Patrick Dougherty: Branching Out

Patrick Dougherty installing his work, Shindig, for the WONDER exhibition at the Renwick Gallery.

"Everything you can do with a pencil you can do with a stick," artist Patrick Dougherty remarked the other evening at a talk in the Renwick's Grand Salon, as he likened his craft to the art of drawing. "Once these things come out of the woods with the overtones of nature, they become sticks with which to draw." Dougherty's installation, Shindig in the exhibition, WONDER, is a veritable forest of woven willow osier pods that perform the alchemical act of transforming the everyday into something magical. Part fairy-tale shelter, part naturescape, the installation invites the visitor to enter, explore, and wonder.

Dougherty began his inspiring talk describing the day he decided to chuck the suit-and-tie life and become the artist he felt was his calling. He relays the path to his becoming a working artist, and how he found his voice with natural materials such as sticks, saplings, and branches. A self-described woodsman, Dougherty makes use of the materials around him. Underbrush and woods near his home in North Carolina, are "plentiful and renewable," what he referred to as "a giant warehouse at your fingertips."

Throughout the nearly one-hour presentation, Dougherty showed images of his work and discussed the development of his personal aesthetic. He looked inward to his development as an artist and outward to the world around him. His environmental works—sculptures with the DNA of drawings—bring us in direct contact with nature. Many of his installation photos show how people of all ages enjoy interacting with his architecturally inspired creations. Dougherty builds it, and yes, people come.

When asked during the Q and A after the talk, about what inspired him to create Shindig, on view in the Renwick Gallery through July 10, Dougherty replied, "When I saw the space I loved it. It's such a enormously beautiful space. [I thought] what I need to do is make it look like nature is taking the building back."

In a case you missed Patrick Dougherty's talk, watch it in its entirety.