Tom Pazderka’s work has a visual weight and intensity—scarred and blackened reused wood, grids made of charred book jackets, charcoal- and wood-burning drawings of ancient, destroyed, and invented places—that is matched only by the artist’s descriptions of his subjects. Pazderka takes an interest in history as a flexible structure with multiple readings: “That which most [people] would rather leave alone I find the most interest in, not because of a morbid fascination, but because history of any kind has two readings, that of the profane and that of the secret, that of the exoteric and of the esoteric.”
United States of America with Self-Destructing Mechanism Attached (2011) is a barely recognizable replica of an American flag made of found wood (light blue, gray, white, and brown), an electrical outlet with a plugged-in cord, and nails. The work conjures up notable art flags by Jasper Johns, Alexandre de Cunha, Mungo Thomson, and David Hammons, but does so only inasmuch as the work is a flag. Pazderka’s flag incorporates an electrical outlet, plugged into the wall when exhibited, as a critique of the U.S.’s destructive use of global resources to power itself; however, the artist’s ideas for the work extend beyond this. Pazderka explains, in part, his impetus for United States of America with Self-Destructing Mechanism Attached: “The whole piece now seemed to me like a metaphor for how America functions on the world stage, as a behemoth that takes power from the outside (bottom plug) and never gives any of it back, cannibalizing it in the process because it is constantly recycled within itself.” The work provides a penetrating portrait of American society, all with reused materials, perhaps freeing the work and Pazderka’s artistic impetus from the uneven power relationships the work critiques.
Another work, Enjoy (2013), also employs familiar subject matter: an image of a billboard hanging above a presumably American city skyline. Ed Ruscha and Harrell Fletcher are two of many artists who have used the billboard, a penetrating symbol of American capitalism, as subject matter, and Pazderka has tapped into an important area of artistic and cultural significance. The work is a grid made of dozens of ends of dimensional lumber, with an image of a billboard burned into the wood in a spectrum from black to light brown.
Pazderka attacks both his materials and subject matter with a relentless energy. Lost Wisdom – Hemlock (2013) is a grid of twenty-four books, all burned. They make a hypnotic series of patterns, textures, and shades of brown and black, except for one that is open to an encyclopedic entry about the hemlock tree. As in other works, Pazderka isn’t shy to approach challenging subjects, particularly those that critique readings—and writings—of the past and the power to assert a narrative. Lost Wisdom – Hemlock also finds physical beauty in the profane, here the destruction of knowledge through fire.
At the core of Pazderka’s work is an interest in dispersing and critiquing any accepted narratives of history written by political systems, social structures, and popular cultures. The work toes the fine line between destruction and construction, often mixing one with the other in order to create both visual and conceptual depth that truly hits home.
Tom Pazderka lives and works in Asheville, North Carolina, where he creates sculptures, drawings, and performances. He received his BFA from Western Carolina University and his work has been shown extensively in North Carolina.