Pamela Wilson // Birdshot Interview

Pamela Wilson is a painter with a considerable skill and vision that tickles my fancy.  She has exhibited around the country for a while now, and Empty Kingdom was happy to interview her to help promote her new show this month. It’s going on right now so if you’re in the area, hit it up!

Who are you and what is your history in art?
I’m an old Russian painter living in Cali girl. I confuse people, but I’m okay with that. I have an MFA from UC Santa Barbara, and I did my undergrad work at BYU, Colorado State University, and San Diego State University.

Where do you find the inspiration for your work?
The planning of paintings is an elaborate project for me, and so very enjoyable. I let my intuition be my guide as I settle into a new world. I usually begin with some idea that comes to me through my personal experience, and my daily “pleasure reading.” I then spend time antique shopping, waiting for the next object(s) to ‘speak” to me. I must see and smell and touch an object or piece of clothing that will become the impetus for a painting, or series. I love antiques because I like to take things out of the modern context and marry “odd ends” together to render a timeless piece- more dreamlike. Old objects house talkative ghosts. And then I pick a model and a location- both as important as the object, requiring much scouting. The photos never look in the end like they did in my head, but it’s always wonderful when it comes together! And then I paint from my photographs, and edit as I go. I usually paint more than one painting from a shoot, as I’m never satisfied with just one.

Why mostly female characters?
I do seem to paint more females, but right now it’s because I’m working under a theme- “Birdshot” – or- woman down. My women in this show are either down, or on their way back up, in general.

I noticed your female characters have a certain strength and ruggedness to their character, how and where do you find your subjects or inspiration?
I choose my models wisely- I know what I want to get out of them, if you will, and I try and make it a collaboration- take what I know she can give me- pull it from her- for me.

Who are some artists or inspirations you have absorbed lately?
Right now… I’m stuck on Justin Mortimer and Jeremy Geddes. These are artists whose use of space and color and technique just floors me. The unexpected composition and illusive narrative content of the work astounds me. I am truly in awe. 

CocoRosie– the music duo has inspired me to no end in the last six months.

What is the theme of your new show?
Birdshot– Can mean so many things and is so fun to play with. As I said, it can be a bullet, a gunshot, a dead bird, a woman down, and disease that blinds one slowly, a woman or girl who has been shot, a bird that’s been strangled. I expect that “birdshit” will emerge at some point- haha.. On a serious note- the work is about being put down, and getting back up- It’s about the strength one didn’t know one had- to fight back. Strength and a bit of oddity mixed in. Even a ghost. I listened to CocoRosie the whole time I created this show- and I think they influenced my mood in the way I wanted to go. The work is layered for those who spend some time looking. I hope they will.

Inspiration has its own schedule, of course. I had planned to have a model carry a taxidermy pheasant in a shoot one day last year- a shoot loosely regarding a treacherous escape- when suddenly I decided to mount the bird on her head. Simultaneously, I had been joking to friends that I had not experienced a flying dream for quite awhile (I used to have them regularly), and I started a plight wherein I tried to make myself fly in my sleep again. I wondered what I could do during the day, including envisioning birds, reading about aviation, staring at helium balloons, demanding it of the sleep-Gods, and the like, that could force this dream into my subconscious at night. It became a game, and then…. a seriously delicious subject for art. My entire thought process had a winged epiphany on the day of the shoot, and a bird theme took over. What is a dream? Why do we fly so adeptly in our dreams, so fearlessly? 

If we will have a richer experience as human beings, we must involve ourselves with unsettling truths, as well as those which soothe. I have painted subjects in their own worlds for many years, incorporating strange and quirky imagery, and odd narratives, but with a sincere and deep compassion. Although we may be amused by these subjects, I think that we identify with them, as perhaps our security and sanity are threatened. As part of our human experience, we grapple with tragedy and delight, absurdity and insanity, collecting and storing pieces of ourselves and others as we decipher meaning. We engage ourselves in the exploration of emotions, ranging from utter joy to unbearable grief, to find a place for them, and measure their importance. 

I read a lot. I love words.

How has your work progressed?
After oil painting, uninspired, for years, I found a strong and explosive interest in B/W photography. I was first inspired by the work of Diane Arbus, and the painted B/W photographs of Anselm Kiefer. I then became a lithographer, appropriating well-known images and altering them on the stone. I then started painting with oils on my own photographs, eventually returning to painting on canvas, first copying found B/W photographs, and eventually capturing and painting my own. I think I tried to hang on to, or create, the realistic feel of the B/W images, and the somewhat dreamlike, “ghosty” feel of a time long gone.

Then I discovered color- and was completely consumed with it for years!! A very timely meeting with someone I very much respect brought to my attention what I had lost in all the color. I reflected on his words for a few weeks, and suddenly I could see exactly what he was seeing/saying. I decided to try to recapture that “old-timey” feel, and the sepia palette has been creeping back in in the last couple of years. It’s harder than it might seem to ween oneself from color, but I think it serves my work to dress it down a bit. I am very excited at where I can go from here.

What’s next?

Carnival/sideshow theme- I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself.

(So are we! -Bunnyman)