Patrick Jacobs: Conjuring up Visions

A Conversation with the Man behind the Diorama Art

Fly Agaric Cluster, Diorama by Patrick Jacobs

Patrick Jacobs ensures you get a rich reward and even surreal gratification for being a ‘Peeping Tom’. His landscape art installations are carefully placed in the dioramas and hidden behind the walls of the galleries. To see then and fully appreciate them you need to look through the lenses of holes. And then? Then it becomes a case of ‘Facing or Escaping Reality’ for you.

Born in California, 1971 current resident of Brooklyn, New York Patrick Jacobs travelled far and wide from Florence, Dublin, Berlin, Munich to Mexico City and Osaka with his diorama of ‘Stump with Red Banded Brackets, 2012’, ‘Fly Agaric Cluster #5, 2012’, ‘Fairy Ring with Dandelions, 2010’ to name a few. Through his ‘Otherworldly’ miniature installations Patrick surely manages to capture the ‘little moments that create the mighty ages of eternity’.

When I first came to know about your miniature installations it reminded me of a poem of William Blake, ‘To see a world in a grain of sand / And a heaven in a wild flower / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And eternity in an hour.’ How would you describe your work?

Sometimes I think of it as a leap of faith where the imagined can be made real by sheer will. Maybe it’s the homeowner searching his lawn for the post-emergent weed in a heightened state of awareness, conjuring up visions of a dandelion. The imagined takes on an exalted significance and becomes synonymous with a journey for something greater.

How much of your background in fine arts prepared you for this mode of artistic expression? When did this idea first catch your fancy?

My time at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago most recently informs my current work. I was able to explore casting and moulding processes, thermosets, plastics and other synthetic materials. Finally, I could fabricate objects with a degree of fidelity and achieve extreme shifts in size and scale.

One of the advantages of my studio was that it was adjacent to the Art Institute, which students could enter anytime they wanted. I discovered there in the basement the ‘Thorne Rooms’. These miniature period rooms were recreated with naturalistic lighting in the walls of the darkened exhibition hall and viewed through panes of glass. Together with photographic images from home and garden manuals, optics and historical landscape painting, they became a source of inspiration.

Patrick Jacobs at WorkFairy Ring Dandelions, Diorama by Patrick JacobsRaked Leaves, Diorama by Patrick Jacobs

Your landscapes have a surreal attraction attached to those. In fact it is almost therapeutic to look at those lush green fields. Tell us something about your process of choosing a theme and developing it to an artistic expression.

I often come upon something by chance and then set about exploring why I am drawn to it. A body of work then develops out of this process of investigation. I discovered the ‘fairy ring fungus’ for example in Ortho’s All About Lawns, which depicts circles of mushrooms or dark green grass growing in a meadow or on a lawn. According to folklore, it was created by fairies dancing in a circle in the night. Today it’s considered a lawn disease meant to be eradicated. The conflation of the scientific and the supernatural really interested me.

I begin a scene while viewing it through slightly curved lenses. I work on and compose it like a three–dimensional painting over a period of time. The focal length and sculptural foreshortening combine to create the illusion of depth. Installed in the wall, the objectivity of the landscape disappears presenting an image that seems to exist only in your mind. It is a distorted reality corrected only when looking through the glass.

If tomorrow Patrick Jacobs is asked to build a miniature installation as a reflection of his artistic journey, what would that reveal?

I’ve tried to communicate an attitude or character through objects, actions and images which, taken as a whole over a period of time, would give them a broader meaning. There is always the attempted transformation of the ordinary through extraordinary circumstances. It’s the attempt that’s important, even when it fails in the end. A first glance might reveal a small brown mushroom triumphant in a mystical landscape. To me, that would be a wonderfully precarious proposition.

Stump, Diorama by Patrick Jacobs

You have been to many parts of the world. Has there been any learning that has influenced your art specifically?

My father was in the military and my family moved around constantly. We lived in the Midwest and southern U. S., as well as in Germany and Turkey. As a child, I would rebuild the places we visited out of wooden blocks in my bedroom in an effort to re-enact events I could only imagine. I used cardboard, Scotch Tape, tin foil and Kleenex to construct the fixtures and furnishings. They were a kind of metaphysical theatre in miniature haunted by imaginary spirits.

While studying history in the U. S. and then in Austria, I got a sense of the curious task faced by historians. No matter how rigorous the research in recovering and representing the past, we can only gaze at it from a distance through the warped lens of our own time. We’re confronted by the strange ambiguity of our purpose here. It seemed logical to work towards an entirely fictitious and subjective reality that was closer to the truth.

I am borrowing words from your title to ask you this question: where is Patrick Jacobs going from here?

I actually don’t know where I am going from here. Which is what I think is so great about it. If we really knew the answer, life would have no mystery… and then I’d probably never be able to get up out of bed in the morning!

Portrait of Patrick Jacobs

Patrick Jacobs enjoys…

Patrick loves to listen to Mstislav Rostropovic’s performance of Haydn’s cello concerto no. 2 in D major. By his own admission, The cadenza in the first part (Allegro moderato) is ‘amazing’.

He also loves searching for traces of small animals and fungi in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Watching science fiction and horror movies and food shopping in China Town are his favourite pastimes.

The Philippines is his favourite holiday destination. Completely Bewitched by the charm of the place Patrick narrated, ‘I recently visited one of the islands there called Palawan where you can travel by boat down the world’s longest underground river through massive limestone caves filled with bats.’

Patrick likes any small salty fish, especially anchovies; deviled eggs; creme brûlée (though not necessarily in that order) for a sumptuous dinner.

Find more of his work at his website.

Image Courtesy: Patrick Jacobs