Word artist and raw artist Pam Glick chats about her life including the process and emotions behind her art and her love of rap. She also shares a glimpse into her studio and home…
Hi Pam and welcome to Om Pom Happy. I’m so happy to have you here as I’m such a fan of your work! Perhaps we could start with how and why you became an artist?
Knowing what I know now about myself there is nothing else I would have been this good at – it’s the extreme passion and involvement that I’ve had from the start. My earliest memory (maybe I was 8) is of my mother buying everyone in the family an easel. I think she read an article that it would be a fun time for the family. My parents and my brother and I were to all paint in the basement. After several hours I noticed they were all gone. I stayed down there all day and continued to go down there for years.
I made a lot of ceramics in high school. Our school was progressive, yet only a few of us really hung out in the art building. It was important as we were allowed to explore any mediums and if we needed help the teacher was there and lovely. For me art was always a safe place, a place to get lost in, run away into it. I was rebellious and wanted to be a hobo. Art was the next best thing. It felt like whatever powers I had at that time came out in the art making process. I was a poor student, but a jock – I never related to sports per se – I wasn’t a fan, I was just good at them. With art I felt at home.
Later in college I had a sculpture professor at Amherst College. His name was Mark Oxenberg or something. He would have to ask me to leave late at night as the building was closing. He was incredibly kind and supportive and said you might as well apply to an art school, you’re already doing it. I ended up transferring to Rhode Island School of Design.
Above: PAM AS A TEENAGER
Below: MY LITTLE PONY
It is interesting to hear you say how art was a safe place for you. One of my favourite pieces of yours is I AM SAFE, especially the one in pink acrylic on rice paper. It’s just beautiful in every way…
Above: I AM SAFE on rice paper
Feeling safe is the most essential human emotion. Male and female. Like everyone I’ve had periods where things were less than ideal. Right now a lot of problems have lifted and I’m fortunate to be safe and making art. I live with my younger son at my mother’s home in Buffalo. I have a studio. We are all healthy.
Above: PAM AND YOUNGER SON ELI 2009
I wrote the phrase I AM SAFE at my desk and was thunderstruck at how it looked and felt on the page. The words caused a flood of memories and dreams to come to mind. The words are a prayer and a statement. It’s very emotional. As an artist I tend to act first and think afterwards. I work instinctively then figure out what just happened and act again. The process continues until I feel the piece is finished. At the opening of my exhibition last year a couple of people cried in front of the I AM SAFE painting. That was unexpected. People told me life stories that were so terrifying. I work on a personal level and hope it hits a universal truth. With this painting I feel I figured out a big step in my own language. It is a literal painting but also very symbolic.
Above: I AM SAFE
The word paintings in general all have to begin that way, it must be a personal thought or idea. Then I forget about the text and try to make a good painting. You have to get in there someplace, there being the rectangle the painting itself. Once the idea is there to start I forget the idea and work out the best painting, formally, that I can with whatever powers I have at that time. The painting process hasn’t changed for me in all these years. It’s that my powers and experience have changed.
Above: I AM SAFE
Tell me about your series titled NIAGARA FALLS…
Niagara Falls is 20 minutes from our house. I grew up going there with every house guest and loved it so much. People from foreign lands were always there wearing their native costumes. It symbolizes home to me and so much more. It’s endless water so dangerous and magnetic at once. Niagara is the perfect blend of spiritual and physical.
I figured out a few specific ways I like describing the falls and from there it’s like any other painting – I try to make the best painting I can. I mean it’s monumental like every good abstract expressionist painting – it brings to mind Clifford Still which I grew up looking at in the Albright Knox Museum. Franz Kline, Pollock, then I see Johns, Rauschenberg… I don’t know it’s so American and free, hopeful, strong.
Once I start the painting, I forget it’s about Niagara. It has to work as a successful painting. Colour, light, space, scale, illusion, and it becomes a diary as I work on it over time and day to day stuff just falls in there. The Falls itself has a strong sense of the inevitable – just stand there and it’s mesmerizing, it’s emotional. The shapes falling become so abstract and the verticle lines are so straight. So much gravity and lightness. People stand and stare in revery in every type of weather.
I’ve since learned in other cultures that waterfalls are considered good luck. If someone is visiting a relative here in the USA from Pakistan or India or China they come to Niagara Falls, no matter if the people live in Texas.
