Pam Douglas: “The Life of Fire” at TAG Gallery
According to the theory of the four elements, everything that exists is made of fire, air, water and earth. The Greek philosophers Thales von Milet (624-546 BC), Anaximenes (585-525 BC), and Heraklit (540- 475 BC Christ) toyed around with this idea. Empedokles (490-430 BC), Platon (428-347 BC), Aristotle (384-322 BC) and the Stoic developed it further. The theory then made its way to Egypt and Arabia, where characteristic metals were assigned to the elements before it returned to Europe, where it was crucial for the alchemy of the late medieval times and early modern age.
Considering that Los Angeles-based artist Pam Douglas had to undergo a back surgery for scoliosis in mid-May 2005 that transformed and changed her life forever, it’s logical that she was looking for a subject matter that would deal with the questions of the essence of life. And what would be more suitable then turning her gaze to the natural elements and other philosophical questions such as why are we here, what are we made of, where are we going, what are we seeking, and what do we transcend into? These internal and external journeys are presented in her oeuvre. TAG Gallery, which exhibited Douglas’ “Sepia” and “Seekers” and her “Life of Water” series is now showing “The Life of Fire”, which kicks off on July 17, 2012. This exhibit will be followed by the “The Life of Wind” next year.
Whereas Douglas had worked primarily with acrylic, ink and charcoal on raw linen with a tendency for rather monochromatic creations until now (with the exception of the “Life of Water”), “The Life of Fire” turned into one of her most gaudy works, using a wide range of hues – orange, reds, yellows, and blues. Further, she integrated a new medium; hence, five of the ten works that are shown at TAG Gallery are made of transparent plastic and layers of cut shapes, which make them three-dimensional. “I’ve always liked natural textures. The feel of raw linen that is supple and tan and has rough edges seemed to invite me to play. This current change to sharp edges and the way plastic warps when wet or glued was outside of my comfort zone. But I had challenged myself with interpreting the essence of fire, and there was no way the spirit of fire was going to settle down. The subject pushed me to explore and defy boundaries about the kinds of paintings I do,” she says.
Among Douglas’ “Fire” paintings is her three-dimensional piece “Spirit is transparent”, which is an interpretation of the nature of spirit. It presents flying birds emerging from flames that are glued on top of each other so that some of the colors beneath them are visible. “The painting has no backing and is mounted on transparent plexi to express the ephemeral nature of fire and to transcend flames to become pure light as it reaches the top,” Douglas explains. In addition, there is “Redemption”, another three-dimensional work in which Douglas features vigorously-colored flames aligned in the shape of peacock feathers. “The impulse behind naming that piece “Redemption” is a response to the idea that the spirit of fire burns away what needs to be gone so that fresh life, possibilities, or light itself can grow,” Douglas says.
In addition to being an artist, Douglas is also an established writer and dramatist. The Third Edition of her book Writing the TV Drama Series published in 2011 is considered the premiere book on the subject. Douglas has been honored with the Humanitas Prize for Between Mother and Daughter (CBS), an original drama which also was nominated for a Writers Guild Award. Multiple Emmy nominations and awards from American Women in Radio and Televiion went to other dramas she has written. She is also a professor in the screenwriting division at the School of Cinematic Arts of the University of Southern California. Thus some may wonder if she had applied some of her writing skills in “The Life of Fire”, making it the turning point in a bigger story with the “Life of Water” being the first and “The Life of Wind” the last act. However, she said she kept the two crafts separate. “In a way, all creative impulses emanate from a source within, and specific expressions – whether in writing, painting, music or any other art form – are only as different as leaves on separate branches of a tree. The thrill of an original concept or discovery crosses all boundaries. Also, I have always been a natural storyteller so even when I don’t set out to create a narrative idea, sometimes the sense of a ‘story behind the painting’ comes through. Having said that, though, neither narrative structure, nor scenes in life, nor characterizations are in my recent series,” she says.
Seven of Douglas’ “Life of Water” paintings will be in a group show titled ”Shared Thread” at the California African American Museum from June 28 – December 30, 2012, in which words will be integrated in the installation. And who knows, perhaps this show is the beginning of a new series of paintings, where the art of writing plays a key role.
– Simone Kussatz-
Copyright © Simone Kussatz
Photo : Courtesy of Pam Douglas