Jan. 2 2013 01:24 AM

A challenging concept builds character

Paul Drohan working on “Memory Serves”
Photo by Paul Drohan

    Where do artists get their ideas? In past Seen Local columns, some have credited their vivid dreams, while others said it's just a matter of sitting down and following where their mood or gut leads them. But what about pieces that demand tedium? Surely it takes an imperturbable personality to carry out the painstaking details from start to finish. 

    For Paul Drohan and his art—a series of 1,152 wooden dowels, individually cut, sanded, painted and pegged onto 4-by-2-foot wooden panels—the impetus came from a place of weakness.

    You wouldn't guess it by looking at Drohan's recent work, "Memory Serves," but the guy's got attention-span issues. The piece has one wooden peg jutting out for every inch of space, with several taller ones that, when their shadows are cast onto the smaller ones, create the shape of a wave. If you've ever played with Pin Art, an imprinting toy into which kids commonly smash their faces, hands and objects to see shapes coming through on the other side, it's kind of like that. Except, Drohan achieves that surface-pattern effect the hard way—not by pushing the pegs through, but by building them up individually.

    "The peg piece came from the feeling that I wanted to create very subtle, organic shapes and forms out of a non-traditional material," he explains. "I spent a good few weeks just sketching out and thinking through how I was going to construct the pieces; I had to think about creating some kind of backdrop. I ended up doing this through visual frames, so each piece stands alone, but they flow together." 

    Three of Drohan's works will be on display at End of the Beginning, a group show featuring Joshua Krause, Christopher Konecki, Spenser Little and others, happening from 6 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 5, at ArtLab Studios (3536 Adams Ave. in Normal Heights). 

    "The main thing I knew I wanted to do was something self-reflecting, and very dimensional," Drohan says of the concept, which departs from his most prevalent medium—drawing. "A lot of my previous work has a lot of gut feeling to it; I jam through it, and it's more about the finished piece. But this is more about the process, and the relationship with the process instead of the relationship with the end piece." 

    Besides "Memory Serves," which looks like an aerial shot of an ocean wave about to break, there's one depicting a mountain range. Drohan is still wrestling with the last one, so that'll be a surprise. 

    So, what has it been like for Drohan to work through hours and hours of an activity that goes against his personality traits? 

    "I hate repetition," he says, "but the last year or so with my woodworking, and experimenting more with structural pieces, the process has made me hunker down and focus... I thought the thing that would really help me grow is to give in to the flow that I haven't been able to with my other stuff. It's this sort of Zen-like flow—I know it sounds cheesy, but it's true." 

    Creating art is a labor of love for Drohan, who's a fulltime graphic artist in the advertizing business. He says he tries to participate in two to three shows a year. He's been studying art and the creation of massive pieces, saying that it's the attention to detail and the commitment it takes to reach the finish that he appreciates.

    "It's really interesting: You go through different phases of your life, and, of course, art is a direct reflection of that," he says. "And I would say the commitment to the process and the colors are much different than what I've done.

    "My old work is extremely distressed, with dark colors—reds, blacks and blues," he adds. "And a lot of the colors on these pieces are really calm. I wanted to create something that was very calming, because I guess the name of the show sounds dismal. The End of the Beginning. What does that mean?"

    Amy blogs at saysgranite.com and you can follow her on Twitter @saysgranite.


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