Thursday, October 2, 2008

Phillip Dvorak

In anticipation of this month's Open Studios, I visited Phillip Dvorak at his apartment where he works. We chatted as we passed through rooms filled with Mexican masks, skulls, and neat stacks of drawings and etchings.

As a boy in Southern California, Phillip Dvorak pursued his archeological ambitions by digging for bones behind his parents’ house:

“I was convinced there were dinosaurs buried in my backyard”

When he wasn’t digging for T-rex, Dvorak was always drawing. Even at an early age, his grandmother encouraged his artistic habits, enrolling him in figure drawing classes in the Hollywood Hills:

“It was all adults and I was just this little kid”

It wasn’t until junior college, at the suggestion of an instructor, that Dvorak began to consider pursuing a career based on his artistic talents. He considered design, but ultimately studied illustration, in which he saw more opportunity for creativity.

“Growing up, the idea of making pictures that would be in books or on an album cover--that was just the coolest thing imaginable. And I still like the idea of having my drawings and ideas published, and being accessible to lots of folks, as opposed to the handful of people who may go into a gallery and see my work.”

Meanwhile, bones - prehistoric and otherwise - continued to be a source of inspiration, in addition to the sexual surrealism of Hans Bellmer, the figurative drawings of R. B. Kitaj, and the corporal explorations of Kiki Smith. Although he works in a number of mediums, Dvorak considers himself primarily a draftsman of the human form.

“It seems like a simple thing--drawing the nude--and in a way it is. But to do it well is really very challenging, in a Zen sort of way: being in the moment, being aware, being patient. There's something so pure and sensual about it--nothing can be faked. I like that about it.”

In addition to his striking nudes and compositions of layered forms, Dvorak’s work includes abstract pieces that have organic, if not recognizable, shapes. They are often appear as delicate as the paper they are drawn on:

“I love doing abstract work because it just becomes about shape – shape, color line without being any object, it’s just pure drawing in a way. […] Just drawing a shape for the sake of itself or a nice line for the sake of itself. But being inspired maybe by something that you’re looking at.”

Many of his pastel and charcoal compositions explore intersections: between animal and human, beauty and the grotesque, and male and female. In a recent series, MexiCali, Dvorak conceptualizes another intersection- that of border towns:

“I don't think things are as black-and-white as some people would like, and the idea of creating images which try to break or blur some boundaries seems like a good one.”

In the last year or so, Dvorak has been exploring photo collages, assembling familiar subjects (bones, flowers, body parts) into bold compositions:

“I like chance and randomness and it’s a nice way to get images that you wouldn’t have gotten just by thinking of something and drawing it”

That quality of chance, rather than premeditation, defines the artistic process for Dvorak:

“Making 'art', at least for me, is more about the process--not knowing how it will turn out, experimenting.”

See more of Dvorak’s work during weekend two of San Francisco’s Open Studios, October 10-12.

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