Thursday, August 16, 2012

Pamela Blum, Kingston NY: PART TWO


encaustic, paper maché, wire mesh
8 x 4 x 5, 2010
photo: Pamela Blum

NOTE: To view PART ONE of Pamela Blum's interview click HERE

At what point in your life did you become interested in making art and was there a certain point when you decided you were primarily an artist?

The arts chose me from early childhood. I oozed into fine arts from architecture to graphic design, from there to performance, and eventually, works that “performed” by decaying. I applied to architecture school, got in, but failed to show up because most architects I knew dreamed of designing but instead focused on working drawings, construction and administration of architecture. Many drank to excess.

After learning graphic design on a Harvard Planning Office job, and inspired by Charles and Ray Eames’ “Powers of Ten”, I applied to Massachusetts College of Art and Design in an impossibly broad independent graduate program of my own devising—graphic design, film, video and sound.

At Mass Art I met a group of people who worked for fellows at the MIT Center for Visual Arts. I began to work on their avant-garde projects for credit and money. Many of the CAVS fellows also taught at Mass Art. They hand-picked students to attend MIT-CAVS for free in exchange for letting the CAVS fellows use the glass shop at Mass Art for free.

I left the Design Dept. for the Studio for Interrelated Media. For a couple of years my projects were high-tech, site-specific, concept driven. But, I soon realized, when the environment changed, so did the meaning of site-specific work. Yikes! Loss of meaning! Death! Oh my god! Time to do performances that left nothing but meager documentation open to god-knows-what interpretation and to make paintings that ate themselves up. When I found myself gluing decayed artwork back together, I decided to learn the art and craft of painting and drawing. I joined other MIT artists who drew figures at the MIT Student Art Association. We called ourselves the “derrière garde.” And so, I was launched.

Blum explaining some of her process

What are your media?

I make biomorphic sculptures out of wire mesh covered in plaster gauze, paper maché, and encaustic paint. I also draw a lot of ideas on junky paper.

What is your current work about?  

My work is about human dreams, human folly, misunderstanding, how things rise up and fall down in natural and cultural environments. I try to make small work about big ideas. It’s meant to be provocative, funny, and uncomfortable. Some of works can be combined and recombined to alter their implications.

What is your workspace like? If you have photos of where you work that would be of interest.

I just moved into the ground floor of our 19th c. warehouse-construction home, 900 sq. ft. of mostly open space. There’s one area for wet work and encaustics, another for dry work and reference, a sizable wall for trying out ideas from a distance, above and below, another for shooting work, and a large storage area on shelves covered with drop cloths.

a view of Blum's studio
photo: Pamela Blum

Blum at work
photo Richard Frumess

Are you involved with any arts groups or communities? If yes, what do you gain from that affiliation and what do you contribute to it?

Some of my community and most of my conceptual, formal and pedagogical ideas come from formal education and from full-time teaching at colleges and universities. I got those jobs through organizations such as the College Art Association of America; Foundations in Art, Theory & Education; and the Mid-America College Art Conference.

I’ve given to these and various other arts communities and to individuals by teaching, sharing ideas in talks, giving workshops, curating exhibits, editing journals, serving on committees, and writing letters of support. And I’ve gained from other artists who have done the same things for me.

My art community and your art community overlap—the loose and ever-fruitful association of artists who use encaustic. Most of my technical knowledge comes from encaustic communities as well as from reading technical art books.

Noun with Comma
encaustic, papermaché, 
plaster gauze, wiremesh
14.75 h x 9.25 w x 4d, 2012
photo: Pamela Blum
My encaustic-related community spans the country though it’s focused in the Northeast. Richard Frumess, my husband, owns R&F Handmade Paints. I’ve met lots of artists through R&F including you and Joanne Mattera. Her conferences have been enormously important. So have artists I’ve met through IEA. There are lots of artists in the Mid-Hudson Valley who share friendship, ideas, and links to New York City and Boston.

Do you have any web links/site/blog etc. you'd like to share that show your work?

I’ve been remiss about creating a website, long overdue. You can “Google” me at ‘Pamela Blum Artist’. A number of images will come up on a number of sites, for example Nancy Natale’s “Art in the Studio” blog, Joanne Mattera’s and Cherie Mittenthal’s conference blogs, FusedChicago, your blog, RoosArts’ gallery site, IEA's  site, and my college site. I am so grateful to people who include my work on their sites. They do work I respect so I’m moved that they respond to mine.

encaustic, papermaché, 
plaster gauze, wire mesh
34 x 10 x 9 

Do you ever get stuck with your work and how do you remedy this?

