The CultureMap Interview
Patricia Hernandez clowns Thomas Kinkade's mall art in a biting DiverseWorksshow
Patricia Hernandez: Parody of Light, which opened Friday evening at DiverseWorks, represents the artist's unapologetic critique of Thomas Kinkade, the "Painter of Light," whose mass-produced depictions of small town American life have made him into the nation's "most collected living artist."
In the exhibition's installations, Hernandez has superimposed a clown character into compositions lifted from a Kinkade book. On the show's final day, Feb. 26, the art space will serve host to a "give away" event in which visitors can donate money in exchange for a wide range of parody objects, such as Parody of Light toilet paper, mesquite firestarter balls or a cozy Parody of Light blanket.
Proceeds will benefit the artist's nonprofit organization, Studio One Archive Resource, which assists Houston's alternative arts organizations in establishing and maintaining archives.
CultureMap met with Hernandez and DiverseWorks co-executive director and visual arts curator Diane Barber to discuss the show's implications.
CultureMap: What was the impetus for the collaboration between the artist and the organization?
Diane Barber: Several years ago, DiverseWorks participated in a Portland art fair, Affair at the Jupiter Hotel. Since we don't sell artists' work here, my goal for the fair was to highlight a group of artists who I felt were doing some of the most interesting work in Houston, and Patricia was invited to participate.
The work that she sent to the fair included a small piece that was a page from a Thomas Kinkade calendar that she had painted on. But she added her own intervention into the gazebo of a clown hanging from a noose. I loved the piece and that started a conversation.
Patricia Hernandez: When she saw that, she said very excitedly, 'We need to do an entire show of these.' And I refused because I didn't want to get sued. That was four years ago. Subsequently, while organizing the DiverseWorks professional development workshops, I discovered at our legal considerations workshop that because the concept is parody, it is protected as free speech.
CM: How does the exhibition fit in with DiverseWorks' programming?
DB: Not only am I really taken by the work Hernandez is creating, but it's a commentary on a cultural phenomenon that Kinkade has created, of operating as an artist that's completely outside the traditional realm. He's taken consumerism and mass production to a completely different level as an artist. I find that interesting for our organization, which has historically gravitated toward work that has some sort of social or cultural commentary.
CM: What is it about Kinkade that inspired you to create a parody exhibition?
PH: What interests me isn't how hideous his paintings were or the corporate culture of greed and how he participates in it, but how he practices as a businessperson that's an artist — especially since there's such a trend right now to help artists with assisting themselves in creating a lifestyle and practice that sustains a studio practice. Almost every artist I know has at least three jobs. Artists are becoming more business-minded; it's not just about going into the studio and creating.
I like the idea of incorporating the practice itself, the economics of it, into the content of the work. Process is always potentially content, so why not allow the economic process to become the content?
Taking Kinkade as a model, or anti-model, I try to find a way of creating a practice, a system, an infrastructure, that actually helps support the non-profit sector that artists function in as they make work that is challenging intellectually. In every interview of Kinkade collectors, someone says something like, "I love the work because I just like to look at it. I don't have to think about it or have anybody explain it to me."
Why is it a bad thing to have work that is intellectually stimulating?
CM: What is the method behind the exhibition's organization?
PH: It's divided into thirds. Each area imitates part of Kinkade's practice. In the first area is a series of reproductions on canvas on large frames, hung as they may be in a formal gallery or museum.
After that, you enter into a home space, which reflects this ridiculous level of objects with Kinkade images reproduced on them, that range from toilet paper to labels on liquor bottles. Many times when I came up with an idea, I'd look on his website, and he would already have it. For the bathroom I thought it would be great to have a Parody of Light shampoo, but he actually already has a travel shampoo kit. It was hard to out-parody him, because he already is a parody of himself.
Instead, in the exhibition's bathroom there's a pajama top designed by Christian Dior that I found at a resale thrift store, and I arranged it to look like the artist took his image and collaborated with a designer, which is something that is being done more and more in the design industry. But he's really the only artist that has taken it to this crazy level.
The last third of the show is a mall, with a food court that will serve hot dogs at the opening, because he has used the mall shopper as his target audience. I don't go to malls very often, but I had to go out to The Woodlands mall to go to his gallery to do research . . . it was crazy.
CM: Can you elaborate on the character of the clown in this series?
PH: I've really enjoyed painting the clowns. It's the first time an artwork I've done has made me laugh. I did the first Kinkade-based work as a request for a show, The Million Dollar Hotel — that one night extravaganza that Dolan Smith and Paul Horn organized in the top floor of Holiday Inn Select on Highway 59. The theme of the show was "clown town."
Somebody had given me a Kinkade calendar as a joke gift, and i thought, "Oh these look like hotel art, I should put a clown on these." And what would a clown do if it walked into a Thomas Kinkade painting? It would kill itself — hence the clown hanging in the gazebo.
On a broader level, I think the clown is a stand in for how I feel about him [Kinkade], but also in certain images the clown becomes a stand in for me. There's one work of a clown crawling out of a hole, which is how I felt when I temporarily thought I was done teaching. And then the clown represents how artists are perceived in general by some people as performers, that we're seen sometimes as just ridiculous, perhaps by collectors of Thomas Kinkade.
CM: What's next in this series?
PH: There was so much that I wanted to do for this exhibition that I didn't have space for. There will be a website that will allow anyone that didn't get what they wanted from the show to obtain it online, which will also act as a way to raise funds for Studio One. On the website, I'll also invite collaborators to work on future Kinkade-based artworks.
Anytime I discussed this exhibition with an artist friend, he or she jumped and asked to do something for it. The wallpaper is designed by David Kruger, and hanging over the fireplace is a lovely embroidery by Beth Secor.
Where it's all going to go, I don't know. I just hope I don't give Kinkade any ideas.
The Going out of Business "parody for charity" event will be held 12-6 p.m. on the exhibition's closing date, Feb. 26. Also currently on view at DiverseWorks is flickerlounge: Short Films by John Herschend, Ben Peters and Lily Sparks, co-presented with Aurora Picture Show.