In a time when the lower half of the human face is often obscured by a mask, artist and attorney Jeff Pastorek’s work offers a welcome window into the range of emotions faces communicate. His colorful grids of mask-like human and animal visages examine human behavior, illustrate the similarities and differences between creatures, eras and historic events and provide a context for today.
“I’m excited about working on human expression and animal expression and what can be conveyed through that,” Pastorek says.
Having drawn as a child, Pastorek obtained a BFA from Loyola University and worked as an illustrator and print maker, but found it challenging to make ends meet as a full-time artist. He then graduated from Tulane with his JD and began a career in law, continuing to develop his art during his free time. His early artworks combine cartoon depictions and humor (his interest in the latter also led him to dabble in stand-up comedy during college). As his work evolved, he turned to working with gouache on paper, exploring such themes as hurricanes, germs and other “invisible threats,” set against New Orleans backdrops (a skyline or French Quarter building for instance).
“Germs” depicts New Orleanians in 19th century garb recoiling from a menacing group of floating heads representing ghosts of the past. Two other pieces, “Hurricane” and “Crime,” show locals fending off an onslaught of disembodied heads as well. “Time Management” references Medieval paintings and the “memento mori” (a Latin phrase referring to an object that serves as a reminder of death) theme of transience as a means of illustrating Pastorek’s own grappling with the demands of work, art and parenthood. An avid reader of deep history, which takes humanity back to its origins, Pastorek brings prior events forward in order to understand the present.
“We tend to be caught up in the immediate,” he says. “We need to hold two things in our heads at once, the things that feel immediate and also things that were important ten or a hundred or a thousand years ago.”
His most recent works, which grew out of his own contemplative reaction to the slow down and social distancing required by Covid, have veered from the more haunting nature of the invisible threats. Each is a large, whimsical and ultimately optimistic painting of an oversized individual lazing on the grass, pondering the clouds above.
“I feel like we’re living in some of the best times in history right now,” says Pastorek. “I agree with that point of view much more than I agree with the point of view that we’re headed to hell in a handbasket.”