Philosopher Theodor W. Adorno wrote that “Love is the power to see similarity in the dissimilar.” We may come from different societies on opposite sides of the world, we may have differing views and approaches to life, but true love does not get derailed by contrasts. It remains open, eager to understand and embrace. The magic of it lies in the alchemy that happens when differences attract rather than repel, and eventually merge into a union that expands each partner’s vision of the world, infusing their creativity with new ranges of colors and perceptions. Today, in celebration of love, it is my pleasure to introduce a special couple who are uniting East & West in their art as well as in their life together: award-winning American painter Mark Patnode, and his Chinese-born wife, painter and master of calligraphy Juner.
Juner and Mark, how did you meet?
JUNER: The first time I saw Mark was in the corridor of the Griffis Art Center. At the time, my former husband and I also lived here. Mark and I were not in communication, but he had a very bright smile and that made me remember him. After the death of my husband, Mark and I became neighbors. The proximity of each other gave us the opportunity to communicate.
What inspired you to create your East & West artistic partnership, and how do you influence and nourish each other’s ideas? What artistic dialogues and collaborations have you formed together?
MARK: The bond that Juner and I share is forged largely in the care for others and their needs as we are each Teaching Artists in addition to being artists. In appreciation of the creative cohesion we each share, we have also realized that, despite coming from two different societies on two different sides of the earth, our similarities are stronger than the constant divisive messages we each are subjected to by the media that tends to focus on the negativity between China and the USA. As we are each creative as artists and educators, we have a constant positive outreach that embraces hope. We work towards each other’s interests because we recognize the two are now one. We allow nothing to divide that concept and we reinforce each other at moments of challenge.
As Juner tells folks: “We fit.” Part of our approach embraces the idea of encouraging others to see, by example, our unity and the fact that latitude and longitude are never factors but that the distancing of the heart is the major concern. We have created a logo / moniker entitled “East & West” that expresses our interests and encourages all points between to come onboard in an aspect of care. We have also forged a bond artistically to create artwork based upon a focus on people as seen from the back and not front. The “Back to Front” concept will be realized through individual work done from both Eastern (Juner) & Western (Mark) traditions and training. The results shall be compiled by our publisher, Glenn Cheney (New London Librarium), and published in a volume.
Mark, you have expressed that you sense the light from the sky as not only coming from above but as permeating life from every angle. You are an expert at painting land and cityscapes in riveting variations of light. Please tell us more about your philosophy and relationship to light—as well as to nature—in your work.
MARK: My captivation with light is at those rare times of display that are often overlooked by many who have a busy lifestyle but have an appreciation for those fleeting yet engaging performances often seen at dawn and dusk. That may be an encouraging beginning for many, including, initially me, yet there are performances and subtle nuances that dance before us all days and all night. The subconscious being the sponge that it is, oftentimes we must find a way to reduce the conscious filter that regulates our perceptions. Many times, when painting in rare atmospheric conditions I close my eyes for a minute and then reopen them to refresh the sensibilities once surprised, alerted, excited by what I see. I try to find a way to maintain the initial visage.
In our day-to-day journeys, we may lose sight of subtleties, complexities and intensities that really exist due to the many needs for existence in a society and social interaction. I get excited seeing that last vestige of light hitting the side of a building during the final 45 seconds of daylight. Though I paint a variety of subjects, I find great satisfaction working with city and landscapes. The light from the sky influences everything because it is not only above us but all around us. What is around objects puts color in them.
My goal with all my artwork is powerful visual simplicity. The first strokes establish my relationship with the subject, and it becomes a dialog as I develop the work. What makes many of these paintings unique is that they are done onsite and in the element. Below zero, fingers going numb; rain whipping around; hot summer sunshine and high humidity; low visibility on a dark night. In creating my artwork, the more I study nature the more I arrive at a language of form and color. This tends to be a solitary experience with a need to maintain concentration for analysis. When observing nature, I discover proportional and interdependent relationships of form and color. The study of nature leads me to develop sympathetically influenced symbols, patterns, and a resulting message.
