Artist Joan Pechanec
By Jon Lewis
Color and Light
Story and photos by Jon Lewis
During her 43 years as a therapist, Joan Pechanec worked to guide her clients around, through and over the obstacles that life can present, from death and dying to divorce and estrangement.
Throughout it all, her art served as both an emotional sanctuary and a creative outlet that allowed her to process the peaks and valleys that she and her clients encountered on their journeys. Now that retirement has brought an end to her clinical practice and she’s free to devote all her time to creative endeavors, her career still influences her art.
Her bold use of colors and textures reflect “the vibrancy and uniqueness I saw in my clients … all this suffering and emotion, from 43 years of psychotherapy, I would see it as colors and images and it would come out in my art,” she says.
Art “was the perfect antidote” to the emotional toll therapy exacts from counselors. “I don’t have to carry all this suffering” when painting, she says, quickly adding that it was a privilege to be a part of so many lives.
“I have been honored and enriched by the intimate stories of so many courageous people. I often experience this emotional material visually, and many of my art works express these powerful feelings and memories.
“I was much more interested in helping people be their fullest self, the most vibrant and full of life, and that’s what I care about in my art,” she says.
A case in point is her assemblage, titled Cremation Memorial, which she has dedicated to the memory of a client. It incorporates images of a dramatic Balinese cremation ceremony, temples, charms, flowers and other Hindu icons. Tucked inside is a carefully redacted snippet of the client’s chart.
The piece also demonstrates the influence of place on Pechanec’s art. Although her studio is located in the small riverside cottage in Dunsmuir she shares with her husband, novelist Charlie Price, the paintings that emanate from it are brimming with images and colors she has absorbed from her travels to Bali, Morocco, Guatemala and Mexico, as well as stops throughout the United States.
While her creative instincts surfaced as a child—“ I’ve done some form of art as far back as I can remember” —her painting career started in earnest in 1985 when she and Price rented out their home in Oakland and moved to Mexico for a year. A Latin American vibe is present in her work, as are influences from the late 1960s and ’70s when her travels brought her to San Francisco.
When careers brought the couple to Redding in 1989, Pechanec says she made a sincere effort to stick with her painting, despite the demands on her time from a full caseload and being a mother to their daughter, Jessica Price.
“I made a deal with Michi Takemoto (a fellow Redding therapist) that we were going to fight to have one day a week of art, and we did that for almost 25 years, even though we were really busy,” she says.
Watercolors, acrylic paints and encaustics were her principal media until she took an oil painting class with Mount Shasta artist Stefan Baumann some six or seven years ago. Soon thereafter, her love affair with oil painting was in full swing.
Pechanec mounted a one-woman show, “Drenched in Color,” last September at the Orland Art Center Gallery and exhibited 45 pieces, including oil paintings, encaustics and mixed-media works. “There is a grace about her artistry,” says Rae Turnbull, the show’s curator. “Our attendees responded enthusiastically to her lush use of color and the strong sense of mood and mystery in her paintings.”
Says Pechanec of her passion: “My art expresses the world as I experience it, rich in numinous color and vibrant light… when I paint, I enter a state of flow where time and reality recede and I inhabit the scene in my imagination.”