AJP: I’ve always loved drawing and have very distinct memories of drawing things like horses and birds when I was a kid. So, in many ways I’ve been an artist since I was three. But I’ve been a lot of other things, too, and over the years have supported myself as an editor, writer, and teacher. As often as I’ve tried not to be an artist, it just never sticks. There is an absurd energy within me that wants to draw hundreds of birds.
LTS: Tell me about your work, and how you work?
AJP: I think of myself as an old-fashioned natural history illustrator with a demented sense of color. My search for new species is taken through the lens of human culture (through things like books and the Internet). I’m curious about how we understand ourselves in relation to the natural world around us, and how that world is changing as we fall deeper into the narcissicism of our own technology. I tend to work in large series and have a grand ambition to draw every creature on the planet.
LTS: What other artists have you been influenced by? Please describe them and how they affect your work.
AJP: I’m attracted to artists with an eye for detail. One of my all-time favorites is the 16th century painter Hans Holbein and his penchant for painting the individual hairs of beards. I also learn a lot from the light and crisp lines of Persian miniatures. George Stubbs and his bevy of sporting poodles is completely different but another favorite. Also: the colors of the painter Amy Sillman; Bill Traylor’s inventiveness with simple shapes and materials; the other-worldliness of Hilma af Klint; Louise Bourgeois for her obsessiveness and understated sense of humor; Frédéric Bruly Bouabré for his experiments with language; the economy of line in Ivan Brunetti’s cartoons; and Charles Burchfield for his use of the color black. Beatrix Potter and Albrecht Dürer and John James Audubon will always have a place in my heart for their depictions of animals.
LTS: What materials do you use? What is your motivation for using the materials and processes you use?
I like using colored pencils because they smell great and are a little dorky and very democratic. I’m mainly obsessed with gouache and ink because of how sharp I can make everything. I tend to create large series of small drawings because I like the challenge of finding space in small places and of exhausting a particular topic.
LTS: What other art forms, if any, has affected you and your work? What are your daily rituals, hobbies, sports?
AJP: I grew up in Oklahoma and Arizona but through a series of many moves now live in the woods of Connecticut with my family. I find that my delight and surprise over the differences in weather and vegetation never gets old. Most mornings I go rowing because I’ve become addicted to the river and the off-chance I may see a fish, snake, raccoon, hawk, heron, deer, or squirrel navigating their way along with me. I wonder if I could have been an entomologist or an astrophysicist, and I listen a lot to podcasts on these things while I’m drawing.
LTS: What kind of response do you want to get from your work?
AJP: My favorite answer to that question is by Ed Ruscha, who says something about looking for the “huh.” I think it is interesting to surprise and delight and also confound, or perhaps elicit a small burst of laughter followed by slight confusion. When things are both at once, there is an opportunity to be meaningful in the middle.