"It would be nice to have some oysters that big, huh?” quips Francis Pavy, the childlike blues of his eyes lusting over his own creation. The object of his desire — a plus-sized oyster etched into a 3-foot-by-4-foot slab of composite vinyl — is a custom-print block, a particularly appetizing example of Pavy’s preferred method of application for his vivacious mixed media pieces. “You couldn’t eat that yourself, though.”
The topography of cut vinyl rows trace an impressionist detail of the salty bivalve in clunky rudders of porous wood that imply, rather than replicate, the mono-musculature of a shucked open oyster so big that it would spoil before a family of five could eat it.
“The gallery just wants me to bring some blocks down and just sell the blocks,” he says, his head still peeking over the top of the oyster. The light in his Freetown studio is pitch perfect, between the bay of windows facing the crags of Gordon Street and soft iridescence of the track lighting over head. Every nook, packed to the gills with prints and print blocks, is exposed.
In May, Pavy sent a massive work, Lake Arthur Lotus, to live at the Hilliard University Art Museum for a few months. A Hilliard photographer has accompanied the museum’s marketing chief, Jolie Johnson, to snap photos of the piece for promotional purposes. Johnson consults a folded printout with a matrix of Pavy print blocks on it; Johnson and her photographer are capturing not only the final product but Pavy’s process.
Laborious as it is — Pavy makes each block out of composition vinyl tile, gluing them to size, and carves his desired image with a CNC router — he claims his method compensates for his relative lack of chops in printmaking. Draped around his shop are unmatched prints depicting the same person, place or thing.
“I always worked with block printing,” he says. “I never could really do editions; I just didn’t have the chops. You want editions to be uniform. I’d try and try again, and basically had all these blocks. I decided I’ll make a unique thing instead of trying to do 50 of one thing. It’s not just printing; it’s painting.”
A pair of poster-sized pieces brandishing red Elvises with blue eagles hangs by the Gordon Street window, photoprints dangling above a chemical bath. Artistically, they’re fraternal twins, genetically close but not altogether similar in appearance. He snarks about the pair’s insouciant patriotism; it’s a stray bit of Americana that’s now subversive in the current political climate.
Pavy steadily churns out mixed-media prints like these, sometimes on canvases the size of Viking sails. He’s a one-man press, operating on scheduled business hours that keep him strapped to his studio floor, as any card-punching factory gig would. Only Pavy works in solitude and quietude.
It gets lonely, he says, his voice and shoulders slunked in a choreographed nonchalance.
As he slaves away, his mouth shut and the sounds of America’s decline somewhere beyond the edge of Freetown, Pavy glances at the time, ready to return home to his wife, BBR Creative founder Cathi Pavy, and their kids. When he gets there, he says, they’re so done with their own life processes — classroom discussions, client meetings — that no one wants to talk.
They have dinner. He climbs into bed, and lies awake dreaming of giant oysters, red Elvises and blue eagles. Blue collar dreams are creative fodder for a factory artist.