Thanks to all who attended Tom Pazderka’s artist talk last Thursday! Pazderka discussed his recent work currently on view at Silo118, and addressed the curious human fascination with places, things, and events that are extremely beautiful yet incredibly terrifying. He experienced this phenomenon during Santa Barbara’s 2016 wildfires, and was inspired to create a haunting series of paintings of meticulously rendered, photo-realistic white smoke clouds on burned wood panels.
Pazderka described being so drawn to the fires that he went up into the mountains to watch them burn, and he wasn’t the only one: “Here’s something that is absolutely beautiful, but at the same time it’s also one of the most destructive things you can imagine. You see it from here and you’re more or less safe…but on the ground over there, there’s just a raging inferno that produces this amazing feature which is billowing out and swaying back and forth…these clouds are growing and falling in on each other and they’re disappearing over and over and over, and I was entranced by that. I saw that a lot of people coming up there were doing the same thing--they would congregate there, get out of their cars, take pictures or videos, have a beer, hanging out there looking at this thing. It struck me as something that’s very natural but also something very odd. It’s like watching a disaster in progress.”
Pazderka likened this flirtation with danger and destruction to watching a building fall down, or a hurricane approach; or climbing Mount Everest, literally walking over dead bodies to get to the top, to “witness something that most people don’t.”
Other works on view also speak to the theme of loss and disaster, such as a list documenting the extinction of species across the globe, and another which shows Los Angeles’ annual rainfall (or lack thereof) from 1877 to the present.
The connection between seemingly opposite elements, such as the beauty and terror of the wildfire paintings or rain and drought in “LA Rainfall List,” is further explored in a series of dark, exquisitely rendered graphite portraits (also on burned wood panels). The subjects of the "Freedom Club" series are carefully chosen to represent characters who embody a fascinating combination of powerful, opposing traits, or seem to be polar opposites yet actually have more in common than one might think—for example Henry David Thoreau and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, who both lived in tiny, primitive cabins in order to disconnect from civilization and learn to survive in the wilderness.
This work by Tom Pazderka forms part of the exhibition “Black and White (Mostly),” on view at Silo118 through July 19.