John Patkau was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He is a practicing architect who, with his partner Patricia, is recognized internationally for a relentless commitment to critical progress. John is currently pushing beyond the circumstances of architecture to investigate raw materiality, form, and process. John lives and works in Vancouver, British Columbia.
As both an instrument of utility and an emblem of endurance, metal—steel in particular—is possibly the most salient material to furnish the history of human experience, standing as it does upon stone. Metals are fundamental matter, naturally occurring crystalline structures that fill the majority of the Periodic Table of Elements: our catalogue of essential media. While iron is among the most abundant elements in and on the Earth, steel, an alloy of iron, is not elemental. It is the product of centuries of work and refinement, a history that has distinguished eons. That history, which is written at the nexus of found potential and ambitious intent, may well be a latent history yet it is inextricable from the presence and significance of metallic forms. Cut/Drawn is a direct intervention in that history, a disruption, however slight, that acknowledges, challenges, and illuminates the integrity of character embodied by one of the most ubiquitous of things. The works, however, the objects, are intended to stand for themselves. This text is to compensate only for the biases of photography.
Steel is common but fascinating. It is so common because it is so extraordinary. Nothing else is as efficient, strong, resilient, lightweight, and affordably produced. Steel is versatile, even stronger in tension than it is in compression, and elastic enough to absorb great stress without fracturing or changing shape. It is tough, even symbolic of toughness. The word steel is used to invoke the girding of oneself in preparation for adversity, and its root lies in the ancient Germanic notion of standing fast. Steel yourself. Hold true. Resist. Even as inner reinforcement, steel is armor. Cut/Drawn, however, is like a peek under that armor, a coaxing exposure of the hidden and vulnerable quick.
For all of its strength, the weakness of steel is well known to be heat. Steel in the crucible, amorphous and incandescent, may be cast into any shape desired. But the steel with which Cut/Drawn begins is already given a particular form: an industrially rolled sheet. That form is itself an embodied record of the intentions and uses to which steel is put, without which the medium would not perform as it does. Cutting and drawing describes the intervention we make in its material presence. We cut it from its intended utility and draw out from it an alternative expression of its specific manufacture. But cutting and drawing is also the limited pallet of manipulations that constitute the work. The steel is cut precisely and drawn out with enormous tension. That is the sum of methods.
The process is as delicate and forceful as the results are elaborate and vigorous. It matters how the forms are made because willfulness and desire are not utterly dominant over the material. It is not beaten into a representation or function. It is not rarified to an abstraction. It is not put to posturing in the service of a concept or comment. It is, however, damaged. It is stressed. It is made to fail and the manner of that failure is the content of the conversation between artist and medium. Something is being asked and, as ever, the depth of answer depends on the precision of incision. The work exposes the ethos of the steel sheet—its way of being. The steel is subjected to stressful situations wherein its base nature is not simply revealed, as it is in the crucible, but is articulated in response to the challenge. The material does as it must, according to its intrinsic aspect and its conditioned character. As with a person, therein lies its integrity and failing well, as opposed to succeeding beautifully, is the brute proof.
The challenge is mutual. Steel tends to hold to the point of utter failure at its weakest point rather than open up with supple elegance throughout. The work, also, cannot be corrected. It must be harmonic with the integrity of the steel, with its ability to stand fast and its unwillingness to yield gracefully. Even the slightest discord in the pattern of cuts will significantly degrade the result. When the work does not fail well, a misunderstanding of the material obtains. Because the work is a dialogue with the material rather than an imposition of predetermined forms, the process must have an ethos of its own. It must be given to a particular way and hold true to that way, though it is not quite freely chosen, so much as negotiated with the material.
Cut/Drawn is a study in form. It is a critical reflection of, and a conversation about; the facts of materiality, the transformative intentions of work, and the disclosure of character.
John Patkau: CD1S AP2, 2017, Steel, 48 x 31 x 21 inches
John Patkau: CD6S AP2, 2017 Steel 49 x 15 x 17 inches