Awe in fire: Portland State College of Arts displays Stayton artist’s work

February, 2018 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Community

Artist Patrick CollierBy Melissa Wagoner

Patrick Collier’s series of photographs entitled Field Burns, invites viewers to not only find beauty in the destructive nature of fire but also to think about the politics that surround agricultural field burning.
A series of 20 pieces photographed over a three year span, Field Burns is Collier’s first venture into landscape photography. An artist since childhood, Collier began his career in poetry, moving on to theater and eventually to sculpture and drawing.
“I have always – evidently – made art. I used to write poetry when I was six and seven years old. I don’t see any other option. That’s the only thing that I really pursued that called to me.”
With an MFA from the University of Illinois in Chicago and many years of study in philosophy, literature and the arts, Collier and his wife took a surprising detour in 2011, purchasing a 14-acre farm in Stayton. “We just wanted a change of pace and life,” he explained.Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 2.29.47 PM

The couple’s venture was a successful one. Farming three acres of their land they were among the original farm stands at the Silverton Farmers Market with restaurants clamoring for their fresh, organic produce. “We did it and we did it well,” he said.

Harvesting vegetables on his farm one summer was where Collier first became aware of the practice of burning grass seed fields. He noticed a gigantic column of smoke rising heavenward. Alarmed he remembers, “I thought, ‘Mount Hood has just exploded. They’re massive. They go at least 5,000 feet into the sky. They are awe inspiring.”

Intrigued, Collier began following the smoke across the valley, camera in hand, attempting to get as close as he could
to the fire itself and to photograph what he saw.

“I started to see similarities to painters and paintings that I was familiar with” – most notably Anselm Kiefer and Cy Twombly – he said. Farmers, upon seeing him approaching, were often curious, but despite any political arguments his photographs may raise regarding the pros and cons of burning fields, Collier himself has very little to say on the subject.

“My response to it is – if people have issues with it, plant vegetables in their front yard,” he said.

Although no longer farming himself Collier said the lifestyle fit well with that of a working artist.

“It’s a lot of work and very little payoff,” he laughed, “but wholly rewarding.”

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