy or beast. If we are to believe the colours he uses in the background – broad washes, even graphic application of Pop style pastel pinks and blues – then, using expressionist theory in relation to the use of colour we might think perhaps that this cowboy is able to view the world differently; he is not your average stereotype. Yes there is the impression of brute strength and physicality, a swagger, but there is also grace and eloquence, there is a soul – a heart. This cowboy can be masculine yet vulnerable and sensitive, he is compassionate to the feelings of those he loves, he believes in humanity; the battle between cowboy and horse is not something as banal as animal cruelty but is a union, a synergy, a dance, both are equal players. The soft blues and pinks in the background are therefore an expression of colour that serve to empower and build upon his metaphor so that additionally it is about life and that all one needs to do is stay on the horse: there are highs lows ups and downs, the ride can be smooth one day and rough the next, it’s not hard to be thrown off course or lose the balance you were so convinced you had mastered just yesterday. It is about maybe not subduing the metaphorical beast within but accepting it, embracing it, it is a teacher too, more a case of finding the right expression for it. Perhaps also it is about consciously exaggerating natural appearances to express man’s terrible passions and frailties, that what’s on the surface is not necessarily what’s on the inside – just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The sensation, the feeling, rather than the actual or obvious.
As Jacob says, his choice of soft pastels serve to “soften how brutal the sport is…I like to think of the rodeo as a dance… it’s a marriage between the rider and the horse…I think it’s really beautiful; and the movement they both create at the same time whether the cowboy is being bucked off or he is in control…it’s a metaphor for my life…it’s like most peoples’ lives…it’s like sometimes you are just holding on or you’re flying through the air and you are being bucked off, while at other times you’re in total control”.
Life is about staying on the horse. But by the same token maybe we need the lows – the falls – in order to better gauge when we are on the right path – we need to be able to stack one up against the other to find clarity, the high road. All limits are self imposed, or as Jacob’s says quoting Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”.
Hear the interview with Jacob Pedrana at Eastside radio this Wednesday 7 March on Arts Wednesday, 1030-1200hrs.
Eastside Radio 89.7FM
Stream Live: www.eastdiefm.org
Digital Radio: eastside
Ravel 10 March – 17 April
O’Brien Street, Bondi Beach