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Work Samples

Canna Seed Baskets

"Canna Seed Baskets," Oil paint on Canvas, (52" x 36") The composition of this painting comes from a dried clump of decaying seeds and leaves of the Canna Lily. Its basket-like container full of black seeds looked like miniature bowling balls about to fall out of frayed burlap sacks. The unraveling pattern reminded me of the delicate balance in our endangered surroundings.

Double Protea, Not Covid

"Double Protea-Not Covid," 2021, Oil paint on canvas, (52” x 36”) Last spring, as we were in the early stages of a pandemic, I began this painting based on the images of Covid-19 that were in the news. But then the painting transformed into a study of the shape-shifting pincushion protea. The image displays simultaneous views, one up close and one farther away.

Shapeshifter Protea

Shapeshifter, Protea, 2021, Oil paint on canvas, (52” x 36”) -- While observing the decay of a pincushion protea flower, I noticed its ability to change shape. Because it went through many transformations, finding its structure proved to be both baffling and intriguing. Ribbons unfurled, pins sprouted, and seeds appeared. Later I realized how the specimen’s name connected to my observations. The mythological Proteus was a shape-shifter. Naturally it would be difficult to pin down.

Anchovy Dance

"Anchovy Dance," Oil on Linen, (51" x 39") Smitten by the iridescent colors reflected off anchovies, I placed these two back-to-back for a whimsical partnered dance. Their shimmering sides put me in mind of sequined characters strutting through a disco party. The complex textures of scales, bones, and dried guts compelled me to take a closer look. Observation of dead, inanimate objects like these dried fish offered me the challenge to imbue them with movement and activity.

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About Pamela

Baltimore City

Pamela Crockett's picture
Pamela Crockett is best known for her large-scale oil paintings of small, natural decaying objects in active environments. In them, she imbues inanimate objects with life, and her attention to texture invites the viewer for a closer look. A former fellow in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and recipient of the Olssen Faculty Incentive Award, Pamela has been teaching art and painting since receiving her Master of Fine Arts and Masters of Arts degrees from the University of... more

DANCE OF DECAY

DANCE of DECAY

A delicate balance between our environment and our human interaction with it seems important during this, the year of the pandemic. Although the virus is made by nature, it is also made possible by human interference. This relationship reveals itself to me as I study shapes of decomposition and microbial patterns. While in the studio, I view decomposing pods, unraveling bulbs, and dried aquatic fragments under a magnifying glass. In my current work, I find that the patterns of decay seem to echo the invisible forces controlling their movement. Paradoxically these delicate remains of life reflect both the fragility and the vitality of the earth and its oceans.

These images contain my fears and my hopes in response to our current climate crisis. The earth I have always depended on is undergoing dramatic change. And yet, the patterns of decay are constantly surprising me. Although I use close observation, these paintings are not strictly representational. My tendency is to amplify minute details, to pump up color saturation, and to intensify contrast to the point where the image becomes something altogether different. Observation of dead, inanimate objects offers me the challenge to imbue them with movement and activity.

Ambiguity of space in these paintings suggests that what is inside can seem larger than the container itself. Borders hold the objects; yet most of them cannot help but push outside these boundaries or spill back inside the frames. In a vibrant ecosystem, I see the process of decay as a cyclical dance in which the various agents play their parts. Ordering of the steps is important. Rotting vegetation, sun, wind, and rain all have assigned roles and are inscribed into the choreography. I find hope in nature’s ability to regenerate; even as the drooping blooms of a flower are about to fall to the ground, the smallest seed peeks out, hinting at its potential for new growth.

  • Shapeshifter Protea

    Oil on canvas, (52” x 36”) While observing the decay of a pincushion protea flower, I noticed its ability to change shape. Because it went through many transformations, finding its structure proved to be both baffling and intriguing. Ribbons unfurled, pins sprouted, and seeds appeared. Later I realized how the specimen’s name connected to my observations. The mythological Proteus was a shape-shifter. Naturally it would be difficult to pin down
  • Double Protea, Not Covid

    Oil paint on canvas, (52” x 36”) Last spring, as we were in the early stages of a pandemic, I began this painting based on the images of Covid-19 that were in the news. But then the painting transformed into a study of the shape-shifting pincushion protea. The image displays simultaneous views, one up close and one farther away.
  • Canna Seed Baskets

    Oil on canvas, (52” x 36”) The composition of this painting comes from a dried clump of decaying seeds and leaves of the Canna Lily. Its basket-like container full of black seeds reminded me of miniature bowling balls about to fall out of frayed burlap sacks.
  • Anchovy Dance

