In Chris Patch’s current exhibition at Evans Contemporary, our voyage begins with a silhouetted figure of the Sea Hag, Popeye's arch-nemesis from the 1930s comic strip. However, the famous sailor is nowhere to be found. Instead, we see her carrying on with her isolated existence on Plunder Island or sailing the Seven Seas in her ship, the Black Barnacle. The imagery of the Sea Hag (specifically as embodied in the techniques of comics and printmaking) connects us to a romantic dream of a universal language that is used to construct a narrative of the artist as an outsider. The Sea Hag is a shape-shifting necromancer that, like an artist, uses the illusions of representation to charm the world to get what she wants. Recently transplanted from New York back to his home state of Maine, Patch has put himself on a cultural island to weave this story of isolation and otherness.
The images in this exhibition use direct printmaking techniques in a fluid manner. The pictures are woodblock-printed, stenciled and hand-painted on untreated canvas or paper, often folded and passed through the press multiple times. Evidence of the process is by no means concealed—fingerprints and mis-registrations are openly displayed. Patch’s continued investigation of such printmaking techniques creates images that codify the process of making, such as isolating an index of the wood grain in the representation. The iconic image of the Sea Hag feeding her vulture has been printed on unstretched canvas to expose the wonky construction and threadbare existence of exhausted processes. The results are direct and graphic while also atmospheric and nuanced. Painting, relief printmaking, and comic books are all fodder for Patch’s distinct image-making alchemy that creates stories about the alienation of the attempt to depict universal ideas in contemporary art.
In Charles Baudelaire’s poem Voyage to Cythera, we are confronted with the corporeal and raw nature of our bodies contrasted with an idealized world whose beautiful foamy ocean spawned the birth of Venus. Can self-loathing and beauty exist in the same world, or is this the state of making art today? This contrast - as in Baudelaire’s poem - is deployed by Patch to make narratives about the nature of how and why art is made.
by Craig Taylor