JOHN SEVEN North Adams Transcript

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- Israeli artist Izhar Patkin looks back on 30 years of chasing illusion and reality as one in his new show at Mass MoCA.

"The Wandering Veil" opens at Mass MoCA on Saturday, Dec. 7.

It’s important to Patkin that his work be seen as part of a discipline, and that an artist not be seen as someone who constantly makes art in his life. Art, Patkin believes, is a practice, an intentional one that is part of a historical process and dialogue.

"People think everything is art. I don’t think everything is art," Patkin said. "People have confused art for lifestyle. I don’t subscribe to that. Not everything I do is art. Art is a very particular discipline. Like philosophy, it’s a discipline. A philosopher is somebody who is negotiating the history of philosophy. It’s not somebody smart who has anecdotal ideas."

"I see the same thing about art. My art may look strange, and it’s very, very inventive, but the parameters of it are paintings and sculpture. It’s not things. It’s a matter of perception. What’s at stake is the pictorial space and the understanding of the pictorial space."

Pictorial space, or the illusion of depth within the space of two-dimensional art, Patkin extends into the gallery upon entry, and then back into itself. The placement of his artwork within the space creates a physical manifestation of the painted illusion, to be compared and maybe even confused with each other.

"What this phase of the show, for me, is about is bringing you into the question of pictorial space and perception," said Patkin, "and the relationship between fiction, reality, or the fact that the distinction between reality and illusion is an illusion to itself."

Patkin says that the bulk of the show covers his past decade, but contains references from his earlier efforts to reveal how his vocabulary developed into what is displayed at Mass MoCA. The show centers around his veil paintings -- huge images on flowing netting -- which came out of a collaboration with Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali, from which the title "Wandering Veil" comes and which are presented in five different rooms within the show, each representing one poem.

"I see all of my objects as kinds of veils," said Patkin. "My veils don’t hide anything because the paintings are on the veil. You lift the veil and there is nothing behind."

Patkin points to earlier works as walking across the lines and embracing the contradictions, to the point where his piece "Ghost Money" -- a huge Plexiglas cabinet filled with electronics, as well as sculptural items, with painted sides --plays two almost opposite roles.

"It looks like a painting, but it’s also a sculpture and you can see right through it," Patkin said. "It’s both a mirror and a veil. It’s really about a way of perceiving the world."

People, in Patkin’s views, are like walking veils, a part of the atmosphere while seeming apart from it.

"I see us as something very porous, something that our skin, our whole being, is a porous thing, things go through us," he said. "We’re not these opaque things in the environment. Also, as you move through you are yourself hiding and revealing what you are passing through."

For Patkin, the show starts, both physically and thematically, with Don Quixote. Patkin’s aluminum sculpture of the famed character greets visitors to Building 5.

"I placed him on top of the staircase in something that recalls the cavalier perspective," he said. "The cavalier perspective is the type of pictorial space that was used for military battles, where the objects are placed in front of each other, but not in linear perspective, meaning that you can measure the distance between them if they don’t do that. This cavalier perspective for me suggests we’re talking about perception here. Whether you get it or not, it doesn’t matter. I put it as a gesture."

"The front view of the sculpture is the back. Throughout the show, you are coming to the work from the back. You are always coming in from the privileged, backstage, hang out with the musicians kind of thing. It creates a kind of intimacy. "

All Patkin’s works are based on stories that are out there. The show also includes his adaptation of Kafka’s "Before The Law Stands A Doorkeeper," which consists of a huge fabrication of an aged barn door with two paintings.

Patkin points out, though, that the literary works aren’t the center of his art, just part of the material being used in its creation.

"In my work, everything is upfront on an equal level," he said. "Every element in the work is part of the narrative construction. It doesn’t have to do with literary works. Those stories are wonderful. The work is driven by narrative. Both the narrative and the material are equal actors in the construction of the narrative. If I’m using rubber instead of canvas, and the rubber is pleated, and it creates these folds, that is already an actor in whatever story is going to be merged with it. Because if I paint it on canvas, the canvas basically sinks into oblivion. You don’t really think about it anymore."

Patkin points to older practices, in which artists depicted scenes from the Bible or mythology and depended on the audience knowing the story and being interested in where the artist will takes the information.

"Now I wasn’t about to paint the Bible or the New Testament, so I always chose stories that were available enough as my windows, as my departure points," he said.

But Patkin also shrugs off such studiousness as imperative to enjoying his art, or any art, inviting audiences to take it all on its own terms and build from there if they prefer.

"If you want to define the window or the door for yourself more specifically before you look at my painting, it’s available," he said. "If you don’t, that’s okay, too. I’ve looked at plenty of Renaissance art not knowing exactly what they were talking about."