    Oil on Linen, (50" x 38") Smitten by the iridescent colors reflected off anchovies, I placed these two back-to-back for a whimsical partnered dance. Their shimmering sides put me in mind of sequined characters strutting through a disco party. The complex textures of scales, bones, and dried guts compelled me to take a closer look. Observation of inanimate objects like these dead fish offered me the challenge to imbue them with movement and activity
  • Visible Strings (Magnolia)

    Oil on Linen, (62" x 36") Attracted by an unrecognizable bit of decaying matter, I completed a group of drawings for this painting. The intertwined, flowing white lines in and around the form suggested to me a skeletal frame. Going back to the source a year later, I found a new, greener one, which I recognized as a magnolia pod. To my surprise, during the course of painting, sections of the new pod opened and expelled red seeds attached by white gossamer strings similar to spider-web strands.
  • Flotation Devices in Crisis

    Oil on Canvas, (62" x 36") The subject of this painting is at once small enough to fit in the palm of a hand and large enough to exist outside our planet. The background is based on cloud formations around Jupiter, and the purple bladder shape comes from Sargassum seaweed common in the Atlantic Ocean. Its air-filled bladder is helpful in keeping the plant afloat, providing food for ocean life and birds. At the time I was painting the image, the East Coast was experiencing major flood damage from hurricanes, and the West Coast was undergoing fire damage out of control.
  • Twisting Bulb

    Oil on Linen, (32" x 20") A friend of mine bought this curious bulb in Amsterdam. In it I saw an ephemeral beauty. The motion of its twisting, curling leaves told the story of its graceful demise. An intentional shifting of foreground and background adds to the bulb’s ambiguous scale. The prismatic effect of light is meant to change from differing viewpoints, evoking a sense of dead matter’s dynamic animation.
  • Regeneration

    Oil on Linen, (32" x 22") In a vibrant ecosystem, the process of decay is a cyclical dance in which the various agents play their parts. The order of the steps is important. Sun, rain, wind, and insects all have assigned roles and are inscribed into the choreography. Even as the rhododendron’s drooping blooms are about to fall to the ground, the smallest seed peeks out, hinting at its potential for new growth
  • Dance of Decay

    Oil paint on linen, (62" x 36") In the studio, I view decomposing pods, unraveling bulbs, and dried aquatic fragments under a magnifying glass. In my current work, I find that the patterns of decay seem to echo the invisible forces controlling their movement. Paradoxically these delicate remains of life reflect both the fragility and the vitality of the earth and its oceans.
  • Unraveling Sea Oat

    Oil on linen, (62” x 36”) Inspiration for this image comes from a small, decayed root of the sea oat found in the dunes of the Atlantic coast. This plant is highly adaptable to harsh environments. Because of its flexibility in high winds, it does not break, and its deep roots capture sand, helping to reduce erosion. In addition to the role it plays in protecting the dunes and maintaining beach ecology, the sea oat contains nutrients for feeding area wildlife.

NATURAL PATTERNS AND GEOMETRY

Oil paintings on linen, 60" x 34" - 62" x 36

The series Dance of Decay began as a search for patterns in the natural world. A Romanesco cauliflower I picked up at the farmer’s market displayed a fractal-like recurring spiral pattern. The mathematical beauty described by Archimedes, Descartes, and Fibonacci revealed itself in rhythms on a shifting scale, both macro and micro. A bunch of onions led to the image "Cartesian Vortices." The composition comes from a seventeenth-century drawing by René Descartes. It renders in visual form his theory of movement among celestial bodies. By observing the peeling skin and prismatic colors of drying onions, I discovered a parallel to Descartes’ geometric structures. Like Descartes’ diagram, my painting evokes the invisible forces that animate things large and small: not only the heavenly planets, but also the earthly onion.

  • Cartesian Vortices (Onions)

    Oil on Linen, (32" x 20") The composition of this painting comes from a seventeenth-century drawing by René Descartes. It renders in visual form his theory of movement among celestial bodies. By observing the peeling skin and prismatic colors of drying onions, I discovered a parallel to Descartes’ geometric structures. Like Descartes’ diagram, my painting evokes the invisible forces that animate things large and small: not only the heavenly planets, but also the earthly onion.
  • Radiolarian

    Oil on canvas, (52" x 36") Geometry of this image is inspired by 19th-century scientist Ernst Haeckel’s drawings of radiolarians and the writings of Darcy W. Thompson’s “Growth and Form.”
  • Recursive Romanesco

