Everything you need to know about Pat Kaufman can be found in her paintings.
There’s usually a woman with fiery red hair; often she’s naked, partially naked or dressed in something coquettish. (Think: lace-up corset.)
She’s usually wearing high heels. If not, you can bet a pair is painted somewhere on the canvas.
Often, there are elements of collage, snipped from patterned fabrics and black-and-white newsprint. Her paintings tend to include words: loopy, loose, cursive fragments that sometimes do and sometimes don’t make sense.
Sometimes there are babies. The mother of two grown daughters, Kaufman adores babies.
“But I’m glad I don’t have grandbabies,” she says. “I’d be obsessed with them, and it would be so distracting.”
A tiny woman with a shock of red hair that’s slowly turning gray on one side, Kaufman is a hidden gem in the local arts community.
She resides in a spacious bungalow with funky second-hand furnishings off a sleepy street behind the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.
Perhaps you’ve seen her paintings hanging in the Stakenborg Fine Art Gallery in downtown Sarasota or at Art Center Sarasota, where she’s participated in the organization’s “Artists at Work” fundraiser.
A modern-day Renaissance woman, Kaufman’s portfolio is so immense and so diverse that even she — an artist and writer for nearly four decades — has a hard time recollecting all the things she’s created.
There have been plays, novels, commissioned portraits, collages, silk screens and experimental paintings on Plexiglas. Her subjects have ranged from ordinary (her daughters) to provocative (women who marry prisoners).
Of her work, Kaufman says: “It’s figurative. It’s political. It’s free, and the women are stronger than I am.”
Her latest project — the 60-page graphic novel “Alura & Nestor Take a Trip” — is about a parrot and a shy librarian who embark on a memorable tropical vacation.
Like the artist herself, the tale is capricious, a little mischievous, a tad ironic and surprisingly pragmatic. (The paperback comes with a packing list.)
Published by the Sarasota-based New Chapter Publisher, the story was inspired by a trip the artist took two years ago to Key West. It’s filled with cheerful illustrations Kaufman created using pen, paint and mixed media.
“I don’t want this to sound obnoxious,” she says, “but I think my ideas are revealed to me mysteriously. I think I choose instinctively. I don’t know which side of my brain is working. I can tell you it’s not the side that does math.”
Kaufman works out of a sunny back porch filled with piles of paint tubes, boxes of fabrics and cluttered corkboards tacked with layers of newspaper and magazine clippings.
“I move on quickly and then I forget,” Kaufman says. “It’s not that I don’t care about what I’ve done. It’s that I’m ready to move onto the next thing.”
She gestures to a painting of a redheaded woman standing in a circus ring, wearing nothing but a smirk and red high heels, a lion’s outstretched paw reaching to claw the woman’s face.
“It’s a wish that I could tame lions and tigers,” Kaufman says. “But I can’t.”
This is a typical Kaufman statement: short, honest and to the point.
Some artists are able to verbalize their art in flowery run-on sentences. Other artists let the work speak for itself. Kaufman falls into the second category.
“A friend of mine said my work has the ‘charm of the messy,’” she says. “I thought that was nice.”
An unapologetic feminist, Kaufman grew up in New York City unafraid of standing out in a crowd. As a girl she remembers quarreling with her father, a sensible businessman, over an image she had painted of a man with a blue face.
“He asked, ‘What’s wrong with you?’” Kaufman recalls. “Apparently, I didn’t see like other people.”
During her freshman year at Scripps College, a liberal arts women’s college in Claremont, Calif., Kaufman switched her major from art to English to avoid learning cookie-cutter techniques from whom she calls an especially “domineering” art professor.
In the early 1970s, when New York City’s SoHo neighborhood was still an abandoned industrial quarter, Kaufman worked out of a 3,300-square-foot loft above an old doll factory.
During this time she was a member of the New York Radical Feminists and the Women’s Project — the country’s oldest and largest company dedicated to presenting work by female playwrights.
The organization, which launched the careers of countless female playwrights, including Eve Ensler (“The Vagina Monologues”), produced dozens of Kaufman’s written work.
To prove it, she unearths two cumbersome binders stuffed with playbills and reviews.
“It was a different time then,” Kaufman says of her early days as an artist and playwright. “Women were not taken seriously. I was a member of several groups, and I was always trying to shore up women’s egos.”
She never thought there was life outside of New York — until she moved four years ago to Sarasota.
Even though she continues to split her time between New York and Florida, Kaufman is finding lately that she’d rather be here.
“Sarasota is the most social place I’ve ever been,” she says.
Lived-in and packed with so much of Kaufman’s art, the one-story house functions as a gallery.
Everything vies for your attention, from the artist’s painter palette earrings to her collection of polka dot bikini liquor glasses.
“I don’t care about the drink,” Kaufman says of the stemware she started collecting recently from a bar in Tampa. “I just like the glasses.”
And, just like that, when you think you’ve pegged Kaufman for an unabashed feminist, she does something that breaks character.
She paints red high heels or gushes about bikini-bottom wine glasses.
“I don’t consider myself an optimist,” she says. “But I do see the humor in most things.”
She reaches her hand into a bowl of fat purple grapes. Popping one in her mouth, she retracts the statement.
“On second thought,” she says, “maybe that makes me an optimist after all.”
IF YOU GO
Pat Kaufman will read from her new graphic novel, “Alura & Nestor Take a Trip,” at 2 p.m. Jan. 12, at the Selby Public Library in downtown Sarasota. The reading will feature a slideshow of selected collages from the book. For more on Kaufman, visit patriciakaufman.com.
Pat Kaufman shares an excerpt from her book "Alura & Nestor Take a Trip."
Currently 3 Responses
- Thank you for a wonderful story, I really enjoyed reading about Pat, and love her work. Even though I have never met her, her art work is special, and I would like some day to own one of her paintings, Samantha Bisceglia
- I may be your #1 fan,or at least up there in the top of thousands....Pat stimulates my brain and heart. I am so proud to have her work in my home!
- pour me a tall glass of sunshine, with a hint of Siesta beach; not shaken/nor stirred/experienced through senses not yet labeled..
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