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Alumna’s Luminous, Layered Art Channels Wonders of the Natural World

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Susan Dugan


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Patricia Aaron standing in front of the Between Continents exhibit.

Alumna Pat Aaron (MFA ’98, studio art) — whose exhibit of paintings and prints “Between Continents” is on display through Jan. 27, 2023 in the upper-level Dean’s Suite of the Anderson Academic Commons — calls nature her “first teacher.”

A childhood spent playing in the woods surrounding her family home in Poland, Ohio, first inspired her lifelong affinity with the wonders of the natural world. It taught her to “see” her environment with an artist’s eyes, absorbing rich images and infusing them into abstract paintings later rooted in her travels around the world.

“I see the trees that are barren in winter, the outstretched limbs reaching into the sky,” she said. “It’s all mark making to me and quite beautiful. I repeatedly go back to nature as my muse.”

Refining Her Craft at DU

Patricia Aaron stands in front of a painting.

After studying with the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Aaron traveled in Europe and completed her bachelor’s degree at the Heidelberg location of the University of Maryland. She began showing her art and teaching, eventually searching for an MFA program to refine her painting and sculpture and hone her teaching skills.

“I was looking for a place where professors were really well known and entrenched in their own work as well as in teaching,” she said, “a place where we could have wonderful critical discussions and critiques.”

Aaron enrolled in DU’s graduate studio art program and studied sculpture and painting with the late Lawrence Argent and Deborah Howard, with whom she remains friends. Aaron served as Argent’s graduate student teaching assistant, taught while he was on sabbatical and returned many times to DU over the years to teach sculpture, painting and encaustic work.

“What I received from DU as a graduate student prepared me for what was to come. I’m full of gratitude for those years.”

Aaron went on to teach at the University of Colorado Denver, Arapahoe Community College, DU’s Ricks Center for Gifted Children, and Regis University, and helped create an encaustic painting program at the Art Students League of Denver.

She loves teaching, still mentors students in her studio/gallery Blue Sky Idea Studio and serves on the DU Art Board, a volunteer organization supporting the university’s School of Art and Art History programs. The art board raises funds to provide scholarships, special equipment, and educational experiences for eligible students.

“Last year we helped a graduate student travel to Mexico City for a week and Deborah Howard took a couple undergraduate students to Washington, DC, to see a Smithsonian exhibit of painter Hung Liu,” Aaron said. “Many students can’t afford to do things like this but the most important part of your art education takes place outside the classroom.”

Capturing the Dynamic Space Between Continents

Aaron’s current exhibit celebrates the area between North America and Europe including a body of work from her most recent six-week residency in Iceland (she’s done several residencies there) as well as travels in France and Ireland. Her related exhibit “The States of Nature,” on display at the Space Gallery through November 12, features additional paintings of Iceland.  

Aaron doesn’t rely on photographs but makes multiple studies of a particular period of time or weather pattern and brings those back as jumping-off points to much larger work. She has the panels on which she paints built before she goes, comes back and “paints for days” while the images are still alive within.

Her painting “Architecture of an Iceberg” portrays the dynamic nature of these forms emerging from water, crashing against each other and reconfiguring.

“It’s possible to go right up to icebergs in these little Zodiac boats,” Aaron said. “You can see the depth, the colors, the lava dust that blows on the ice and refreezes—I love it!”

Aaron uses time-consuming encaustic painting techniques that involve adding pigments to a hot wax medium, laying down multiple layers and then “fusing with a torch as I continue to build up the painting.” The results are multi-layered and vibrant with color and light.

She plans to return to Iceland in 2023 and has panels in her studio awaiting more new work inspired by her previous residency.

“I have nature in me,” she said. “It’s part of my DNA or something. The imagery, the people, the place, the culture, the language; everything just starts coming back and flowing into the work. Iceland is an open-air studio for me.”