Oh, yes. From 2005-2008 I didn’t have anything I wanted to say that somebody else couldn’t say better. I made almost no art due to real burnout. I spent 2009 grasping for ideas. I did a series of tiny acrylic panels called “Equals”. I used “caution sign yellow” and bold black sans serif signs for equals, unequals, approximately-equals, greater-than and lesser-than. The work was ironic, mostly one-liner, maybe two-liner.

Then bingo, one day early in 2010, I invited a recent sculpture graduate of SUNY New Paltz to teach a friend and me how to make wire mesh sculptures and cover them with plaster bandages. We were just playing. The organic-form impulse was intuitive, a return to the kinds of sculpture I did at Penn 43 years earlier. All my current work stems from that day.

I think most artists encounter cycles of initial creativity, an extended development phase, then a burning out. Anywhere in a cycle, there can be false starts and failures. I throw away more work than I keep. After each burnout or major change in life that redirects or refocuses work, there’s homework to do: Lot’s of small drawings on low- to no-risk paper, small experimental projects, lots of looking at art of any period or medium, lots of reading or experience outside art, honest self-examination. Eventually you recharge if you want to badly enough. As with my teaching career I looked to big, motivating ideas; things enjoyed and cared about since childhood; and dirty work I can live with.

Do you have particular habits that you think support your art practice?

James Lord’s book on Giacometti’s portrait of him legitimized for me the way I work. Giacometti had a month to paint the portrait. Each day he bounced from one studio project to another, finally focusing on the portrait. I work on several things at a time, spending just the amount of time I’m productive on a particular project. For a month, Giacometti went through many versions of the James Lord portrait on the same canvas, the kind of mistake I made in grad school. I’ve learned to make several similar works to compare rather than overwork the same form.

I’ve often worked in spurts. Now that my studio’s downstairs, I work on art or art-related things at least part of each day. Even with school pressures I can carve out an hour or two. Some people work fast. I don’t. I need lots of time to generate lots of work.

encaustic, wire mesh and paper maché
9 x  6 x 4, 2010
photo: Pamela Blum

Do you have other jobs other than making art?

For 31 years teaching studio art has been my full-time job. It has given my thinking and art as much if not more than it’s taken. During my first full-time job at the University of Maine-Orono, I developed allergies to solvents. The allergies put a squash on any plans to teach painting. I chose to focus on foundations and core courses, the bread and butter of every art program. As a result I’ve taught foundations in Maine, at Missouri State University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Illinois State University where I had tenure, and at Dutchess Community College where I have tenure. At several schools I had opportunities to work with upper-level undergraduate and graduate students. But my heart is with the beginners. I love the cross-disciplinary nature of foundations within and beyond the arts. Cross-disciplinary thinking is essential to my work.

Where would you like to be in 5 years as far as your art making?

In 5 years I’d like to “retire” to full-time art making. In a year and a half, I’m having a big show with Toby Sisson at Dutchess Community College. By then I’ll have a large backlog of related work that can go to solo and group shows.

Studio work is isolated work. So I plan to work locally, state-wide and nationally on education reform in college education certification programs and in K-12.

Do you have any upcoming shows that you'd like to mention?

Pam Farrell has included me in a December 2012 show on memory at the Soft Machine Gallery in Allentown, PA. Sherrie Posternak is planning an “ethnic women’s roots” show some time next year.


Nancy Natale said...

I remember that book about the Giacometti portrait. I read it very early on in my art-making career and didn't understand it very well. I was so impressed that he left the signs of his struggle visible since at that time I was hiding all my struggles. Now I know that those struggles can be the most interesting part - both to the artist and the viewer. Thanks for reminding me about that, Pamela.

Lynette Haggard said...

Thanks for posting, Nancy. This thread about Giacometti resonated for me as well. Learning not to over work pieces and let them go and move on is a struggle for me!

Amy Arledge said...

Great interview! Pamela's art and thoughts are inspiring. Thanks for not making us wait too long for Part Two ;)

Lynette Haggard said...

You're welcome Amy, thanks for reading!

dclaffey said...

Excellent interview! Great questions and even better answers... Go Pamela!

Lynette Haggard said...

Thanks Deb for reading and commenting!