Monday, August 13, 2012

Pamela Blum: Kingston, NY—PART ONE


Artist Pamela Blum in her studio
August, 2012
photo: Lynette Haggard
This interview is a bit more personal than some of my usual. I am not often able to have a studio visit with artists I choose to interview. Many thanks  to Pamela for inviting me to visit and see her at work, while I was visiting R&F Handmade Paints to see the show of Nancy Natale's work.

Please share a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and what were any early influences on your work?

I grew up in academia, first in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My father moved us to New Haven, Connecticut, when I was ten. From the time we were tiny children, my parents read to us and took us to museums, concerts, plays. We grew up with lots of crayons, paints, dress-up clothes, musical instruments and books. These influences formed my interests for life.

Joined 2
encaustic, wire mesh and paper maché
10 x 4 x 3 2010

My Cambridge elementary school, Buckingham, emphasized creative thinking and doing. That school set my standard for great education. From first grade on, I knew I was better at making clay figures than painting. I wanted to know the secrets of painting—what made that 2nd-grade boy’s Jabberwocky such a great Jabberwocky? Why did Medieval artists make such big figures and tiny buildings? How could I make an image strong, believable? Having focused on music until college, I didn’t find out for many years.

I now live in Kingston, NY.

Pamela hanging an armature 
on her wall

another view of the armatures—
just the beginning of Blum's process

Did you receive any formal art training? If yes where and what did you major in?

At the University of Pennsylvania I majored in Art History with a Studio Art emphasis. In 19th and 20th-c. History of Painting, John McCoubrey modeled how to move from mark to form to subject matter to culture to historical context and back again. I turned that model into “The Matrix for Questioning and Thinking”. The undergraduate studio faculty, mostly recent Yale MFA graduates, favored representation in drawing and painting courses. They used a non-verbal, inductive teaching method that has led me to a life-long effort to articulate verbally about art. In 2D Design the instructors fed us on Bauhaus dots and in Color Theory on Albers. Sculpture with wire, clay, plaster and wax, focused on organic form—bones, heads, figures, a cat. Does the latter sound familiar in my work? Meanwhile, an essay by Paul Klee advocated making artwork as organic as roots, trunk and leaves are to a tree but not by literal representation.

Some of Blum's drawings 
on her working wall
In 2D Design and Drawing I, Rackstraw Downes made two key criticisms of my work. I’d spent all weekend on a 6’x12’circle study. He said, “It doesn’t need to be that big. It doesn’t need to be at all.” One of my tense little drawings inspired him to say, “Well, maybe someday you’ll find something to do with that nervous little line of yours.” Screwing up my courage I asked, “What should I do with my nervous little line?” He answered without answering, “Look at Van Gogh.” So I needed to ask what to make art about and why, how to structure it, and what it might mean in a cultural and historical context—a tall order that will challenge me all my life.

more "nervous little line" drawings....
Meanwhile, Louis I. Kahn was architectural guru at Penn. I befriended a number of his students. Access to  Philadelphia’s great buildings of many periods, the thrill of Kahn’s ideas, 20th c. Architectural History, and sexy undergraduate architecture students turned me on to architecture. At the time, architecture’s design component seemed easier to grasp and fulfill than fine art’s.
I worked in Architectural and Planning firms for six years after college. During that time I studies physics and pre-calculus and took some architecture courses.

Later, I made an about-switch in commitments when I went into the brand new MFA Program at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. I earned a cross-disciplinary MFA in which idea generated concept, materials, form, site and duration. By then I had come to understand degrees of abstraction and non-figuration, and had read a lot of theory. For years theory got in the way of making art true to myself.

A Brief History
encaustic, papermaché, 
72 x 10 x 4, 2011
photo D. Hanlan

detail from A Brief History

Often things outside art trigger what I do in art. I’ve  shed some Eurocentric influences, but by no means all, and embraced some aspects of African art. Reading has been important—the study of linguistics, symbols (Paul Oliver‘s Dwellings: Houses Around the World; Charles Peirce’s icons, indexes and symbols), literature (Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible), writing on science (Norbert Weiner’s The Human Use of Human Beings; James Gleick’s The Science of Chaos).

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.

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2  which will include more about Pamela, her work, her studio and upcoming shows.

1 comment:

Nancy Natale said...

This is great! I was lucky enough to go to Pamela's studio with Lynette (plus Binnie and Greg) and it was a real treat to see her working space and those fascinating drawings. I can't wait for Part II to find out more! Thanks, Pamela and Lynette.