    Oil on Linen, (62" x 36") This series Dance of Decay began as a search for patterns in the natural world. A Romanesco cauliflower I picked up at the farmer’s market displayed a fractal-like recurring spiral pattern. The mathematical beauty described by Archimedes, Descartes, and Fibonacci revealed itself in rhythms on a shifting scale, both macro and micro.
  • Split Chestnut Burr

    Oil on Linen, (32" x 20") Here the sharp needles protecting the inner sanctum of the chestnut seeds act as protection. In searching for the natural patterns of decay, I am noticing dead plants are not stagnant, but fully animated. And this one maybe a little menacing.
  • Pacific Kelp Tangle

    Oil on Linen, 62" x 36"
  • Kiwi Kniphofia

    Oil on Linen, 62" x 36"
  • Bearded Fan

    Oil on Linen, 62" x 36"
  • Sweet GumDrop

    Sweet GumDrop
    Oil paint on linen (62" x 36") Sweetgum ball dropping from the window ledge

REPURPOSING AND REGENERATION

Repurposed boxes, drawers, and card catalogues contain the seeds, nuts, and pods I observed in the large oil paintings for "Dance of Decay." People were interested to see the original inspirations for the abstracted images of decay. Combining natural objects and smaller paintings of the magnified seeds revealed similar patterns . Man-made objects were added when their shapes or functions coincided with those of the natural objects. For example, the woven pattern of the mandarin orange sack mirrored the shape and function of the basket-like weaving pattern on the Sweetgum balls.

  • Canna Creature

    Oil paint on panel, acrylic medium, canna seed pods dipped in varnish,, netting, wire, and black beads, (14" x 14")
  • Canna Baskets Magnified

    Oil paint on linen on panel, (14" x 14")
  • Sargassum Flotation Devices

    Flotation Devices Stored in Drawer 11.5" x 8" Repurposed Drawer containing oil paint on panel, Sargassum seaweed dipped in varnish, Mandarin orange netting, foam, sponges, and thread
  • Chestnut Family

    Oil paint on panel, acrylic medium, chestnut hulls dipped in varnish, wooden beads, wire, (15" x 15")
  • Sweetgum Balls with Netting

    Oil on panel, Sweetgum Balls dipped in varnish, mandarin netting (12" x 12") Structure of the Sweetgum Balls reminds me of the netting used to contain mandarin oranges.
  • Sweetgum Ball Magnified

    Sweetgum Ball Painting, Oil on linen on panel, (10" x 10")
  • Magnolia Magnified

    Oil paint on linen on panel, (14" x 14")
  • Magnolia Family

    Oil paint on wood, acrylic medium, dried magnolia pods dipped in varnish, red beads, wire (8" x 8")
  • Protea Pins Magnified

    Oil paint on linen on panel, (14" x 14")
  • Protea, not Covid

    Oil paint on linen on panel, (14" x 14")

DANCE OF DECAY (DETAILS)

These details show close-ups from the project, "DANCE OF DECAY."

MEMORY DRAWINGS

The memory drawings are found object collages with mixed media on Rives BFK paper. Included materials are cardboard slide mounts, sewn threads, antique hat pins, souvenirs, photos, and buttons. The repurposed objects are the odd bits and pieces that settle to the backs of household drawers, surviving the sifting of what gets used and what gets thrown away. They contain the memories and stories of their migration. The embroidery stitches control the movement in the drawings, and they attach the cardboard slide mount, an object obsolete today, yet essential for artist submissions in the past.

  • Key to the Interior

    26" x 21", Mixed Media on Rives Paper: Ink, Colored Pencil, Slide Mounts, Thread, House Key
  • Helical Motion

    24" x 16", Mixed Media on Rives BFK Paper: Ink, Colored Pencil, Slide Mounts, Thread, Souvenir broom, Pearl buttons
  • Geisha Memories (detail)

    (21" x 21"), Mixed Media Drawing,: Ink, colored pencil, pastel, red and gold thread, slide mount, photo, and souvenir Geisha comb on BFK paper.
  • Cascade in Purple

    26" x 18", Mixed Media on Rives BFK Paper: Ink, Colored Pencil, Slide Mounts, Thread, Bell, Beads, Cheerleader Pin
  • Fountain

    22" x 18", Mixed Media on Rives BFK Paper: Ink, Colored Pencil, Slide Mounts, Phots pieces
  • Slide Inside

    25" x 17", Mixed Media on Rives BFK Paper: Ink, Colored Pencil, Thread, Slide Mounts, Souvenir Drum, Buttons, Wire
  • Brown Penny

    30" x 22", Mixed Media on Handmade Paper: Three Pennies, Ink, Colored Pencil, Paint, Slide Mounts, Thread
  • Checks and Balances

