Friday, August 31, 2012

Thoughts about Interviews

What's the Latest
Those of you who've been following my blog for a while (launched in January 2010)—know that I like to interview artists. I like the contact, hearing what they have to say and seeing their work. It is my intention that my efforts on the blogosphere can give a boost to other artists and help them more accessible to the general web-reading public.

I looked back to find that since May, 2010, I have interviewed 71 artists from all over the US. Sheesh. I impress myself!

Some of the interviews were in 2 parts, one (Ted Larsen) was via telephone. (I don't like to be a transcriber…but he was fun to interview.) Each artist had something different to say and their own unique work to show. Not that quantity is what I was after, but that's allota interviews!

What you may not know is how much time it takes to complete a blog post. It takes a few hours, usually more. I have been prioritizing my studio time over blogging, and well, you see the results. (Or some of the effects, anyhow!) I've been busy on a new series of work and updating my website this summer.

Short-Term Interview Plan

Over the past 6 months I've been posting interviews less frequently. I'm not real happy about this, so I came up with a solution. My plan for the next several months is to shorten the artist interviews, making them quicker to post. This way, you will still have a brief on an artist and can do more research on your own, if you wish.

While I may not be able to go into as much detail about each artist, I expect to post condensed interviews on a more frequent basis than I have recently.

I did have another goal for creating this blog, and that was to post more about myself and my own work in progress and general studio news. I hope to shift the focus of this blog with a bit more about my work and art endeavors in the coming months. There, I said it! Soon you'll get to see the other side; some of my new work that is done with paint....

Stay tuned…

PS Here's who's coming up soon...
  • Charyl Weissbach
  • Cherie Mittenthal
  • Lynda Ray
  • Lynne Basa

PLEASE let me know what you think, and leave your comments! Thanks for reading.

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.

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.