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Nostalgia, Art, and Social Consciousness:  
The Art of Pat Kochan

Betsy Dillard Stroud, 1997

Pat Kochan, artist, looks at me with a wry smile and says, "Once you get hooked into a subject, you don't need the outward reality of it anymore. The only thing that is important is the consciousness that you, yourself, are bringing to it." We are in her studio looking though a series of paintings about Dallas. The nostalgic twist of her paints of cityscape and life are but the proverbial carrot dangling in front of a very hungry rabbit. For underneath the shaming stylized depictions of "days gone by," likes an even more vital theme– that of the artist's social commentary on her society. Kochan's art explores in it simplistic presentations of stain of psychological complexity that make her painting characteristic of the Zeitgeist or spirit of the times. She explains, "Although I'm searching and pulling from within to express what I feel, I don't want my art to be so non-objective that people will not be able to grasp what I'm trying to say. I want to be clear about my message so that it can be read."


Kochan's marriage at an early age didn't limit or defer her interest in painting. It complemented it. After she left the University of Colorado, she married a man who was simpatico. While the babies were in the playpen, Kochan and her husband, John, put on Tijuana Brass and let it all hang out in their paintings. 


Recalling how her nostalgia painting series started, Kochan reminiscences that a decorator friend wanted a painting of the Dallas Tortilla Factory done before the building was torn down. Both Kochan and her friend despaired about the disappearing Dallas Landmarks. Kochan determined to do something about her concern. She did the painting, and when her friend was late picking it up, she did two more. Then, she went to the area of "Little Mexico," where a lot of houses were being torn down and people were literally and figuratively crying that their roots were being pulled up and hauled away. By the time Kochan's friend got by to pick up her painting, Kochan had twelve paintings of related subjects. These paintings comprised her first one-woman show. All but two sold, and Kochan was now hooked on capturing and preserving aspects of the rapidly vanishing city. Kochan explains that a lot of her work has the ambience of the fifties, when Dallas was flourishing, when people weren't afraid to walk the streets, when people weren't afraid to go downtown alone. 

Certain of her nostalgia paintings have a somewhat understated, controversial edge. In "The Beggar," the glitz and glamour of Christmas at Neiman-Marcus provides a stark contrast with the lame, tattered beggar in front of the store. In "Bus Stop", Kochan explains her message, "People will sit next to each other and never say a word. They are lost in their own dilemmas and thoughts, yet they share the same bench, oblivious to each other's existence." The figures in the painting are characterized by a flatness of form. There is a surrealistic light emanating through the composition, linking the characters on to another, paradoxically denying the obvious separateness that is the theme. 


Studying art in the midst of the Abstract Expressionist Movement conditioned Kochan to be free and spontaneous in her painting approach. With her attention to realistic details combined with an arbitrary and emotional treatment of color, Kochan bridges the gap between realism and a kind of emotional abstractionism, coordinating these two aesthetics effectively. 


There is an element of fantasy about Kochan's cityscapes that suggest another era, a suspended moment in time. Buildings are handled with flattened out washes of colors, as are the people who populate the streets, meandering through the composition as if in a dream world. Kochan's color is often strident, perhaps suggestive that she deals with the discordant and isolated feelings inherent in humanity through somewhat disharmonious color relationships. Diffuse color, lost and found edges, figures disappearing into light of shadow. Her somewhat theatrical approach to lighting casts an even more mysterious aspect. What is the time dimension depicted? Who are these people, and where are they going? What are they thinking? Because Kochan leaves some of these questions unanswered, the viewer is free to participate fully in the visual dialogue, viewing the past from the frozen surface of her painting, paintings that are subtle reminders of the evanescence of time and the ephemeral quality of all out lives. 


It is to her credit that Kochan recognizes the duality implicit in the growth and decay of a city, for embodies in her work, there is both glorification and concern, struggle and peace, acceptance and rejection. Kochan's significant painting make us ever more aware of the integral place the artist plays in society, as a visionary, as a recorder of the times, as a speaker for those things which have vanished forever. Her paintings and other like it will last far after our economies decline and civilizations disappear. Far after records are destroyed and computers become obsolete. Far after we have ceased to be. Far after. 

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