Excavating patterns in chaos

Pitak explores push, pull of artistic process in October exhibition

nealstands“What I love is the physicality, the memory of movement. Making a mark, with a paintbrush or charcoal, whatever, it’s your movement. It’s your breath. It’s how you feel at that moment.”

Neal Anthony Pitak is all about process — recycling, regurgitation, expulsion. The results of this process will be on display in the exhibition “The Mighty Coprolite,” beginning Oct. 1 at the Art Studio, Inc.

The show opens with a reception from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., Oct. 1, and closes Oct. 26.

Pitak, who is a lab technician in Lamar University’s art department, said his work is print driven but he doesn’t think of the work as prints. The Parma, Ohio-native said he would, if pushed, characterize his work as multimedia.

“They start as drawings, or a print — lithograph, intaglio, or a silkscreen — but they keep on shifting and moving in the sense that I keep layering and changing them,” he said. “I have been Xeroxing and copying them. I will do a shitty copy of an intaglio and then I will do a transfer (print). The idea is that it keeps changing. Every layer is a shift and each time it creates a new form, it builds into something. I have no idea what it is, but it kind of grows into itself.

“I like the idea of absorbing things and taking things in, then letting them out and taking them back in — it’s fun processing them and recycling them.”

Pitak said that works in the show are built, layer upon layer, until the original drawing or print is obscured.

“I have bins of writings and drawings,” he said. “I have an old Xerox machine so I do copies of copies of copies — so I have things breaking down. You know, It’s like pentimenti — things behind, erased, and there’s a ghost.”

The process of transferring a photocopied image onto paper using acetone has become more difficult with modern printers and inks. However, Pitak found an old Xerox copier at an estate sale.

“I was making copies and transferring them on top of old prints and then painting on top of that, building them up,” he said. “It breaks the image down, too. If you have something you originally do, if you layer it you lose that original layer as you’re layering. But there’s that thing behind it, so even though, essentially, no one will see it, there’s that thing that started it — the beginning of the cycle, which is interesting to me — it’s like a spark.”

The coprolite of the title refers to petrified dung.

“What got me interested in that was, in my research there was a piece of dung and inside there was a broken toe — it was petrified,” he said. “That’s (like) a lot of my objects — not so much thematically but in an idea sense — they filter through me, push though me, and they get processed and end up getting frozen. I think of some of my objects as being dissections or cross sections of ideas.”

The works are all connected but they are all individual, Pitak said. He had his work in one place and it was overwhelming, a sort of sensory overload. So, to prepare for the show, he started breaking the works up into different rooms of his house.

Neal Pitak hangs art around his Old Town Beaumont home as he assembles a collection for his show, "The Mighty Coprolite." Photo by Andy Coughlan

Neal Pitak hangs art around his Old Town Beaumont home as he assembles a collection for his show, “The Mighty Coprolite.” Photo by Andy Coughlan

“My bedroom was things starting, the studio was the middle where I was close, then when I was finished I’d pin things up on the wall, so everything in the living room was finished,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was like a production line, but it was easy for me to walk through look at it and it wasn’t so stifling — I could see what I was doing.

“I’m making connections, because I recycle a lot of my images using Xeroxes and prints, etc., and I’m making connections that I couldn’t see before, and I’m able to build another layer, or another object, or another thing from that. So it’s building another connection and another connection — like building another synapse.

“That’s what’s been helpful laying them out and looking at them, but they are very thematic. They are based on how I absorb them, how they pass through my body. That’s why I use the term ‘Mighty Coprolite,’ because it’s the morphology.”

Sometimes, Pitak’s love of process can lead him to get lost in the work. He reflected on a professor’s comment when was in graduate school at Indiana University.

“She said, ‘You’re noodling too much, Neal’ — and for a long time I wondered, what does that mean?” he said. “And then I realized I was kind of, like, meandering. I love process but without product it means nothing, so I’m finding this connection between process and product. They are inseparable to me, but I have to find (the point of) finishing, finality and moving on. It doesn’t have to be perfect — they never are, but the more I finish something I am just going to get better at it, and I’m going to get closer to what I want.

“I think right now, because of this show, I’m finally coming to terms with realizing I need to finish things, that it’s done, it’s not in a stasis — it’s finished and let’s move on.”

As the layers of images overlay on top of each other, much of the work loses its representational form. However, Pitak said he doesn’t think of his work as abstract.

“It’s very figurative in my eye,” he said.

In the same way, on the face of it, one might say his work is black and white. But that is not how the artist sees it.

A work in progress for Neal Pitak's exhibition "The Mighty Coprolite."

A work in progress for Neal Pitak’s exhibition “The Mighty Coprolite.”

“I use very minimal color, but I feel there is an infinite scale between black and white, the gray scale, and there’s texture and form and the buildup,” he said. “My favorite thing right now is the Crayola black marker — or Chunky Monkey — because if you draw with it and you add alcohol or water after it dries, it is this beautiful blue-green, like a fly. I’ve tried to mix this color and I can’t. It’s going back to the basics.”

The viewer is going to come up with their own ideas, regardless of Pitak’s intention, which is fine, he said. He recalls a visit to Houston’s Menil Collection with a friend.

“She said, ‘I’m not an artist, I don’t know what to get from this,’ and I said, ‘How could you not get something from this?’ You’re going to get your own idea of something,” he said. “I think we are all pattern seekers.

“A lot of the things I do are very chaotic, but when I show people my work they say, ‘Oh, I see this’ or ‘I see that.’ We look for the recognizable in a stain or a cloud. That’s what you see. I can’t take that away from you. I can give what I made, what I did. We are always looking for form in chaos, so that’s what I am interested in — finding pattern in chaos.”

Pitak said that each piece does have a specific meaning.

“Even though it seems random it means something,” he said. “It’s private, but someone is going to get something out of it, even if it’s as basic as a white canvas with a line. I certainly don’t want to force it.

The Art Studio is located at 720 Franklin in downtown Beaumont. For information, visit www.artstudio.org,

Story and photos by Andy Coughlan, ISSUE editor

Artist Neal Pitak sits surrounded by his artworks in his home.

Artist Neal Pitak sits surrounded by his artworks in his home.