Meryl Pataky is one of those artists that you just want to hang out with. Her studio, which she shares with a handful of other artists, was once the Hamms Brewery storehouse, with a storybook tower that held the brewery’s malt and barley. I first met Meryl at the Mark Warren Jacques White Walls show about a month ago – she had collaborated with him on a piece, adding one of her neon creations to one of his paintings. We hit it off, and as I’m super fascinated with the process of making neon art, we agreed on a studio visit.
At her studio space, while I watched and snapped pics, she bent some glass, sautered a few pieces of silver and talked about her life as an artist, intermittently smoking cigs that she lit with her blowtorch. Then we made our way up a set of long sketchy ladders to the roof for a few fun snaps and cityscape views. Check out the interview. She’s pretty rad.
LF: Let’s start with your fascination with anything cosmic. Where does this come from?
MP: I’ve realized over the years of working with a variety of materials that I am frequently handling elements of the Periodic Table. Nobel gases like Helium, Argon, and the namesake Neon are in my neon sign-work. Through papermaking I am using Carbon as well as elements that are in pigments to color such as Cadmium, Magnesium, Mercury and others. I use Ferric (in steel) and I’ve branched out to start experimenting with Lead. I’ve loved Outer Space and Science since I was young and now I am learning more about how my materials came to me from their birth in the universe to my hands. Stars and nebula are the birthplace of all of my materials.
LF: You work with many different mediums. What’s your fave?
MP: Neon really is my favorite but it burns me out sometimes. I enjoy playing and making paper as a break from the more tedious materials because of it’s more forgiving nature.
LF: We’re particularly in love with the neon process, and you’re in a bit of a niche market with this work. Why neon?
MP: I fell in love with the medium just because of the process. It’s fucking hard. It was definitely a challenge for me that I wanted to get on top of. I’ve been doing it for almost 3 years and I’m still learning so much. It’s a love affair that will last a long time. I want to continue making artwork from it and also use it as a profession in commercial applications.
LF: Are there any dangers working with the materials you do to create neon art?
MP: Yes, many materials are toxic. Patinas for metal and acid (Ferric Chloride) for metal etching are considerably toxic for your skin. Mercury is used in some neon works and if the glass breaks, you’re basically inhaling mercury vapor. The elements used in raw pigment are light and fine. They can get into your lungs very easily. Toxins that are bad for your lungs are described as being “caustic.” They will stick to the inside walls of your lungs and stay there, your lungs will not be able to get rid of it.
LF: You talked about working under a mentor in your neon education. Who was this and how did this person influence you as an artist?
MP: Bill Concannon was my teacher at school and has continued to be a teacher after my graduation. He’s helped me professionally and we have worked together on some commercial neon sign jobs. He has been in the neon industry for 35 years (give or take). He’s worked on Hollywood movies creating neon sign-work for films such as Star Wars, Back to the Future, Goonies, and many others. He is my homie for life. I couldn’t do what I do if it wasn’t for his encouragement and support.
LF: You have jarred chicken feet in your studio. Can you talk about this?
MP: These chicken feet were part of a larger installation entitled “Strife Inspired.” I made the installation during my BFA with the intention of it being completely ephemeral and only leaving with photographs. The piece was about an experience at school where I felt discouraged and roadblocked by one of my educators. It had to do with a jewelry project that I was given a red light on after I had already paid $400 for two chicken feet to be cast in solid silver for what was to be a sick lariat necklace. To me, a teacher giving a red light to any student’s project and ideas was horrible and I acquired a chicken foot (from a friendly local processing plant) for every dollar I spent on the silver casts. I piled 400 chicken feet in the corner of a hallway at school. Some chicken feet were tattooed with words that represented how I felt about the situation. At the end of the installation, I kept three of the original chicken feet in a mason jar with 100 proof alcohol and I’ve had them ever since.
LF: Organic and primal materials. Why?
MP: I think most people are drawn to the aesthetic of these materials. The inherent meanings of them can be powerful and you are borrowing their meanings when you use them in your work.
LF: You also make jewelry. What would you call your style?
MP: My jewelry is mostly aged and oxidized silver.
LF: Do you sell your jewelry?
MP: Yes at RVCA on Haight and Ashbury and online through my website store and Etsy.
LF: How long have you been in the mixed media art business?
MP: I want to say all my life – I’m really good with legos and erector sets too.
LF: You have a few shows coming up. What can we look forward to?
MP: I am a part of a one night exhibition called “Night Life” at SOMArts on April 27th. The beginning of July I will be showing with Root Division and White Walls Gallery. For White Walls I will be creating a series of neon works and Root Division will be my first casino style bulb sign.
LF: If you had one bit of advice for a beginning artist, what would it be?
MP: Make work everyday.
LF: What’s a day in the life of Meryl Pataky?
MP: Coffee, biking, art, beer
LF: Biggest inspirations? Biggest pet peeves ?
MP: I’m inspired by things people say, textures and situations. I hate it when people don’t let you off the train/bus before they get on. It’s obnoxious.
LF: What gets you off, literally or figuratively?
MP: When it lights up.
LF: How FAST do you live?
MP: My chain hits my chest when I’m banging on the radio.
The pop-up garden party “Night Life” at SOMArts opens tonight, for one night, so if you’re looking for some art in SF, check it out!