Saturday, August 28, 2010

Q&A: Paul Bernhardt Teaches me About the Touchdown Jesus, and Other Things

One thing I really enjoy about getting to do regular artist interviews for the National Post is I learn about things both great and small that I never knew before. Paul Bernhardt, for instance, taught me about the "Touchdown Jesus" while we were discussing his paintings, which are closing at Harcourt House and the Alberta Biennial in Edmonton this weekend. More artistically speaking, I was surprised to learn most of the work on view was actually based on in-situ sketches. Here's an excerpt from our chat, published yesterday in the National Post:

Q You sketched some of your new paintings in Alberta oil fields. Have you shifted from painting with raw oil to looking more at oil's origins?

A At first, having just moved to Alberta, I was kind of interested in the oil industry. For instance, jack pumps -- those pumps that look like dippy-bird toys -- are fascinating to me. They're essentially robots. Not only do they pump autonomously, but they stop by themselves, too. They have a quota for the year, and the minute that amount is out, a pump freezes until the following year. So I spent a couple of days sketching those near Lloydminster.

But those aren't the only kinds of sites I'm interested in. There's also things in my paintings like satellite dishes and power stations and airports--places that are more part of our everyday experience. So a bunch of things coalesce in the sites I choose. There's usually some kind of mechanical structure I find visually intriguing, but also something that speaks about the way we live right now, when using machines is such a large part of our lives.

Q Usually artists set up easels in front of beautiful scenery. Do you really sketch for hours in these grimier places, or do you just take quick photos for future reference?

A I sketch onsite; I seldom take photos. I just set up a little camping chair and bring water and a sketchbook. So these paintings are all based on places that I'm able to visit and experience. I may spend three or four hours in the city somewhere, or two days elsewhere. Other aspects of that experience can also end up in the painting, like the conversations I had with the guy who managed the site in Lloydminster, or songs that were in my head.

Read on here for the Touchdown Jesus connection--kinda has to do with Bernhardt's interest in machine-like figures, I think, or machines as figures.

Image of Bernhardt's Knockdown 2008 from the Alberta Biennial

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