From a solo exhibition at Charles A. Wustum Museum of Fine Arts in Racine, Wisconsin.

Scroll down for an essay by the museum's director.

In the majority of this current body of work I have used my hometown, Racine, Wisconsin, as a backdrop for larger, universal narratives. Racine remains the permanent landscape of my psyche and my perception of the visual world is perpetually gauged against this early landscape. It is ironic and yet fitting that the French word for "root" is Racine. While this is a very specific environment, it is nevertheless inherently America and this work could not have been produced elsewhere.

This choice of hometown as my primary landscape and the inevitable exploitation of early memory is not nostalgic – if anything it is anti-nostalgia. Nor am I following fashion by wallowing in the current fleeting obsession with victim status and exorcism of one's past so thoroughly politically correct in the art world this month. Instead it is a careful and conscious reprocessing of the barrage of both collective and personal influences that a child of the first TV generation could not escape.

The idealism of another generation - my parents'- in rebuilding postwar America was an orgiastic celebration of mass naissance, rampant consumerism and a wholesale rejection of the past in art and architecture. This was a brave new world whose lie was perpetrated by advertising, sitcoms, cold war propaganda and religious, machismoistic patriotism not unlike that of the 1980's.
As I explore the language of Racine's landscape, my focus has narrowed to that which can be seen from the homes of my brother and my parents. My brother's children populate certain paintings, both enacting specific roles and serving as metaphor.

Time and distance have allowed, I feel, an objective gaze upon my experience of coming of age in America, while memory and more recent sojourns make producing work that is extremely personal virtually unavoidable.
Patrick King
Night/Fires/Lawn Mowers

The paintings of Patrick King present everyday scenes that are familiar sights to most viewers who have lived in America since the late - 1950s. His work focuses upon the front yards, streets and backyards of suburban America in realistically rendered, yet slightly disquieting compositions that present his personal views and recollections of these public spaces.

King has lived in urban Philadelphia for a longer period of time than his years spent in Wisconsin. However, it was his pre-teen and teen years spent in the Midwest that continue to influence his paintings today as he returns to the community and the scenes of his youth. His tract houses have manicured lawns, garden furniture and children's toys. When figures do appear, the adults are involved in chores such as lawn watering and grass mowing and children are at play. The works are not realistic depictions of specific places as much as a reflection on the kinds of places represented and the relationship they have to people who grew up in them.

These pieces record the way these neighborhoods appear but also describe the viewpoint of the children who grew up in them. There is a sense of limited scale in King's works. This can remind each viewer of the period in our own lives when one's perception of the world was limited by whether it could be traveled on foot, on bikes or in cars. As children acquire new travel skills, they expand the scope and scale of their world. King, as an adult, reexamines his childhood and its environs in these pieces which are both depictions of the way certain places look today and the way he feels about these kinds of places based upon his youth. There is a sense of irony and observation in these pieces that makes them compelling rather than documentary or biographical.

My Parents' Driveway at Dusk creates an unusual view of a suburban neighborhood. Only the comers of two houses are shown. On the surface, this is an ordinary image. The children have been called in from play for the night and the objects in the yard have been neatly tucked away. Closer observation of this realistic scene elicits a sense of mystery. Attention is paid to the consumer objects-the garage, driveway, basketball hoop and barbecue grill-but where are the consumers themselves? The main source of light other than the setting sun, is a bright corner window. This window hints at voyeurism as the viewer is encouraged to ask just what is going on inside there? King does not merely record the appearance of this image, but infuses it with a sense of the unexpected and the unusual.

This painting is not about suburban life as much as it is about the thoughts and impressions of one of suburbia's former residents. This piece both depicts the suburban home as the castle and fortress of its owner but also as a curiosity to be investigated and inspected by the viewer, just as a youngster might examine his/her community and surrounding neighborhood in greater detail than the adults who inhabit it.

King's pieces are beautifully rendered and his attention to detail and execution in each work enable his statements to be made without a sense of mockery or cynicism. These are real places and the sentiments expressed by the artist are genuine. These works are about how these places, viewed by the artist as a child, look to him now as an adult with the kinds of memories and connotations an adult can bring to scenes and objects of childhood.

There are surrealistic overtones to many of the pieces, creating an added dimension to the work. In 
Gulf, three children play in a backyard, oblivious of the adult world they inhabit. The yard is picture perfect and King has captured the residential landscape in exacting detail. The children are also seemingly unaware of a fire raging in the lower left corner of the composition. Like most surrealist works, the strength of this image rests in its ability to work on the levels of the real and the dreamlike. This backyard landscape is easily recognized as a normal scene. The element of fire is threatening but made dreamlike by being ignored by the children. This scene can be read as a metaphor for the special world inhabited by children who pay close attention to some events and activities while ignoring others which are of greater interest to adults.

Is this a brush fire or merely the flaming of a barbecue grill lighted just off the edge of the painting? This threatening image, which seems inappropriate in the safe suburban setting, can be read as a benign part of summer outdoor life. It can also stand for the threats and dangers or the turmoil and tension implicit in even the most prosaic parts of our society.

Lawn Savages can also be interpreted on two levels. This multi-panel painting records, with snapshot accuracy, close-cropped images of five different male figures of different age and dress engaged in one of the annual rites of summer. Because of the attention lavished upon houses, attire and the kinds of mowers there is a feeling of documentation to this painting. By including savages in the painting's title, King suggests the backyard warrior approach taken by many suburban gardeners or the effects of these machines upon the environment. The sight of homeowners mowing their lawns is common, but by isolating each figure within its environment, King emphasizes the eternal struggle of man to tame nature. The small scale and format of each portion of this piece as well as the use of oil on wood, suggests religious icons, portraits of saints or stations of the cross. While this religious connotation is amusing on one hand, it also speaks about the solace and meditative feelings generated by working in one's garden.

By creating scenes in which things are both as they seem and evocative of other levels of meaning, King comments upon his experiences as a former resident of these environs. While he has not lived in a suburban area for some time, King utilizes it as the setting for thought-provoking paintings in which the specific sights of Racine and other small city and suburban areas become the location for paintings that delve into the memories and associations of a child of the 1960s and 1970s.

Patrick King moved to Racine at the age of eight and received recognition within the community for his artwork while still a high school-aged student. He departed at age eighteen to study art in Minneapolis and has not returned except for visits. This is the second in a series of exhibitions at the Wustum of current artwork created by former Racine residents. With these shows we hope to take an in-depth look at the artistic achievements of former residents, examining how each artist has grown since leaving the community and documenting their career development.

by Bruce Pepich, Executive Director, Racine Art Museum
and Charles A. Wustum Museum of Fine Arts.