While the essence of color structure and principles of composition come from the study of nature, I want my application to be as far removed from nature as I can get without losing principles learned from nature. I learned this from Nicholas Marsicano, my painting professor at Purchase College. Working quickly and with great intensity, I create the poetry of the inspired moment. I want to feel free with paint, and I don’t want to be constrained with convention. Why not sling it – throw it, splash it? It’s the artist’s mark – it’s mark-making.
Juner, you specialize in the Flower and Bird style of Chinese watercolor. Please tell us about this style.
JUNER: Flower and bird is a branch of Chinese painting. I like it because its form is simple. I like simple art form, even now, and I am trying to maintain a concise artistic style.
You have said that “the origin of Chinese characters is painting.” I still like to write by hand as I find that it gives me more time for reflection rather than typing my words. Unfortunately, in our digital world, we are losing the artistic and calligraphic aspect of writing. How does this relationship between the hand, the brush (or the pen), the ink, and, in your case, rice paper, enrich our capacity to express ourselves through writing? What gets lost when we neglect the art of writing by hand?
JUNER: Calligraphy and painting have always been advocated in Chinese culture. It is because Chinese characters first came from pictures and remain hieroglyphics. In addition, most of the formal Chinese writers can draw. They use brushes and ink, and the tools for writing and painting are the same. Because mechanization replaces all manual work, my worry is: that may be the way handwriting will disappear – much like cursive in Western cultures. But perhaps, like Chinese calligraphy, it can always exist in an artistic form. The forms of painting pen and writing pen are different so I am not worried that mechanical painting will replace it. Machinery instead of gestures will lose something very precious in our cultures, but this is the time that few of us can change.
How have Western art and culture influenced your painting?
JUNER: The different nature of Eastern and Western Art is the difference between Eastern and Western cultures. Western Art likes distinctive styles and colors, just as people in the West. The Art of the East requires unity and coordination because Oriental people are deeply influenced by Buddhism, and they are humble and implicit. Western painting shows reality, Oriental painting expresses subjective feelings. This is why many Westerners see my painting and say: “No color,” because the color changes in Chinese painting are very subtle. I am now trying to use the Western color theory in my Chinese painting. I am very careful, because I still want to retain the sense of Chinese beauty, because that is what I like and love.
You are both educators. How does teaching inspire each of you? What is important in encouraging and nurturing the unique budding talents of young artists?
JUNER: There was an educator who said that education is a tree that shakes another tree. The cloud pushes another cloud, one soul awakens another soul. I’m awakening the love of art for students, not just teaching skills.
MARK: Especially for primary and secondary education, my goal is to have each student arrive at an area of demonstrated understanding where they can both display achievement and be able to mentor fellow students, regardless of age. Seeing growth in students with learning and physical disabilities such as Asperger’s, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, Tourette’s, and other challenges is particularly encouraging. Emphasizing building self-esteem, collaboration, and creativity, the process is the product and proves invaluable as each student not only demonstrates comprehension and achievement, but the resulting evidence buoys aspirations in peers and reinforces the pedagogical efforts employed. I feel this goes beyond inspiration as it exceeds validation and affords even greater approaches.
Like writing, painting is a more or less solitary occupation. Do you find that being in isolation has made you more productive?
JUNER: With the development of society, the expression of art began to diversify, and it’s not just artists who are engaged in art. I don’t feel lonely alone, but you must be alone when painting because painting is not for show. Art needs you to think and it needs you to talk to yourself – it needs you to spend time on your canvas.
What is next for the two of you?
JUNER: We plan to explore new art forms, such as photography and poetry. We also want to bring our art into an interactional life, so that the East & West grow closer. The solution is to let people know more about each other’s culture. So, in the future, we will shuttle between the United States and China.
Mark Patnode’s paintings have been featured in numerous galleries and museums in the United States as well as abroad. Please visit his website to discover his impressive body of work. Juner Patnode is currently a Teaching Artist with Southeastern Connecticut Chinese School (SCCS) and she also conducts private lessons; more information is available on her website.