GR: What did you do? Painting? Drawing?
JP: A little bit of everything. I went to a large public high school, but attended a little sub art academy within the school. Basically it meant that I took more art classes, and all my other classes were meant to be intertwined. For example, if in art class we were learning about an artist or a time period that teacher would coordinate with the history teacher. So we were also learning about art in the context of history.
GR: So did you not have to take history classes?
JP: No, I did. I always loved art, but that definitely channeled me into drawing, printmaking, and painting. Then when I went to college every different year when I took another class I wanted that to be my major. For a while I thought I was going to be a sociology major, literature major, and then when it came down to it I ended up being an art major after all.
GR: You could have majored in liberal arts.
JP: Well, I did go to a liberal arts college. So, I got to take classes in all those things. I just ended up getting interested by all the topics. All those things definitely still interest me. I think I could have majored in any of them and been happy, but I ended up in fine art with a minor in english. Mostly it was a lot of printmaking and collage. It was all working with my hands in a certain kind of way.
GR: When did that shift happen in college from the drawing and painting you were doing in high school to the collage and printmaking work?
JP: I mean, I did all that stuff, but I had to have a focus. I loved my education, but I don’t think there was a very big emphasis on the range of careers I could have in the arts. I felt that I mostly learned I could be and art teacher, while doing my own art on the side.
GR: So, you just assumed you would go into the fold with your parents and sisters.
JP: Yeah, but I never wanted to. I just didn’t know ‘what I was going to do after this.’ I was not prepared for a career at all.
GR: You did major in art - you kind of put yourself in that position.
JP: I know. However, on the other side of things, there was starting to be this push towards the graphic arts and digital arts, because that seemed to be more profitable and employable. But that did not appeal to me at all - sitting in front of a computer.
I think that’s what pushed me towards printmaking and collage. They embodied what I’ve always loved about art - making order out of chaos, and that’s what I would do when I was collaging. I would take all these disparate parts and put them together into something I liked the look of. It worked for printmaking too. Now that I can look back and see the journey, I understand that that is the common thread.
I feel like I do have to explain to my extended family that I love doing those things (drawing, painting) but they aren’t those kinds of things where I don’t feel alive if I’m not doing them.
They still ask me, “Oh, are you getting to do your art?” Because, to them my art means my printmaking, my drawing, my painting...making a mark on paper. You know when people talk about writers, they always say, “don’t write unless you feel like you would die if you weren’t writing.” In that way, I still do those things, but I don’t feel like I will shrivel up and die if I don’t do them. I never felt like I was supposed to be some big painter.
GR: So what would be the art now? The dinners (Kinfolk series)? Arranging for photo shoots?
JP: I’ve kind of struggled with that this past year. I’m still trying to figure out what that is.
GR: There is nothing you do that you feel like you need to do?
JP: Well, I know that spaces are really important to me. The dinners are created environments, but I don’t feel super connected to them anymore. They’ve kind of taken on a life of their own. At this point I wouldn’t say they are an expression of me.
I think in this time period the thing I am doing that is ‘creating order out of chaos’ is on the relational and social side of things. So, for each dinner I’m taking a city - this broad landscape of people, which could be considered chaos, and hand selecting people to be part of this experience - creating something with the people that are a part of it.
It’s very different than making a traditional art piece or building something or making a specific environment.
GR: Then is that still art to you? Does it still count if it’s not something you can quantify through this art lens?
JP: Yeah, I don’t know. I guess I don’t know that I would call it art, but I think doing something like that satiates my need for that kind of making or expressing myself. Lately, though, I have felt a little creatively dry. I don’t yet have an understanding of where I can make something within that.
I think when I’m feeling that way I turn to my house and it becomes the place I’m inspired.
So, I’ll move stuff around or make a gift for someone. It comes out in very small ways; not necessarily ways that are meant to be seen by anyone else, but it fulfills me, I suppose.