    20" x 15", Mixed Media on Rives BFK Paper: Ink, Colored Pencil, Slide Mounts, Thread
  • SEWING BRANCHES

    Mixed Media Drawing, (14" x 12"), Ink, colored pencil, pastel, red and gold thread, slide mount, photo, beads on BFK paper.
  • Geisha Memories

    21" x 21", Mixed Media on Rives BFK Paper: Ink, Colored Pencil, Slide Mount, Photo, Thread, Souvenir Geisha hairpiece, Buttons

WINDOWS FOR OLIVER SACKS

Like selected works in my “Tactile Memories” series, some of these paintings have been included in "tactile" exhibitions, where the participants are encouraged to use sequential touch in exploring the artworks. Dedicated to writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks, the windows are inspired by one of his stories. During a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Sweetbriar, VA, I experimented with ways to mix the visual and the tactile. The neurologist's experience with various patients included one man who was virtually blind at an early age; later he had his vision restored as an adult. The story raised questions about how someone with limited vision might experience visual clues.

I began by placing on the panels various tactile objects such as sand, string, gauze, cotton, and fabrics. After layers of gesso and sanding, the textures were then covered with oil paint. The actual textures on the top of the oil-painted windows were complemented by the illusionary texture on the paper drawings below. With eyes closed, I began by rolling textured objects soaked in paint across large rolls of BFK paper. I moved the objects (e.g. nuts, seeds, sponges) through the paints without knowing what they looked like. Later, I cut the paper in sections and paired them with the oil paintings. The juxtaposition of the upper textured panels with the lower illusionary textures on paper is designed to challenge our usual modes of perception.

According to Sacks, "The rest of us, born sighted, can scarcely imagine such confusion . . . .we make our world through incessant experience, categorization, memory, reconnection . . . . But what [the man] saw had no coherence." (To See and Not See," The New Yorker May 10, 1993.) It was difficult to understand a simultaneous view when one was accustomed to a sequential view of the world.

EVERYDAY RELICS

The images in this series are metaphorical containers for memories. Often personal, the embedded objects represent stories of family and friends. Included, for example, are fragments of souvenirs my grandparents brought me as a child. Several panels hold items I salvaged while emptying my mother’s apartment after she died. These everyday relics are the odd bits and pieces that settle to the backs of household drawers, surviving the sifting of what gets used and what gets thrown away.

  • Tumbling Crates

    (16" x 13") Oil paint on wood panel with mixed media
  • Sumerian Lyre

    (16" x 13") Oil paint on wood panel with found objects including copper wire
  • Beach Comber

    (16" x 13") Oil paint on wood panel with found objects including souvenir comb, cheesecloth, q-tip
  • Frozen in Time (for SeYeong)

    (16" x 13") Oil paint on wood panel with mixed media
  • Mary's Garden

    (16" x 13") Oil paint on wood panel with found objects including mother's coin collection, quilting and sewing pins, plasti-dip
  • Memory Melt

    (16" x 13") Oil paint on wood panel with found objects including watch parts, beads, copper wire, q-tip, cheesecloth
  • Everyday Relic

    Oil on Panel with found objects including copper and enamel rings
  • Arc Angle Relic

    Oil on Panel with found objects including calligraphy pen nibs

TACTILE MEMORIES

The images in this series are metaphorical containers for memories. As in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, these mementos act as building blocks in “the vast structure of recollection.” Often personal, the objects embedded in the panels represent stories of family and friends. Included, for example, are fragments of souvenirs my grandparents brought me as a child. Several panels hold items I salvaged while emptying my mother’s apartment after she died. These everyday relics are the odd bits and pieces that settle to the backs of household drawers, surviving the sifting of what gets used and what gets thrown away. It becomes a game to recognize common objects hidden in the panels: objects that recollect the stories of their migration.

The exhibit contains about fifty images, each around twenty-two inches high. Texture is an important component, sometimes with actual textures and other times by the illusion of texture. Several of the pieces have been invited into “tactile” exhibits, in which visitors are encouraged to use sequential touch in exploring the artworks. Since many of the items are familiar, the game of recognition is also available to someone without vision.

Memories are tricky, just like the texture that is sometimes an illusion. As the stories are told, collected, retold, and recollected, they change. The story then takes the place of the memory, and as Proust explains it, “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” Building memories requires a strong imagination.