One of the things I love about you and your work is your humour which I find is lacking in too many artists and art in general. You have such a sense of playfulness and LADY TARZAN is just too good! Not to mention the wondrously titled I INVENTED SEX (quite a claim!) and POLE DANCER…
Lady Tarzan came to me out of the blue. I found a tiny painting by someone thrown out in my studio building. The image looked remarkably like my old house in Vermont where I had just left after 20 yrs, divorce looming in the future. It is a classic Cape house, ours was from 1780. Anyway I impulsively painted a naked female figure reaching out for branches and free feeling, like Tarzan, all across this found painting. Kind of defaced it and also made it mine and more thrilling.
As a girl I loved Tarzan and was obsessed with living in a jungle or forest. I loved all the characters – Jane was cool and left Park Avenue to live with Tarzan. Anyway I decided to call her Lady Tarzan as Tarzan’s life was the most exciting of all.
I INVENTED SEX – that’s a great thing to be able to say. It’s the greatest invention, better than fire or the wheel. It’s the title of a rap/ r/b song by Trey Songz. I saw the words on Pandora and just cracked up and I wrote them down. Kind of irresistible. I love rap and jazz and all the American song book songs. It’s all about love, romantic and longing desperation. Snoop Dogg is one of my favourite artists. But I’m also inspired by bluegrass and the music of Mississippi Delta. It’s human emotion over and over. Music fuels my day, but some times I need silence. It’s all a trigger for a feeling and a thought. I start a painting that way. I don’t think much about the initial idea once I begin a piece, and really don’t think of it till the end again. Usually it’s the title but sometimes more sometimes less.
Above: I INVENTED SEX
Above: I INVENTED SEX
I lived in New York in the 1980’s and saw rap be born. I love it in all its developments. When our first baby was fussy we would drive him around and play the rapper Paris – super edgy and political, but Alva got very peaceful and quiet from it. Rap is a heart beat you know and the baby wants to hear that again.
Above: POLE DANCER
Above: POLE DANCER
You talk about rap being about longing and desperation, but you paint such positive messages – I AM HAPPY FOR NO REASON, TODAY I AM PERFECT, LARGE SUMS OF MONEY FLOW EASILY TO ME…
I made a conscious decision about that early on in making the text-based work. If I am going to work and make marks on a painting I want them to give not take. I’ve been drawn to the idea of being ‘Good’ for a long time. My friend Nenna’s mother first pointed that out to me. Universally we all want to be good or do good works, it’s human nature. It’s very hard though and we are all pretty lazy and impulsive. Our culture is obsessed with goodness although the dark side is always more interesting. The struggle is the imperfect.
Above: I AM HAPPY FOR NO REASON
Above: LARGE SUMS OF MONEY FLOW EASILY TO ME
There are so many commercial outlets for those seeking goodness and peace. I venerate all those yoga teachers and Oprah and Deepak Chopra types. They are helping those in need and making the world more peaceful. I think it’s so a part of our culture the language of healing and love. So I use it as I think it is a trigger for art and universal understanding. So bless all the healers… They are making money and helping others… That’s cool right?? I think of it as a good start for a painting, Deepak Chopra is no different than Niagara Falls.
Above: OPRAH’S PHONE NUMBER
Above: I BOW TO THE ELEPHANT FACE DEITY
Above: RELIGIOUS RITUALS
Above: IN THEE OH LORD DO I PUT MY TRUST – NEVER LET ME BE CONFOUNDED
You mention you and Eli now live with your mother. How has that triggered your wonderfully emotional works I LOVE YOU MUM…
I LOVE YOU MUM is a simple idea, except we all have complicated relationships with our mothers. I didn’t always understand my mother’s motives for her behaviors when I was young. I am an adult now and see all the sides to the many coins. I did feel abandoned at times and just wild. I had very little guidance. Now, having said that, my mother has saved my younger son and I to a huge extent. I am able to do my work again and provide a home for my children – my older son is in college.
I feel this series is a perfect example of the text being secondary to the process, except the text is so powerful it’s just there. Everyone brings their own story to those words. I didn’t think about my mom once I got started, it’s just marks on the page you know? Colour and lines and dynamics. It has so much fuel that I have to be aware of the words. I literally forget they are there when I’m working on them. So those paintings are ‘about’ my mother, but really they are all about painting and the history of making a genuine painting made with basic instincts and knowledge.
Pam where is your studio? Is it part of your house?
No, it’s not in the house, it’s in a large mixed use building about 5 minutes away. It used to be a windshield wiper factory!
Below: ART ON THE WAY TO PAM’S BEDROOM…
Pam thank you so much! It’s been such fun chatting with you and I can’t wait to see what you do next! In the meantime let’s sign out with one of your favourite tunes….
Well Snoop Dogg’s ‘Gin and Juice’ is a favourite, but I think I’m going to go with Nirvana and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’…
Words: CAND JUSKUS and PAM GLICK
Images: PAM GLICK