Pam Douglas’s Artifacts of Grace at TAG
On view through September 22nd
by Genie Davis
Pam Douglas is back at TAG with Artifacts of Grace, a solo exhibition that offers profoundly moving images of female figures. It is not enough to say that she takes on as a subject women in a variety of guises; Douglas’ work here represents the true meaning of the “feminine,” with aspects of a brave, strong, nurturing presence; the resilience, human fragility, and power of women.
Douglas uses sculptural materials to create dimensional works that merge images of nature with the human body. These are dramatic, viscerally lush works that show the innate link between human beings and the natural world they inhabit. The materials themselves appear to be chosen to embrace and enhance the human form. She’s using materials such as tree bark, palm fronds, plant stems, and corn silk. The works seem touchable, both in the physical sense and in an emotional way. The concept of “Mother Earth” has never seemed more real.
The artist has said that she looks at her work as part of a larger conversation about current and ongoing humanitarian crises, and of women’s stories throughout time. While there is a strong, resonant mythology to her work, of birth, mothering, nurturing, and need; even more prescient is her depiction of women’s welfare, and the separation of women and children.
In “Stay with Me,” which incorporates a palm frond as the body of a woman, Douglas creates a deeply moving image of that woman, in profile, with her tiny, naked child attempting to climb her dress to hold on to her. The woman’s face is downcast, the child’s body language and upturned face a desperately devoted claim for her mother. It is so universal – the child longing for its mother, the mother herself, rising from the embrace of the palm frond. The work is a new form of birth: the birth of both despair and hope. Created in acrylic, clay, and grasses – the woman’s tangled hair is shaped from the grass – and palm frond, this is a significant work, one that aches with the grief, love, and the potential power of this woman. As she emerges from the palm frond, what will she do? How will she protect, claim, protest, preserve? We are left with these questions and a deep sense of awe. Douglas notes “…these works express a profound urge to avow our power and a refusal to be repressed.”
Also utilizing palm frond, “The Big Hug” features embracing arms sculpted in grasses and clay, embracing a pearl-like egg shape – the womb, perhaps, of the future. What can we give birth to, in love?
“Bionic Angel” mixes natural tree-part materials with clay and copper wire. Here, the woman’s image takes on a pose that evokes that of crucifixion; at the same time, she appears ready to take flight. This could be the most emblematic of the works here: women have been and may still be at least symbolically crucified for the simple truth of being female; they also have the potential to fly, to soar, to rise above.
Moving from tiny bronzed shoes to bare feet, “Pilgrimage” places footsteps representing the global Women’s Marches on rough bark. Shod or barefoot, these feet will keep walking – and so should we. With that in mind, “We Will Survive” is both a declaration and a pledge of faith and hope. In this work, a woman clutches her child to her in her arms, a determined and solemn Madonna-like figure whose garments are made from both bark and fish skeletons on plexiglass. The use of these materials with acrylic paint add both a physical depth and an emotional one – we are this delicate and this strong.
Also included in the exhibition are earlier works such as “In a Dark Time…” which uses layers of inks, acrylic, and mirror on plexiglass panels to depict women caught in screaming poses. Sometimes, we have to scream to be heard; in Douglas’ case, she creates art that beautifully summons our attention. These artifacts are a grace to see, a blessing to behold, and a task to be carried with us into our lives.