There is something alarming, seamless, and ultimately subjective about Meryl Pataky‘s neon creations. I say this in the most literal sense, and in the figurative, for the fact that one must bend hot gasses and blown glass together to create the desired object is only then paralleled by Meryl’s purpose and understanding of her craft.
Her approaching solo show “Metaphysics” is such that it emulates her personal beliefs and appreciation of the tools she uses to establish a multi-faceted dialogue between her audience, herself, and her creations. To really grasp what I’m saying here, dive into the world of Platonic philosophy, and comprehend that “objects of experience constitute the only reality; the artist attempts to address the human condition.”
Karanina Leigh: With regard to your “Metaphysics” show you say, “we all aspire to be a form…and our experiences shape our unique matter inside [us] and create our reality…” Can you go into more detail on the process behind your choosing of the words and subject matter you illuminate in neon.
Meryl Pataky: My subject matter has always been about personal stuff. More recently, I have been working with text and language. I used to stay away from such a literal presentation of an idea, mostly because I felt trapped by it but I have learned to enjoy the playfulness of language, the inherent meaning verses the intended meanings and “plays” on words. This stuff is train of thought and some of it sticks and I get obsessed. My glass is an extension of what I’ve always made work about – the nature of existence and human emotion, condition and behavior. That is what “Metaphysics”, the show, is about. Not every piece is about Plato or the actual philosophy but instead my resolution about what it means to be – to be me, to be human, to be artist, to be girl, to grieve, to love, to experience. This is the Metaphysics of me.
KL: Neon is a pretty fragile medium that I would imagine to be temperamental. It’s not like a canvas of which you can just wipe the image away and start again; or is it? What are some characteristics of neon?
MP: Definitely not like a canvas although you do work with a well planned out, hand drawn pattern by which you match your bends. Every time you bend, you place your hot glass on the pattern and that pattern is protected by a metal mesh screen to protect it from catching on fire from the hot glass. When glass is hot, it slumps and this is when you make your bend. Because of the malleability of the glass at this state, you need to blow into the glass when you bend in order to round the glass back out and prevent it from kinking or the walls fusing together. When you say the characteristics of neon I think of neon, the gas. Characteristics are: Red, inert, noble, elemental, atomic number 10. For whatever reason the glass bending process and sign-making art has acquired the name of the gas. “Neon” has become a medium, most likely because it is used most frequently.
KL: What do you feel is the greatest challenge in getting something to come out exactly how you see it in your mind?
MP: It never does – that’s the biggest challenge there is. And this isn’t just with neon. I can’t speak for all artists but, for me, the idea of the piece is always greater than what I create. The object only ever aspires to be its essence or “Form”.
KL: Before cultivating the craft of neon art, what other mediums did you experiment with?
MP: I work a lot in metal, both steel and precious metals. I have more years experience with jewelry and silver fabrication than with glass bending. I also enjoy using natural mediums like animal hides, dirt, fruit, grass.
KL: What drew you to working with neon in the end?
MP: However strange and unfitting it is for my personality, I’ve found resistance to be a motivator for me in my work. I’m drawn to tedious processes. It’s annoying. Aside from that, the obvious is because it glows! It draws people – that’s the point!
KL: Did you find the neon field of study to be a challenging one at the Academy of Art University, or are there a lot of other people working in this medium?
MP: There is only one class at the Academy and, perhaps in comparison to other mediums studied at the sculpture department, not many people get to take the class multiple times for credit or get hooked on that material. It is a challenging thing to get the hang of. There are some awesome neon artists that I know from the Academy who have their own unique bending style and subject matter. In addition, I’ve begun talking to others in the business and everyone is really nice.
KL: I love that your craft can be translated into both inside and outside art, and I may go as far to say that you create a newer form of street art. Did you ever imagine that your works could be part new movement of exhibition art?
MP: Yea – I totally wanna do neon street art – SHHHHH!!!!
KL: What is the largest piece you’ve ever completed, or would like to execute?
MP: Largest installed pieces: 2 that are approximately 7 ft tall and one that is roughly 9ft wide (horizontally).
KL: How long does it normally take you to finish a piece?
MP: It really depends. A straightforward name with four cursive letters, about a foot tall in 10 mm glass would take me roughly 4 hrs (from straight glass tubes to a lit up piece straight through with no stopping or cig breaks) but larger pieces could take me a couple of weeks. I also have a couple of real life jobs.
KL: Do you have any other projects coming up that we should be on the lookout for?
MP: After this show I’m looking for commissions, neon work in a shop etc. This is my neon resume, will you hire me in your shop? I might be working with more furniture and lighting showrooms such as Design Within Reach, where I have some light fixers and Dogfork in Portrero Hill. I plan on getting into my studio, cleaning and making jewelry for some consignment relationships I have at RVCA, SF and a boutique called J.E.M in Boston.
KL: If you could do anything, with any material, and anywhere, what would you do?
MP: Public neon works on the wall of Ocean Beach and gorilla neon around the city. I’ve wanted to do street art with my chicken feet also.
Take a few minutes to watch this awesome teaser video produced and directed by June Zandona of Meryl in the studio getting ready for her show.
Come check out Meryl’s amazing neon fixtures at her solo show opening reception, held at a.Muse Gallery on November 11, 6-9pm.
Thanks to Shea Greene for the awesome studio shots!