  • Three Rings for Sue

    (22" x 16") Oil paint on wood panel with found objects including curtain rings, Sue's beads
  • Barbecue Rust

    (16" x 13") Oil paint on wood panel with found objects including Bryan's rusted metal barbecue box
  • Ted's Lens

    (16" x 13") Oil paint on wood panel with found objects including Uncle's photo lens
  • Display Boxes for Sister Anne

    (13" x 16") Oil on Panel with Found Objects
  • Bumps and Coils

    (16" x 13") Oil paint on wood panel with found objects including silver coils
  • Pandora's Box

    (16" x 13") Oil paint on wood panel with found objects including computer batteries and photo filters

GESTURAL PAINTINGS (60" x 36")

According to one critic, “Her fascinating work captures the elusive quality of objects which are obscured or are in motion. . . [Because the objects are frail, they invite close examination; the closer the viewer gets to the object, the more fragile it becomes, almost to the point of crumbling.] Only by acknowledging that it is unattainable can we celebrate with abandon the joy of its mystery.”

These large, gestural oil paintings on canvas and linen are about 60" tall by 36" wide. Most are drawn from literary references including mythology, history, and art history. Inspiration comes from dance, movement, and the moment of metamorphosis. Some favorite artistic inspirations are Vermeer, Velasquez, Breughel, and Bernini.

  • Waxen Wings

    Oil on canvas, 60" x 36"
  • Actaeon

    According to one critic, “Her fascinating work captures the elusive quality of objects which are obscured or are in motion. . . [Because the objects are frail, they invite close examination; the closer the viewer gets to the object, the more fragile it becomes, almost to the point of crumbling.] Only by acknowledging that it is unattainable can we celebrate with abandon the joy of its mystery.” These large, gestural oil paintings on canvas and linen are about 60" tall by 36" wide. Most are drawn from literary references including mythology, history, and art history.
  • Open Window and Vessel -

    (Oil on canvas 60" x 36")
  • Teresa's Shell -

    Dancer Anne-Alex Packard describes this painting: “All that remains is the shell of her body; the rest is gone” Although the figures are loosely borrowed from the Baroque sculpture by Bernini. I am mostly interested in how the saint herself was experiencing the ecstacy. She explains her rapture in "Life of St. Teresa of Avila by Herself." “At times resistance has been impossible; my soul has been carried away, and usually my head as well, without my being able to prevent it.”
  • Bound Trapeze

    Oil paint on Canvas, 60" x 36"
  • Exploding Vermeer

    Oil on canvas, 60" x 36"

ACTIVE STILL LIFE (NOISY SE-BUTSU)

Active Still Life: Noisy Se Butsu

These photographs and works on paper are inspirations for my paintings and convey the "Active Still Life."

Many academic artists work from arbitrary objects, which they place on a table, in order to observe the effects of light, shadow, form, and color. In English, we call this collection of objects a “Still Life.” In French it is called “Nature Morte.” An art student I met told me the Japanese translation for still life is “Se-Butsu,” which roughly means “quiet objects.” The somewhat oxymoronic nature of these terms intrigues me. I call my still life studies “Noisy Se-Butsu” because for me, the still life is active, the quiet objects are noisy, and dead nature still has life in it.

  • Three Chairs: Se Butsu

    "Three Chairs" is an archival Epson inkjet print in three panels, each is 28" x 16"
  • Tumbling Red Crates 2

    “Tumbling Crates” captures the point of perfectly balanced milk crates that were teetering of the edge of collapse. Adding one more crate to the stack resulted in its falling. I tried to capture the static balance and the tumbling movement at the same time. Balance is not static.
  • Tumbling Red Crates 1

    "Tumbling Red Crates" is a series of archival Epson inkjet prints. Measuring 28" x 16", the prints convey the "Active Still Life." I was interested in finding the point of perfectly balanced milk crates that were teetering of the edge of collapse. Adding one more crate to the stack resulted in its falling. I tried to capture the static balance and the tumbling movement at the same time.
  • Three Chairs: Se Butsu (detail 3)

    "Three Chairs" is an archival Epson inkjet print in three panels, each is 28" x 16. “Nataraja’s Belt” - While driving down the highway, I noticed a moving truck that had two blue packing straps caught in the back doorway. As the truck drove along, the two blue straps were flapping in a frenzied dance together. I loved the movement they created, and tried to reproduce it by flipping two blue ribbons in front of the stacked dormitory furniture as I shot the photos.
  • Three Chairs: Se Butsu (detail 2)

    "Three Chairs" is an archival Epson inkjet print in three panels, each is 28" x 16"
  • Three Chairs: Se Butsu (detail 1)

    "Three Chairs" is an archival Epson inkjet print in three panels, each is 28" x 16"