Betsy Packard is a conceptual artist whose work has continually revisited themes of journaling, reuse, autobiography, manifestation, and record keeping—employing a variety of media and drawing from a vast array of found and saved materials.
These preoccupations stem from experiences in Italy,1974-75, where stores that sold rags existed side by side with the masterpieces of Early Renaissance art. This left an indelible impression of reverence for the value and persistence of all physical materials and objects and their ability to mark events and periods in our lives and evoke powerful associations.
She began as a painter, but was drawn to collage, assemblage, metalwork, printmaking, and the handmade. Saved mementos and letters became a handful of paper pulp, resulting in a “thing” rather than an image. Deconstruction and compression as processes were a way to keep the physical journal in her sphere, easy to store and transport. At times, she was ready to let a particular chapter go: i.e., in 1977, she plastered written material and objects in the walls of the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans, in the exhibition, “Louisiana Environments”.
Soon, common everyday items—egg cartons, packing materials, styrofoam and plastic containers became molds for sculpture. The excitement of 3 dimensionality and the discovery of the versatility of plaster led to a more traditional series of sculptures. The found forms suggested botanical and figurative subject matter.
Her artmaking process can be either meditative or one of fast-paced immediacy. Painting in melted wax, hand sewing, mosaic surface– these are some of the meditative processes. Newspaper, cement, and plaster, used additively or cast— are the structural or “binder” materials, when she begins a piece with a concept and sets a few specific parameters. Then, creation of the work is quick and intuitive; chance and the subconscious play a role.
Her work can be autobiographical- sometimes with the goal of personal transformation. Though our stories are unique and precious, there is a universality to some human experience, and it is her hope that the viewer will relate visually or viscerally to some memory, humor, or mystery they feel here.
There is a naturally “green” aspect to her work.
She uses both mundane and special saved objects as molds and as material for her work, drawing from what is abundant in her environment. The objects and molds are often recognizable; the saved materials have a history and a meaning for her. She alters these items yet they retain a vestige of a previous life and function.
Currently, used fabric is her medium of choice. Saved clothing embodies some essence of its owner—an aura that can emanate from the new form. Garment pattern pieces have the ability to conjure the figure—a recurring theme. Contemplative, slow, repetitive processes in the construction of this fabric work have been essential in earlier works as well: painting with melted wax- one brushstroke at a time, or the painstaking application of broken glass to sculptural surfaces. Embroidery, weaving, and hand sewing can produce a meditative state, and imbue the finished piece with mindfulness and weight.