Patrick Puckett’s new paintings sing of summer.
Beach scenes, patches of sun-dappled lawns, a stretch of river — Puckett’s over-sized canvases at Wally Workman Gallery capture expansive, sunny afternoons where young people in swimsuits loll around languidly.
But for all the leisure and pleasure Puckett’s paintings portray, they hint of ennui and harbor subtle moments of darkness.
Puckett’s people stare out expressionless with darkened, slightly haunted, slightly blasé eyes. They languish on beach chairs or idle on floating inner tubes.
This is Puckett’s first solo gallery show.
He moved here seven years ago, arriving from Jackson, Miss., where he grew up, drawn to Austin’s reputation for creativity, its music scene, its laid-back living.
When he first got to town, Puckett, an art school graduate, worked as a parking valet. Now, he’s a graphic designer and paints out of a small studio across the street from where he lives near downtown.
“I like to paint big, but I’m limited by the size of my studio,” he says on a recent walk through his exhibit.
Like many artists, Puckett prefers to talk technique rather than plumb the philosophical underpinnings of paintings.
His canvases measure up to 5 feet by 4 feet; “Figures on a Beach,” a diptych, measures almost 10 feet wide.
Envisioning remembered and imagined scenes, and sometimes recalling the occasional photograph, Puckett outlines his compositions in dark hues first, then builds out the details as he lightens the tones.
Puckett’s paintings accrue a marked sense of layering as he works, with knife-swept paint peaks creating a discernible, even expressive texture.
Finished, the paintings have a bold sense of graphic contrast with strong forms. Fields of intense colors hold little variation in hue. And the surface of the canvas bears a certain flatness.
Raised in Mississippi, a fan of American roots music and Southern literature, Puckett, 34, studied art at the University of Southern Mississippi. If many of his artistic peers were toying with conceptualism and trying out experiments in installation art, Puckett preferred painting.
“I’ve always liked figurative painting, even if it was considered the least cool thing you could do when I was in art school,” Puckett says with a hint sarcasm.
Particularly, he found immense inspiration in the Bay Area Figurative School painters of the 1950s, who also didn’t follow the trend of their time, rejecting the then-prevailing aesthetics of Abstract Expressionism in favor of a return to figuration — albeit a figuration that employed plenty of abstract sensibility.
Likewise, Puckett uses a very consciously naïve sense of representation and a not-unintentional use of abstraction — details of a figure or a setting are not always refined, shadows are rendered deliberately dark in places, proportions not always worked out evenly.
Nevertheless, there is an immediate familiarity with these scenes. “They’re not mysterious, these people are not hard to identify with,” says Puckett. “They’re not people I know, but they could be people I know.”
They might be beachgoers at the Gulf Coast, where Puckett and his family frequently vacationed. Or they could be poolside anywhere or on any green back lawn.
The artist remains a bit indifferent, too — and challenged by — titling his paintings, often just resorting to the most basic labels like “Girl at Beach” or “Figures at Sunset.”
However, one painting in the current exhibit shows a young woman staring passively, a red and white striped beach towel wrapped prominently around her shoulders. Puckett titled it “Jane Priscilla Sousa” — which just happens to be the name of the daughter of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” composer John Philip Sousa.
“I’ve always liked American painting,” Puckett says. “Big American paintings.”
“Patrick Puckett: Solo Show”
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through July 27
Where: Wally Workman Gallery, 1201 W. Sixth St.
Information: 512-472-7438, www.wallyworkmangallery.com