Even at a gallery whose reputation is based on bright colors and eclectic shapes, Pamela Griffin's show of vividly-hued paintings and constructions at Conduit last October was a retinal knockout.
Bored with earlier construction techniques, this University of Dallas MFA graduate has, in the past year-plus, switched materials to complimentary-colored bamboo poles joined with copper wire and backed by vivid acrylic-saturated, handmade Oriental papers. The resulting kite-like structures and the simple, image-related paintings throb with color.
During that time, her palette has become much more intense. And while she considers herself to be "easy-going about formal issues" explaining, "it's not a conscious effort," she has recently become much more aware of and interested in an abstracted portrayal of personal relationships.
Coincidentally, she's more willing to divulge personal information, using explicitly emotional titles. It has been, she said, "a great release to give people some idea of what I'm about." Most of her works deal directly and intimately with the subject matter of familial relationships.
They're Together Again, the tall, thin, almost frail, free-standing (but attached to the wall for safety), construction greeting people at the gallery door-like much of her recent work-shares imagery and coloration with a two-dimensional painting. They'll Always Be Together is a large acrylic on canvas and wood. Both are about Griffin's grandparents who, while they are gravely ill [as this is written], have shared "sixty wonderful years of marriage."
Reading the painting left to right, Grandma and Grandpa are black-outlined purple half-house shapes centered within a smudged swirl of amber brush strokes, bits of complementing colors spotting through from behind. Leaning towards each other across a narrow channel of negative space, atop latticed, bamboo stilts, they form the imaginary solidity of a house.
Beyond the canvas, the thin "frame" is a slatted construction of purple wood, like contemporary stained glass windows, without the glass. Often, her frames repeat and reflect the central images of the paintings they contain, but here it contrasts with simple crosshatching.
The free-standing bamboo and paper grandparents are the same half-house shapes with a boxy superstructure of linear bamboo. Grandma is pink and orange edged turquoise paper backing with prominent blue and purple horizontal lines; Grandpa is purple with vertical turquoise and blue bamboo stripes. Again, the figures slope together across negative space to form an peaked house. Each figure projects bamboo forward into a skewed frame.
The construction and painting are, Pam said, "meant to be happy and joyous pieces, reflecting their wonderful life together," thus the intense colors. Though Griffin's 3-D work tends to be smaller and more delicate, both share a grandeur of scale which Griffin attributes to her own size. She's a big, tall woman.
Another, more pensive, but still glowing painting that reveals an even more intimate detail is Waiting, a triptych filling the major wall of the gallery with bright, speckled tangerine. It began as a turquoise diptych with a ladder leaning on the empty space between the two ends. But that coloration seemed too tame.
So Griffin, who tends to work with many layers of paint, added lilac. Then she "didn't like it being cool, so I went to warm," adding melon, then quick, loose strokes of a glowing gold, with only spots of the cool still showing. Then the emptiness between the elements felt too stark, so she extended the color, and it became a triptych.
Pam hesitated at the title, then quietly explained that she and her husband were expecting their first child, due in April. After a quiet moment's thought, she accounted for all those colors: "raging hormones," she joked.
Griffin usually works on two or three pieces simultaneously -most often a mix of two- and three-dimensional pieces. "So ideas swap back and forth from 2-D to 3-D and vice versa." If she doesn't want to build it, she paints it. "Some I struggle over, others go quickly." She calls it "magic time" when the going is fast-sometimes finishing a painting in less than 24 hours.
Pam "usually thinks up ideas in three dimensions, then transfers them to a two dimensional plane," she said. "I think in 3-D, then flatten it." Then, "if I can't get it to stand up on the constructions, I'll transfer the ideas to a painting," explaining that the images in her paintings are "often two-legged, which won't stand up."
We're Both a Little of Each is another dual construction "about my husband and I; we're opposites in some ways," she said. "He's a precise and logical engineer, always wanting to measure things, good with numbers and math. I'm not." So she "intentionally worked with opposites in color and construction." One paper figure opens out with bright, narrow bamboo "arms;" the other appears to close in on itself. Asked which figure was who, she replied enigmatically, "We're both a little of each."
Griffin thinks of her works as "tree houses or shelters, little house or home-type areas," she said. "The bamboo works like drawing in space-because of its natural, linear quality." She considers the constructions as reliefs, with the paper as backdrop. In the future, she hopes to involve it more into the structure itself.
Two large, multi-media paintings on watercolor paper brightened the back roomful of her works. Household #3, an acrylic wash and pastel, is luscious red and brown, smudged in a house-shape outline on color-soaked green and blue background. And Threesome — another house-shape like the grandparents, with more subdued, muted colors and the peaked center of the building, roof to framework foundation, filled in with a third, outlined "person." It pertains, she giggled quietly, "to my husband, I, and," she paused, "the future."
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