I didn’t realize at all that I didn’t need to be art making consistently until I went to grad school (a combination program between the Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft) and was doing very different things from those I had already done in my former life.
I would make items out of wood and build things. Those then became art forms, even though they were very practical.
In my first year I did these two big installations, curating objects and placing them into a space in order to create a certain kind of experience. My thesis was then a big dinner I held for the neighborhood; which was the first time my art shifted into more of a social thing. It was more about the people that were there than the esthetics of it.
GR: When you were doing it, were you looking at it as something practical? Like, “this is something that can get me a job.”
JP: Hmmm. Not really.
GR: So you were thinking “I’ll just do this. Then when I get out of school I’ll do something completely different?”
JP: I thought it might translate by being a stylist or set design or designing for a retail space.
There were months, however, when I day dreamed about working for various institutions and being a kind of alternative events person. Hosting things that would bring people together in an interesting way. It could be an art opening or a fundraising dinner.
For a while I was convinced that I wanted to work at YU (contemporary art space in Portland). I actually starting talking to them there. However, I think I realized soon after that I liked the concept there, but contemporary art is something I struggle with.
GR: Was there ever a piece of you that wanted to go into research or behavioral science, like in Personal Space (Robert Sommer)? More psychological uses of your background?
JP: Definitely. One of the things I enjoyed the most about my thesis project was being able to write about it, and reading all this psychological research about space, environments and how people interact. I enjoyed delving into the sociology, science and philosophy of it.
One of the ways I thought it could be useful and profitable was to apply my work to spaces that are supposed to be inviting, healing and calming - like hospitals and elderly care facilities - which are also the last places people want to be. (aesthetically) Most are not healing in any way. They’re just really sterile, cold and drab. Especially for people visiting, it’s not the kind of place anyone wants to visit; which does not help the process of wanting to heal people.
So I considered being a consultant for healing facilities, but I realized that my degree wasn’t specialized enough. A lot of that work is more specific to a different kind of degree.
GR: Which is so strange, because anyway you go about that work you are going to be missing a piece of what needs to be done. I feel like the technical aspect - codes, regulations, specifications for healthcare - is much easier to learn on the job than the intuitive aesthetic that would need to be applied.
JP: I think we need a liaison in those places. I’ve heard about some great elderly care facilities where there is gardening, animals, places to explore , community, events, and all these other things going on. The people are so much happier and they actually have a thriving life, as opposed to falling apart in an old person’s home. You know?
JP: Back to school. There was a large focus on: a) the entrepreneurial aspect of what we were doing and b) the need to help people. There was a huge social side of it. Anything we did had to be about someone else.
There always had to be a client, but there also was a large bent towards doing something for the greater good of society.
GR: Which is strange, because I would assume art school is less outwardly focused and more about self expression.
JP: And that’s why this program was so unique. Doing that program completely changed me as a person, for multiple reasons. It was very influential in how I think about my work.
Art school is usually all about expressing yourself and getting to the top, being a big name. It’s very competitive and it’s not collaborative in any sense of the word. People don’t want to work together because they want to be the one to rise to the top. But this (PNCA/OCAC) program was not like that at all.
It’s partly like that because everyone in the program is coming from so many different backgrounds with different focuses and different desires. So it was easy for us to collaborate. Also, how we worked with the community. We got other businesses, artists and makers involved and that helped us work together for the good of everyone.
GR: Were you writing a lot during this time?
JP: Yeah, in different ways. The first year had a large focus on entrepreneurial studies. A lot of the writing was more about writing business plans, as opposed to self reflection. The second year, however, was the thesis year. I did a lot of writing then. I think my thesis was something like 150 pages.
GR: Was it all about that one dinner?
JP: The thesis was compiled of a lot of things. There was a lot of background information and significant study, explaining why you chose every part of the project you chose. In the research section, I spent a lot of time talking about the sociological ideas of why people don’t talk to their neighbors or what elements of society attribute to us not talking to those around us. I wrote about technology, how things have strayed from how they used to be - relying on people. How our society has become super independent. We all just want to do things for ourselves.
