Sunday, January 13, 2013


An old friend, who was a lawyer, relayed an event many years ago that upset her. She was a government attorney and once had dealings with a lay boss who implicitly referred to her as a "scribe." Years later, I still think about why she was offended and completely understand. However, now, as an artist, I've been reminded by another good friend that my process and the evidence of that work is quite narrative. Being a scribe, documenting and attesting to our experiences and powerful emotions in my art, is natural and not at all pejorative. The longish horizontal format that I often favor lends to that feeling. 

Noting my frustration with keeping work 'untitled', this friend, artist and scholar Fran Gardner, reminded me about the titling of a modern artist's work and suggested that I incorporate significant dates in titles of paintings in which I was documenting certain events or emotions. Doing so is consistent with my process, which usually springs from the strong memories and emotions that come from life's experiences. I'm putting them down in art, evidencing these shared events, creating a timeline. 

Copyright 2012 - patricia h.k. zalisko

With that in mind, I created Sandy X-28-II, above, evidencing my personal experience with Hurricane Sandy in the NYC metropolitan area. Channeling the brutal destructive force of that storm in a low lying and heavily populated area ill-equipped for tropical storms, I resurrected the sense of helpless as the Hudson River and New York Harbor flooded city streets like a tidal wave, carrying tons of raw sewage, gasoline and diesel oil, cars, animals, debris along with it.

Copyright 2012 - patricia h.k. zalisko

I completed Sandy Hook XII-14, above, in response to the mass shootings and murders in CT. Specifically, I channeled the incomprehensible horror of innocent first graders facing their killer. I was affected by the murders here for many reasons. My sibling lives nearby, worked and now consults in the county's school system, has children who attended the school where the slaughter occurred, has neighbors and friends who were killed there. I have family and friends who have run into the killer and his family. And these brutal slayings stirred vivid memories from the presumptively dead ashes of my former profession as a child abuse and homicide prosecutor. As such, I spent many a year investigating in excruciating detail the killings of too many children. 

(Pat at work at Atlantic Center for the Arts in December, creating what will become Sandy Hook XII-18 - photo by Audrey Phillips)

I couldn't express then the depths of my grief for fear of committing prosecutorial misconduct. There's no hugging a child who recounts to you the anguish of chronic abuse and maltreatment. My job was to dispassionately advocate for the interests of dead or injured children and, hopefully, I did so professionally, compassionately, respectfully and thoroughly. But nothing can limit my abject sorrow or restrain my ability to express it when I paint. 

This is my personal language, and it is rooted firmly in my life and our shared history.