If it’s true that the eyes are the windows to the soul, then the paintings of Patrick Prickett offer truly startling looks through those windows. His works, largely of individual subjects, are awash in vibrant blues, reds, and greens — anything but flesh tones. But it’s his precise focus on his subjects’ eyes that truly lure in the viewer. The faces might be blurred, abstract, or otherwise exaggerated, but the eyes are always clear and full of emotions ranging from sorrow to fear to suspicion.
The Alabama-born Prickett is entirely self-taught, largely, he says, because of a lack of art education programs in his home state.
“I was born in 1980, and as a kid there were no art classes in my area,” he says. “They simply weren’t taught. So, I was never able to take any art classes. Everything I’ve ever done has been through trial and error.”
In fact, it wasn’t until his move to Charleston that Prickett even found a sizable art scene to support and help develop his work.
“The stuff that I was painting in Alabama wasn’t exactly inspired,” he says. “It wasn’t the right group of folks; there weren’t really any local artists to look to, whereas Charleston had a much bigger scene. I think that’s been the biggest part of it.”
Interestingly, Prickett has moonlighted in the past as an art instructor, and through that work, he noticed that his relative lack of formal education can sometimes be a plus.
“When I used to teach art to supplement getting my art out there, I ran into a lot of people who came in with preconceived notions on the way things had to be done. And with my own work, I don’t have that. I’ll do a painting with everything from acrylic oil to spray paint, or whatever I choose to use. I don’t have any limit on that. And I think that when people take classes, they’re told that they have to do it a certain way. I didn’t learn that way.”
As for his “the eyes have it” style, Prickett says he came to it naturally.
“When I would look at any painting, if it was a portrait, the eyes are what I would focus on,” he says. “And it’s the same thing with people; I’m looking at the eyes always. They can tell you so much. So, I start with the eye and get the basic feeling that I want the painting to convey. If I want it to be sad or excited or whatever feeling I want from the entire work, I’ll always start with the eyes.”
Not that Prickett defines his work strictly as portraiture. “I definitely work in an abstract way,” he says. “It depends on the piece, whatever feeling I want to convey and the colors I’m using, which with a lot of my paintings is every color.”
That point bears more emphasis, because his paintings are often explosions of different shades. “I love color,” he says. “I don’t want to settle for the five basic colors or what I’m told I should use. When I do a portrait, I’m not using flesh tones for the subject. I’ll use them as a background and then whatever color I want for the subject.”
Perhaps it’s that vibrant style that gained the attention of a designer on the set of Mr. Mercedes, a TV show based on a Stephen King novel that was filmed in Charleston this past year and is currently playing on the Audience network.
“She was fond of one of the paintings I was working on from a picture of it I posted on Instagram,” Prickett says. “I posted that it was for sale after I finished it and she immediately called me from work and said, ‘That’s not for sale, that’s mine, I’m buying that one.’ And about an hour later, she called back and said she’d been showing everyone on the set the painting she’d bought, and the art director said they wanted to use me for the set design. That’s when they commissioned me for more pieces.”
Prickett’s work will be featured on episodes 9 and 10 of the Mr. Mercedes series on Oct. 4 and Oct. 11, and he says that the series director and producer, Jack Bender, was the main reason that’s happening.
“Jack Bender is a great director, but he’s also an artist,” Prickett says. “I was a fan of his in the art world; I didn’t even know he was a director. My style and his were very similar, and I think that that’s one of the things that caught their eye. They commissioned five pieces and sent them in, and the next thing I knew they asked me to do a portrait of Jack Bender in my style. And I said yes, finished that one, and then they wanted one of Stephen King to have a cameo for him on the show, so I did one of him, too.”
Rather than feeling pressured by the commissions, Prickett says he was at ease with doing work for someone else.
“This was the first time I’ve been given free reign,” he says. “They said ‘Do your style.’ I can copy a lot of the styles that create what people are looking for, but when it’s for me, that’s where you see the eyes and faces. That’s me focusing on my side of art; that’s where my heart is at.”