Personal tragedies inspire Carpinteria artist
“Attention to Loss,” an exhibition of drawing, printmaking and sculpture at the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara, is artist Pecos Pryor’s response to the question: “What do we do with our hands in grief?”
“In 2019, I lost a family member to suicide, a family member to drug overdose and went through a divorce,” Mr. Pryor told the News-Press. “This show is made from shadow cast by love, which can no longer tangibly fall on those beloved.
“Rather than ignore it, this body of work has been a way to focus and process sorrow. The making has been physical, contemplative, full of mad and sad tears as well as loving ones.”
He said his obsession with traffic cones began when he moved to Los Angeles after graduate school in Nebraska.
“During the methodical commute across town, I noticed a single traffic cone left by the highway workers, perhaps due to its proximity to life at the edge, forced between a wall and the unceasing river of cars. It was there for months!
“I began anticipating its presence each day. Glimpsing that cone was a bright familiarity in that uncertain time. More solo cones became apparent, and I liked them best when they were fallen over. The dark tunnel drew me in.”
When his brother-in-law died, Mr. Pryor said he found himself “wanting to crawl into the shadow of those cones. Unable to change tragedy, I needed something to do with my hands, so I began to carve and build that dark space to look into and live in. Gouging out the holes and forming shadows gave me a place to turn my disheartened stare. More and more, I sought to depict darkness, explore shadows of objects and those that surround me. Where do the shadows go from the ones whose bodies are no longer grounded? Perhaps their shadows turn into grief and blanket the ones who mourn.”
About his drawings of “Single Beds,” Mr. Pryor said, “Sharing a bed with a partner of 10 years, then not, leaves the body ineffably discombobulated. After our bed, I started the long transition of sleeping in beds at family and friends’ homes until I found my own bed once again.
“I began photographing the beds I slept in during that season. I can count 12 off hand. Naturally, the next thing was to translate these photographs through my body by drawing them.”
The “After the Memorial” objects in the show are “derivatives” of the carved cone from the same eucalyptus log found in the canyon charred by the Tea Fire, according to Mr. Pryor.
“I was in the middle of carving this cone when my brother-in-law died. A week or so before that I saw Phillip Guston’s Roma paintings, which depicted ruins and monument-like objects on a single plane.
“I was struck by their odd shadows that were painted as simple lines next to the objects and going in opposite directions, as if each object in the same painting had a different light source. The objects looked in conversation with one another.
“The off cuts from the wooden cone sculpture I was making reminded me of these personified objects and the experience of gathering with and around the loved ones at a memorial service. The emphasis for this monoprint series is on their shadows, perhaps lit by the laying down figure whose shadow no longer remains on the ground.”
When asked about his unusual first name, Mr. Pryor explained, “I’m named after the Pecos River that runs from New Mexico through Texas and into the Rio Grande. It is the Keresan (Native American) name of the pueblo of the Pecos Tribe. My grandfather went by the nickname of Cactus, so my parents chose Pecos, following the desert theme.
“I grew up in the small Texas town of Dripping Spring, a little west of Austin. I spent most of my childhood playing outside in creeks, building tree houses and stuff out of dirt, rocks and sticks. My parents saw my interest in making things, so they took me to art classes for drawing and ceramics at an early age. I grew up surfing in the Gulf of Mexico so naturally when applying for college I wanted to go somewhere by an ocean. With its liberal arts format, Westmont College was a good fit for me.”
In 2015, Mr. Pryor began the masters of fine arts program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with an emphasis in printmaking. After grad school, he
moved back to California and started working for the installation artist Trulee Hall in Los Angeles.
“I wasn’t too deeply rooted in L.A. yet when I had the opportunity to start teaching a sculpture course at Westmont College. I was glad to move back to Santa Barbara, where I have enjoyed and been able to contribute to the artist community,” said Mr. Pryor, who lives in Carpinteria and also teaches printmaking at Santa Barbara City College School of Extended Learning.
His significant honors include the Francis William Vreeland Award in Art for 2018 and the Wendy Jane Bantam Graduate Exhibition Award.