Santa Barbara–area artist Tom Pazderka paints images depicting, and made using, the ash, wood and charcoal of his surroundings. Czech by birth, Pazderka has long evinced a specifically Eastern European–style penchant for a penumbric, folk-Gothic aesthetic of saturated shadows, bright whispers of detail and distressed surfaces. His work is dramatic yet also quite somber, even as his chosen subjects in architecture and landscape are arguably more picturesque. His unique technique involves reclaimed wood, whose inherent textures inform the quality of the inky blackness of oil paint and charcoal he applies and removes, as well as the directed application of flame to both panel and paper.
Pazderka's images tend toward dreamily rendered buildings, homes and utility towers, as well as an extensive study of landscapes in fog, smoke and storms. All his work references the threat of decay to our bodies and institutions presented by social violence and environmental neglect. Recent years spent in the Santa Barbara area — lush, agroindustrial, susceptible to natural disasters like floods and fires — has expanded his view of existential volatility beyond the geopolitical and into the meteorological. One series of billowing clouds roiling atop dark mountainsides specifically investigates not only the art historical heights of German romanticism but also the cycles in which fires burn; the resulting air particles seed the clouds, generating the very rain that in turn will quash the fire.
In the wake of last year’s devastating Thomas fire, Pazderka processed the event and its aftermath in ways for which his career, conceptual foundations and material processes had prepared him perfectly. His current solo exhibition at Ojai gallery the Basic Premise (which has been extended through April 28) was on the calendar before the fires, but much of it was made afterward. A suite of works on burned paper and mixed-media paintings on reclaimed wood continue his practice, with renewed personal poignancy. Best described as an attitude of idealism in the face of decline, Pazderka writes about this work, “My new series of paintings is a venture into the darker side; of landscape, of nature, of memory. Images of smoke clouds from local fires are thinly painted into the heavy blackness of ash and charcoal rubbed into a burned wooden panel. These are the objects of reverie of fire, that primordial sense of one’s connectedness to something both life-affirming and life-destroying. ... It is wonderful to live among the ruins of bygone days.”
As if to underscore the bittersweet role of nostalgia and the slippery slide into complicity that these works address, the show also contains a series of scientists' portraits and research tallies having to do with species extinction and resource scarcity, as well as a charming wooden tower of questionable sturdiness, made of damaged and salvaged wood in the manner of a lookout or treehouse, infused with the battle-scarred weariness of danger and damage.
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“Bright Abyss: Sunrise in the West” closes Saturday, April 28, with an artist’s talk and reception, 4-6 p.m.
The Basic Premise, 918 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow the artist on Instagram.