March 21 – May 6, 2013
Saturday March 23, 5-8 p.m.
Thoughts on looking at artworks
by Pam Dixon for the past 30 years
by Gregory Ghent
In our culture, an artist worth their salt has to be fearless and push the envelopes of style, imagery, and techniques. I say in our culture because whereas we in the west insist on those elements as necessary to fine art, they are not considered necessary in other parts of the world where there is no tradition of the artist as an isolated genius. To me, Dixon is a quintessential and important artist for our place and time.
Perhaps unique to Dixon is the fact that her favorite medium is gesso, scooped up in one hand, with ink dragged along in the other hand, making ‘sense’ out of the gesso smear. Dixon paints with her hands and available sticks and brushes. The canvas gets painted along the way with acrylic. She is also fearless when adding onto the gesso a variety of very different materials: firecracker paper, brillo pads, carbon paper, packing foam and a shocking lime green wig are all in one collage (Ca-ca Patrol, 1987).
Here’s how she works: Imagine a large canvas with a bunch of figures and stuff already painted on it. But only one eye of a creature — half-horse/half-woman — looks back at Pam; a spirit is in that one eye peeking out of the mass of stuff. She gessoes out everything except that eye. She needs that eye. What is predictable or a cliché will be expunged so that the painting (or sculpture) has a life force of its own. This accounts for the impression of spontaneity. The painting will be revised until it appears to have sprung spontaneously from the artist’s hand. Like Degas or Picasso, she never “finishes” a painting, she simply has to abandon it. This is why some paintings have two or more dates of ‘completion'; sometimes many years apart. Often much of what has been gessoed out remains visible, an underlying image can show through (technically called pentimento).
Pam Dixon conjures up a world teeming with wacky monsters and benign creatures. Wielding a delicious (one could even say confectionary) color palate, Dixon exposes her naive characters with all their obvious flaws, their disabilities and limitations in a way that is sobering but fascinating. Dixon says that she is very serious about her imaginary populace. She cares for their derangements and their slow and lumbering minds. For Dixon, It’s a happy asylum. It may not belong in a critique of Pam’s works, but I am not alone when I say that I can “feel the love” that she has for her creatures.
Pam Dixon is not a household name artist that has art market cachet (yet). The work is deceptively playful, easy on the eye, easy to grasp. However, collectors of Dixon’s work rarely offer them for sale. One Northern California art-collecting family went bankrupt and sold their valuable paintings by Sam Francis, Nathan Oliveira and others, but not the Pam Dixons, because they wanted to live with them. Another art collector never tires of waking up to her Pam Dixon directly across from her bed. These are large art collections that are often open to the public. When I ask why they have Pam Dixon’s work hi-lighted in their homes, the reply is that they never tire of looking at them.
The artworks have that special something that provokes a visual dialog that has no end. Without a kind of mystery, an element of the unexpected, fine art can go stale and cease to engage the imagination. In all of Dixon’s work, despite the audacious subject matter of cats and dogs, eccentric people, magic transformations, floating heads and discarded feet, there is a complexity of color, form and rhythmic line, satisfying to the most sophisticated taste.
Pam Dixon has had her share of life’s challenges. But like many masters of the universe, she knows that the drama of life is ultimately tragi-comic. With Dixon’s genius nudging and winking at us from these artworks, a fresh breeze illuminated by bright light and good humor comes onto the dark stage and the mood is lightened.
For more than 40 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, Gregory Ghent was an art critic, collector, gallery owner, museum curator, art historian, appraiser and philanthropist. He now lives in the in New Mexico desert.