Uncovering The Soul Stone
A Visit With Painter Francis Pavy
By Joyce Linde
The ancient cities of Italy and Greece were built around a center, the mundus, which was a pit covered by a great stone, called a “soul stone.” On certain days, the stone was removed, and the spirits of the dead rose from the pit which established the city’s relationship to its ancestral spirits. When a work of art generates a feeling of life and excitement within us, we might say it “uncovers our soul stone” and reconnects us with our spiritual selves. Two artists whose artwork communicate to people of diverse socio-economic backgrounds and bridge the gap between children and senior citizens are Louisiana painter Francis Pavy and chainsaw sculptor Kelly Guidry.
How is it possible that two very different artists working in totally different media are able to communicate through their art and touch such a vast cross-section of cultural and age boundaries? What are the facilities that enable each man to penetrate into the hearts and souls of so many people? To explore this idea, let’s first visit with Francis Pavy at his studio, which is located at 210 Gordon Street in Lafayette. At a later date, we will visit Kelly Guidry at his studio in Breaux Bridge.
Pavy’s studio has all the characteristics of his whimsical paintings. It is a simple, wooden frame building, painted red, surrounded by tall green trees and lush, native plants. It is immediately apparent that there is a great deal of creative energy in and around those red walls. In fact, the red studio seems to imbue the neighborhood with a feeling of vibrancy and life, acting as its center, or “mundus.” My curiosity was immediately sparked, and I wondered what it was like inside.
When Pavy opened the door he ushered me into a perfectly delightful working environment, for his studio is awash with light that reflects off the freshly painted white ceiling, floors and walls. The artist’s paintings are everywhere; on easels, hanging or leaning against the walls, and stored in racks. They are whimsical, primitive and vibrantly colored; and the effect is startling when juxtaposed against the white background. The bold abstracted shapes, vibrant colors and the strong, flowing lines that link the composition together create a feeling that is joyful, playful and quizzical. Recalling that experience, even now, brings back the childlike feeling that came over me, and it would not seem out of place if one began to turn somersaults or cartwheels.
Looking at Pavy’s paintings is like being on the outside of his studio; you want to know what is inside or, rather, what resonates beyond the paintings’ surfaces. The really interesting part comes when you begin a more thorough and in-depth observation. After several minutes, Pavy began to talk about the evolution of his new body of work, which he refers to as “Likenesses and Impressions.”
He explained that he considers these to be portraits of real people, and as he moved about the studio he pointed out paintings of his wife, Micheal Doucet, Clarence Simeon and Elmore Morgan Jr. When I asked Pavy why he had painted Simeon’s face blue, and outlined Morgan’s silhouette with tiny birds, he pointed out that he takes liberties in color, shape, and composition in an effort to capture the essence and history of each individual. “Blue is almost like a flesh tone for me.. .It is almost like a grey… I did not want to paint flesh tones,” he said. He went on to say that at one time he painted realistic portraits but that his work has evolved from that, and he reminded me that the title of the exhibit is “Likenesses and Impressions.”
Perhaps some of the reasons that Pavy is able to be instrumental in “uncovering our soul stone” are because his paintings include information from a broad base that recalls the ancient drawings and symbols of a primitive era. At the same time, his work possesses a very sophisticated linear quality that is contemporary in feeling. When I asked, “How can your modern mind think like this?” He answered, “Everything is an evolution,” and he began pointing out the transition from the thick bold lines in his earlier paintings to the more recent thinner, flowing and graceful lines.
It is easy to see that his playful and bold use of color would appeal to the old and young alike because it is reminiscent of children’s paintings, which are so appealing. “You see this purple? Here it is in this new painting only it is layered under the color green!” Pavy exclaimed.
Over the years, Pavy has made the transition from the use of three or four flat, muted hues to a palette that is more layered and vibrant in quality. His palette is bold and pure, and he pointed out a red that seemed to come straight out of the tube, much like the color found on the outside of his studio. Pavy says that his simplified shapes, colors and composition and the strong linear quality evolved from working with leaded and beveled glass. His earlier work in a glass shop reinforced the idea to keep the shapes simple. When working with glass, it was necessary that the lead be continuous and come in contact with all the parts in order to hold the pieces together.
While it is the simplified shapes, vibrant colors and strong linear design that initially captivates our attention, it is his system of intricate mark-making that establishes an intimate connection between the viewer and the artwork. Pavy creates a system, through a repetitious pattern that keeps the observer moving across the painting, in and through the shapes and colors. If you allow yourself the time and openness to become immersed in the rhythm of the work, it is almost mesmerizing, in much the same way as that of an ancient tribal drumbeat. First, Pavy captivates us with large, simple, shapes and bold colors and then he creates an intimate dialogue that recalls our memories of childhood and forgotten primitive ancestors.
When I asked Pavy why he felt his work appealed to such a broad range of people and ages, he answered, “I don’t know! It just does. However, my daughter could recognize my paintings from a very early age, even paintings that she had never seen at home.” Pavy makes a point of saying that he does not consciously create the symbolic references that are inherent within his work, but that he does at some point begin to work from what is considered to be a “stream of consciousness.” ”For me it is all about balance,” he stated, “balance of color, shape and design. If the painting is not working, I add or subtract until it does.”
Perhaps the most dynamic reason that Pavy’s paintings strike a universal chord among so many people, far and wide, is because the joyful nature of the artist flows through his work; thus uncovering our soul stone and releasing within us a feeling of joy and vibrancy. “I am happy when I work, and I feel that feeling comes through in my paintings,” said Pavy. “I have fun with my painting.”
Francis Pavy’s paintings may be viewed at his red studio at Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia Street, New Orleans, La.