I also got into the psychology of spaces - eating together, eating rituals.
Eating together is the big equalizer, because everyone knows what to do when they sit down at the dinner table. So, it works to break down those awkward social barriers.
Also, because I was making so much for the dinner I researched the items themselves.
GR: Like utensils?
JP: Yeah, and how things can make us feel connected to an experience.
For example, I started leaving notes for people six months before the dinner.
GR: Wait, in their mailbox? Full sized letters? Pre-invitations?
JP: I think in November I wrote these letters to everyone on the street: “I’m doing this project. I want to have this big dinner in May. There will be things I will be doing leading up to it. If you want to be a part of it...”
The people that responded were the people I continued to connect with.
GR: Did some people just never respond?
JP: Some people never responded; which was fine. But a lot of people responded with, “That’s so awesome. I can’t wait.” Those people were really engaged, and from there it was just a series of different notes. I also put together this booklet of neighborhood history and a bunch of people contributed recipes and a mix of other things. So, some of my notes were asking for things like that.
One day I did an art making session with a bunch of the kids from the neighborhood.
A month or two before I made these wreaths and gave them to everyone that was involved in the dinner or was attending. The people involved would then hang them on their doors, so the other neighbors knew they were involved. It was really cool.
It was also something that was completely out of my personal comfort zone.
GR: That’s a strange thing to do. You’re getting together a big group of people that may or may not know each other.
JP: It was really bizarre for me. I’m pretty shy and don’t like putting myself out there in that way.
I think the most extreme thing I ever did was visit a couple around the corner on SE Taylor, who everyone else involved said would love to be a part of it.
They were an old couple in their eighties. So, one day I showed up on their door with a plate of cookies. Keep in mind, they had no idea who I was, and they just invited me in. We sat down. They served me some coffee. They gave me some Japanese candy... It was one of the most out-there things I’ve done.
GR: I think this story is in Kinfolk. (Vol. 6, “How To Be Neighborly: Gift Giving”, p. 37)
JP: It is actually... It was just really cool to see how people responded. They were very gracious.
One of the neighbors next door had a son that got super into it. So, we were like pen pals.
It was also a time, like I say in the article, when I felt really alone in Portland. I think I was realizing some things. Seeing the faith of people around here that didn’t even know me was really encouraging.
When the actual dinner happened, it was amazing to see everyone show up and see how warm they all were, because they had all been conditioned for knowing what to expect. Everyone was so happy. I’m not sure... It’s hard to explain. It was just really amazing.
GR: From the experience, do you think you realized that people are more hospitable and inviting than society allows them to be? Or that people are conditioned in society to want their space, but in reality no one really wants as much space as they’re given?
JP: I definitely think that’s part of it. People are more hungry to connect with the people around them than they lead on. It becomes easy to not connect. I think we are preconditioned to not reach out to people. So, sometimes people need to be given an opportunity, or mediator, to break down these social barriers. I think the project did this well. The mediator between me and everyone else become the objects I gave them leading up to the dinner.
I take that back, the dinner itself was the actual mediator, because it was the reason why I was connecting to them in the first place.
It was a situation that felt safe. It was in the neighborhood. They didn’t have to leave. It was with some faces they recognized. This all made it so much easier to approach than if it were just some random meet and greet in the park.
That was a really interesting lesson for me. Similarly, now in my job, the events we do - the dinners - are an opportunity for people to get involved with a community of people that they might not necessarily connect with or know. It also gives them a space to reach out and find excuses to collaborate. We kind of force people to be a little more collaborative than they might want to be on their own, mainly because we like getting a lot of people involved. Sometimes, though, that’s hard for people. Chefs and others that are used to running the show can have the hardest time. They’re forced to work with other people and no one is ever the ‘headliner’.