Contemporary Portraiture: Interview with Patty Horing
Patty Horing is a figurative painter living and working in New York City. A graduate of Brown University and the New York Academy of Art, Horing is currently represented by Anna Zorina Gallery in Chelsea.
I am interested in the narrative and psychological nature of portraiture. Contemporary paintings of specific people simultaneously raise questions and offer clues about individual identity and the larger cultural context in which the subjects exist. My goal is to examine, through subjective interpretation, who that person is, wants to be, has been. The subjects' material surroundings also reflect some aspect of personal desire or identity that is linked to the psychological underpinning of the portrait.
By conveying a feeling for both the inner and outer lives of individuals, I hope to access a deeper underlying current of relatable human experience.
Your work is a beautiful snapshot of contemporary life. Tell us about your interest in figure painting and your journey as a visual artist so far.
I was an arts & crafts-obsessed kid and loved art history in college, but I didn’t start painting until relatively recently. I had a career in marketing, got a Masters degree in English literature, and became a mom to two kids before I ever picked up a paintbrush. Pretty immediately after starting painting, I found myself drawn to painting people. Although I didn’t really know what I was doing, I found that I could convey a likeness, and even more interesting to me, a sense of emotionality. More than a decade and a lot of work later, seeking the narrative mysteries inside the psychological states of human beings remains the driving focus of my work. My paintings can certainly be classified as portraits since they depict specific individuals; but I hope that in their narrative implications and sense of underlying emotional life, they strike a chord of empathy in the viewer that allows them to transcend the genre label.
The figures you choose to depict are based in particular environments. What informs your decisions about who to paint and in what setting?
I mostly paint people I know well— friends and family — because my feelings for and about of them creep into the work in sneaky, often good ways. For the last several years I’ve been painting people in their ‘natural habitats’, with their stuff. I love to see how people choose to live within their spaces and also how certain objects reflect back aspects of their identities. When I go to my subjects’ homes to take reference photos, I am frequently amazed to find symbolic objects that reinforce the underlying narrative I’m aiming at. For example, in my painting ‘The Three Sisters’ (of lively elderly sisters), there actually was a baroque painting of three frolicking kittens over their couch. When I asked a committed gay couple to pose holding each others’ crossed hands for the painting ‘Joe & Joe’, just by chance there was a drawing of a bridge right above their heads that perfectly mirrored the shape of their joined hands. Things like that amuse me and make the work richer symbolically.
Briefly explain the psychological element of your work. What do you hope to communicate through your paintings?
My work examines psychological states of being and relationships among people of all ages, through the lens of my continuing experience as a (now) middle aged woman who is a daughter, mother, wife, friend, peer, etc.
When a picture really works for me, it feels like the essence of a good novel, in that the viewer can feel the presence of a complicated human being in the midst of his or her story, even as that story remains ambiguous or mysterious. I also aim to elicit some kind of emotional response from the viewer. In nearly all of my paintings, the subject gazes back at the viewer with directed intensity. I enjoy that eye-to-eye confrontation as a way to pull the viewer into an experience of mutual engagement, and, perhaps, empathy — an experience ever rarer in our smartphone-obsessed era.
What do you love most about your practice? Tell about what lights you up and keeps you going.
I love being in the studio, blasting good music (singing along loudly), and getting so deep into a painting that I totally lose my sense of time. I also love it when I reach the point in a painting when I’ve gotten the general feeling I want from the composition, and now can just play, invent and experiment to bring it to completion. That can mean anything from pumping up color to inventing wallpaper patterns to adding objects or half-hidden symbols that make me laugh.
How has living in New York influenced your art career and studio practice?
Since my subjects are usually people I know well, their cultural milieu is often also mine — New York City and its environs, with all the privileges and quirks the city affords its inhabitants. I got my MFA from the New York Academy of Art in Tribeca in 2015, and the wonderful community of artists I met there continues to be a great source of connection and engagement both personally and professionally. Both my current studio and gallery are also in the City, so it’s all pretty New York-o-centric for me right now!
What is the best advice you received that you wish to pass along to other artists?
That only YOU have your ‘secret sauce’, and if you make work that comes out of a place of authenticity, that’s true to who you are and what you care about, it will find a way to be seen. (This is something I try to remind myself of when I start feeling Instagram FOMO myself.)
What should we be on the lookout for this year?
Art with a meaningful message — political or otherwise. I think the rise in popularity of figurative art reflects people’s increasing desire to find meaning and points of connection within our culture and within themselves.