Brewerytown Pop Artist, Richard Pastor, Explains What Makes Him Tick
Much like our own city, the art of Richard Pastor contrasts grittier, lowbrow qualities against highbrow, classical iconography.
“There’s also physical elements in the paintings,” Pastor, 32, said of his paintings compared to Philadelphia. “Like polished areas up against rougher areas of the work.”
Pastor, who has lived in Philadelphia his entire life, juxtaposes classical iconography of sculptures, like Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, against images taken from popular media. In one painting, Pastor reproduced a sculpture of the Greek god Nike, bent over a propped up leg, a foot peeking out of the draped robe clad in a Nike sneaker.
“I’ll usually go back and forth between figuration and abstraction,” Pastor said.
Pastor’s classical or Renaissance iconography is often rendered in black and white with stark contrasts and heavy shadows. Pastor said he takes images of the works, plays around with them in Photoshop to up the contrast, and free paints them from there.
“They come to us as these kind of white pure vehicles for seeing light and shade,” Pastor said of classical sculptures.
Other images may come from newspapers or advertisements. Pastor said the images of newspapers and advertisements appeal to him due to the immediacy of their nature.
“Advertisement has to communicate something very quickly and is in competition with so many other things,” Pastor said. “I like that idea that you’re trying to express something or convey something in an economy of words, an economy of images.”
This tension between the quick, eye-catching nature of advertisements versus the need to stop and contemplate art is something that is important to Pastor’s work.
“I feel like painting is a slowing down,” Pastor said, “to draw somebody in and have them stay long enough to get different layers from a work of art.”
In Pastor’s work, there are many layers to be seen. Smeared brushstrokes will be in the background or splattered and dripping down in the foreground of a work. In others, hand-painted calligraphy will run diagonally down the canvas or painted in a more-translucent shade over the subject.
“It just kind of collides,” Pastor said of the iconography in his paintings. “They’re like collages.”
Pastor said ideas are not necessarily heavily planned out. He said sometimes he may open a newspaper, see an image and know he wants to incorporate it into his work.
“It’s almost like an intuitive process to combine images and to also think of the whole painting abstractedly in a whole composition as itself,” Pastor said.
Pastor cited German artist Gerhard Richter as a major influence, along with the masters of classical painting and modern artists such as Picasso and Duchamp.
“A lot of them kind of changed a lot through the course of their career and were always open to experimentation and trying something new,” Pastor said. “I’m drawn to that beyond their individual bodies of work.”
Pastor had started out with more photorealistic paintings, but he felt compelled by the more abstract pop art that he creates now.
“I feel kind of constrained by painting from life, from photographs of a scene,” Pastor said regarding his switch to his current style. “I find it more interesting and more open.”
Pastor mainly uses oil paint for his work, but with its stark contrasts and heavy shadows, the iconography of Pastor’s work appears to have been done with a stencil. However, Pastor said he free paints most of the images in his work. Occasionally, he will use a stencil, but only if they are going to be used more than once.
“I like kind of an ambiguity in the work,” Pastor said, “It’s kind of a little bit of mystery.”
The calligraphy featured in his works is also hand-painted. Pastor’s mother, a professional calligrapher, has been the president of the Philadelphia Calligraphy Society for years, he said.
Growing up, Pastor said he always made art. After high school, he went to community college, where he worked as an assistant pottery tech. He originally planned on focusing on ceramics, but while in school, Pastor took a painting class that influenced him to pursue painting.
“I just kind of fell in love with painting,” Pastor said. “I just like learning about color and how to depict three dimensional space on a two dimensional plane in various ways.”
When he was 20, Pastor studied painting at the Lorenzo de Medici School of Art in Florence for two and a half months. In Florence, Pastor was able to see the Renaissance works that would later become a running motif in his art.
Pastor returned to Philadelphia and studied at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art. He’s stayed in Philadelphia, where he said the art scene is constantly evolving.
“How could it not? I’ve lived here my whole life,” Pastor said when asked if Philadelphia influenced his art. “I love Philly. It’s home.” •