Austin Pratt is a painting and drawing instructor at UNR who recently became Curator of University Galleries. His exhibition, Array Hum, is on view in the Front Door Gallery in the Church Fine Arts Building.
Can you tell me a little bit about the exhibition and about the experience that inspired the creation of it?
The show was a component of my experience as Artist-in-Residence at the Great Basin National Park. … I was the very first person in this capacity. So it’s really exciting. There was a lot of testing what the different variables are and how it might work. … There was a rigorous application process, and I was very fortunate … very honored and grateful to have been accepted to be a part of this kind of inaugural program. …
They would provide some limited materials, survivability materials, a tent, a camping stove, a couple of coolers, a water jug, and it was a pretty stripped down, bare-bones thing. It is one of the least visited or populated national parks in the country. … I brought a bunch of materials there to work, but I was thinking of it very loosely and not trying to create anything—or trying to create finished works.
I stretched probably 20 paintings while I was there, created the surfaces for brand new paintings, started a bunch of stuff. … While I was out there I was collecting images, taking a lot of photographs, doing a lot of hikes most of the time … I would just take a ton of photographs and just think a lot, and then I was doing a lot of reading.
And then, in the off days or in the early afternoons, I had a setup. I had a great big picnic table. And a really large scale tent that they provided me, which was really nice. I was able to have a desk in my tent.
It rained every single day that I was there, which was another miracle for July and in Nevada. The rain was beautiful, but it was like clockwork [at] 3 p.m. every day. It was like—in five seconds a thunderstorm would come in, and it would rain two hours. It was really incredible.
So, that was what my days were like. … I collect a lot of visual information from photographs and from drawings, making an association to natural information. It’s just like swimming, like collecting a lot of data in a really scientific approach, collecting information and then swimming in it and parsing through it and then also trying to resolve the paintings and listen to what paintings want.
What’s the message here in most of these pieces?
I’m interested in pulling from objective sources, real things, real textures, real color palettes. And I’m putting them together. I’m interested in a kind of abstraction that is just on the other side of legible. So it feels like you’re just about to see something like a horizon line, a figure perhaps, a time of day, perhaps, a location, perhaps.
So, color palette is really significant, where I’m trying to give you and the viewer a game for myself more than anybody. I’m trying to play with this sense of pattern recognition and legibility. How can I give as much information as possible, without giving it all away … keeping it really open where there’s still this sense of mystery? As a painter, I’m interested in a sort of tricksterism of giving you as much as possible, and then taking a key component away, or playing with that sort of sense of legibility.
I want myself as a viewer of my own paintings. And … I want the viewers who are not me to interact with the work, to engage with it, to participate. I feel like they’re all big question marks and not declarations.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Austin Pratt’s exhibition Array Hum will be on display at the Front Door Gallery in the Church Fine Arts Building at the University of Nevada, Reno through Oct. 24.
The Great Basin National Park Foundation – University of Nevada, Reno Artist-in-Residence Program is open to artists living in Nevada and Utah. Application and info here.
Cover image: Austin Pratt’s painting “Pages.” Photo: Kris Vagner
This article was funded by a grant from the City of Reno and the National Endowment for the Arts.