Seeing SIGHT – Artist Pam Douglas
by Genie Davis
Working with ink, acrylic, and a variety of mixed media on Plexiglas, artist Pam Douglas has created lush and visually and thematically powerful poetic works in her new series SIGHT. On exhibit at TAG Gallery later this month, the show both follows and diverges from a path Douglas began last year in her show RHYTHMS.
“I thought I’d continue linking the biology of our lives with the meaning of our experience. RHYTHMS intertwined newspaper headlines with EKG rhythms of heartbeats, and hands grasping EKG lines expressed our response to what’s happening in society. That series expanded to a larger sense of rhythms in nature, but remained an abstracted exploration of a concept,” Douglas relates. “I thought that SIGHT would similarly ask how the biology of seeing – in all its metaphorical meanings – interacts with the world.”
Douglas intended to continue some of the ingredients from RHYTHMS that had succeeded for her, especially the use of newsprint.
“The change I anticipated was in materials, that the essence of sight involved transparency – seeing through planes to what was beneath, and dealing with mirrors and reflective surfaces. Plexiglass became the substrate for SIGHT, rather than the canvas of RHYTHMS. And the mechanisms of sight, conveyed now in wires and metals, replaced the mechanisms of the heart drawn in EKG lines. Around half the works in this show came from this approach.”
After the 2016 election, Douglas explains “…on a visceral level I discovered I couldn’t continue with such a cerebral perspective. In RHYTHMS I asked, ‘What’s happening in the world that makes the heart clench?’ In SIGHT I can see the answer.”
Douglas’ new series evokes the courage to see what is happening in the world, politically and socially. The paintings and assemblages use transparencies and reflections to reveal layered visual and intellectually prescient views of current culture.
“Amidst current national challenges, these times call for boldness. That led me to images of women crying out in darkness, and oil rigs sending black ink from an ocean up the lifeline of a tree, and the unflinching gaze of a woman inside a round sawblade, and the line from Thoreau written below another work: ‘The question is not what you look at but what you see.’”
Painting such deep works is a process of illuminating her own creations, and distilling the power of art-making itself, according to Douglas.
“I can work hard on a piece for a long time only to find that the result is merely ‘interesting,’ or a viewer might appreciate some aspect such as color or texture, but not be moved. Then another piece I hadn’t expected to be important delivers an impact.” Douglas adds “This tells me that power resides in the art more than the artist. We artists need enough faith to let go and allow the art to take its first breath outside us.”
The title work, “Sight,” is emblematic of Douglas’ work in this series. It features a mirrored silver image on two transparent panels, creating a look that shimmers with light, even as a plastic dial gauge at its center projects “caution.” The gauge is contained within an image of a wide eye, watchful, warning. In “Mechanism for Prophecy,” which uses copper wire and acrylic on plexiglass, the central eye image appears mechanized here. Beautifully evocative, the eye says so much about literal vision, inner vision, and being seen or watched-over. In “One,” rope, silk, and wood bisect a more abstractly rendered eye image. Fiercely blue with a golden center, it resembles an image on a flag, a gong, a symbol.
Douglas’ large work, “Which Future Do You See?” reveals a highly textured, dark landscape with news clippings describing climate dangers. Beneath this landscape is a second plexiglass plane painted with a clear blue sky. In short, the piece seems to represent two choices for viewers: whether we see blue skies ahead or visualize more dire times. Viewers are also being asked to read about and see the darker possibility, perhaps then precluding a continuation down that path. Ignoring its existence is a fallacy.
“In a Dark Time, the Mind Begins to See,” is both the title of another work, featuring ink, acrylic, and mirror on plexiglass, as well as a line from poet Theodore Roethke. The piece reveals a series of female faces, seemingly emerging from the milky white of a blurred eye. The women are reacting in protest, hiding their eyes, protectively cradling a baby. With a second mirrored panel below these images, suggesting the hope for and image of light, this is a piece which projects the power of women specifically to react, to change, to protect, and to illumine.
With “Instrument of Alternate Dimensions,” Douglas has created perhaps her most layered work in a deep plexi box. The top layer reveals delicate ink drawings of neurons around the metal hands of clocks, below this, a painting of an eyeball with metal wires, and as a final layer, a mirrored surface reflects that eye. The artist conjoins the biological process of sight with the mechanics of our lives, which have perhaps more dimensions than even we realize.
Douglas intriguing works here are lovely and provocative. Taking a long look at SIGHT offers an intimate yet universal vision of the world that’s right in front of us – if only we are not too blind to see.
The show runs September 26th through October 21st at TAG Gallery, with a reception scheduled for September 30th.