Marcelle Harwell Pachnowski: Visual Rhapsodies

Wednesday, September 18–Saturday, October 12

Page-Walker Arts and History Center, Cary 

Hung gallery-wall style around the walls of her cozy living room in Fearington Village, Marcelle Harwell Pachnowski’s larger-than-life paintings feature monumental swipes of vibrant color and mesmerizing layers of paint creating textures so thick that you want to reach out and touch them. Each glance at her work uncovers something new: the way the paints blend to create new colors, new streaks across the canvas, a new mood. 

Visual Rhapsodies, her current exhibition on view September 18 through October 12 at the Page-Walker Arts and History Center in Cary, is her first exhibition in years and her second solo exhibition in the Triangle, since moving to the area in 2005. Visual Rhapsodies features semi-autobiographical works inspired by her synesthesia, or her ability to see colors through music, and what she describes as a “non-objective” approach to painting. Recently, the INDY spoke with Packnoweski about her process, what she wants viewers to see (or not see!) in her work, and why she recommends business classes to artists.

INDY: What does it mean to be a “non-objective” painter?

MARCELLE HARWELL PACHNOWSKI: The reason I stress non-objective is because when you’re observing “abstract” paintings, you look at it and go “oh, that’s a nose” or “ah yes, that’s a face,” and what I tell people is that there is no object in mine. It is all intuitive. Often people will refer to my work as abstract and I always correct them.

Abstraction is a distortion from beginning to end. It can be distorted to a slight degree, but it can be multifaceted, like Picasso’s multi-faced paintings. When I emphasize the nonobjectivity of it I’ll say, just observe the painting with the basic elements of design. Don’t look for things; of course, people do, because maybe it’s easier to identify with. [But] The subject matter might be secondary as far as I’m concerned.

Can you talk a little bit about that and your synesthesia? 

The process is to always start with music. And it depends on my mood, what I’m going to listen to. For instance, for this one particular painting, I was listening to a Pharaoh Sanders piece called “Journey to the One,” constantly. How the colors come out is purely intuitive. I really can’t pinpoint how this happens; it just happens. I’ll hear something and I’ll just say, ‘oh my gosh, that’s phthalo blue, with a little bit of yellow’ and I’ll just start feeling it and seeing it. Very often I’ll just sit in front of a blank canvas and put some music on and things just start flowing and I’ll start dancing and squeezing out colors that I feel. It’s been the process for many years. 

Tell us about the pieces in Visual Rhapsodies and what you were listening to while creating them. 

They’re the most recent pieces I’ve done. I have not been in any shows in a while; I was showing in the DC, Philadelphia area, but it got to be too much and I decided to try something local. t’s autobiographical, it’s based on a place that I’ve been or something that I remember from a trip, or a color. My colors are all intuitive.

The last fifteen years, I have gone through some pretty heavy stuff. And this is how I get it out. I found that I have fibromyalgia and was just falling apart. And I had my heart broken, and this is how I heal. Sometimes that can be a block, but sometimes it flows out. 

What do you want viewers to take away from your work?

Some of my favorite expressions from people when they actually purchase a piece and have lived with it for many years, they’ll look at me and say, you know, I always see something different in it and I still really enjoy it. I don’t mind if people are seeing realistic images, because that’s how we relate, that’s how our brain works. But, enjoy it for the movement and the texture and the basic elements of designs and if it speaks to you, that’s fine. And if you see a penis or vagina, that’s fine. Horny people, I guess! 

What’s your advice for aspiring artists? 

It’s interesting, and I’m glad you said that, because I met a young girl about sixteen, and she wants to be an actress. And I said, “the only thing I can tell you is to be prepared for rejection.” That’s the hardest of all. If you cannot take rejection, forget it. And don’t take it personally. I think the main thing is that if it is in your heart and your soul and your blood, do it. 

Get a good background in business. Learn technology. Learn the business of art, learn how to keep records, and learn how to write. Just learning about copyrights and contracts is very important. And take all the classes you can; I still think going to school and getting exposed to other artists, to all the artist that you can, is important.

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