Second Sight. Pamela Wilson’s “A Sparrow is a Songbird”
Pamela Wilson – A Sparrow is a Songbird
I was in a creative funk, in the midst of depression due to “painter’s block” when one of my models – a friend – came to visit me on her way through town. To cheer me up she suggested a ‘therapeutic’ photo shoot. I dragged my feet but became more and more inspired, eventually having a really great time and being truly inspired by what we made.
The title is from an old Russian poem I found in a Nabokov novel I’m reading and it made sense. A sparrow is a lovely songbird but a fierce defender. The poem isn’t very exciting and I took it’s meaning out of context – as it was more of an inspiration to me than anything. I was painting this piece when I started re-reading The Gift and it inspired me to go learn more about sparrows. (They are natural songbirds who can become aggressive when they need to, in short) My character felt to me like a light being, a woman of delicate mind who when threatened can become fierce. I feel like I found her when she was startled and ready to protect herself. I wanted to play with the juxtaposition of frailty and ferocity in general. I don’t ever over think my work before I paint it, and I like to leave the meaning open-ended. Certain feelings and nuances cannot be explained in words, as you know.
I wanted a sweet and savory painting – a sweet and savory songbird and a sweet and savory situation. I think this is life.
I almost always work backward. I like to do a photoshoot with some key chosen objects/elements, some unknown circumstances (to invite magic), and leave the rest (weather, etc) to chance. Once I see my work as images I look for composition, the model’s expression among other elements, and anything that jumps out as odd or inviting to me. I then begin to paint. It is only then, or when the painting is finished, that I usually start to figure out the meaning of a work.
I always use photographic resources. I sometimes do sketches, but I find that I have everything I need with my photography, as I take many many close-ups of my subject. I often have my models in compromising situations (like in a lake, or mud, or the ocean) so I don’t have the opportunity for a long pose or intricately detailed sketches. I love working from life and have plans to develop some indoor longer poses that are more about light, and I plan to paint and draw more, preliminarily.
I played with this image in photoshop and I turned the whole background pink, so she could be living in a rose-colored world. (Because I so wanted one for myself.) Once I did that she came alive for me. The juxtaposition of the gun, the resignation on her face, and the pink world all came together for me and I was excited to paint her. She is self-protected and doesn’t trust her world.
Although I use a variety of brands, I am in love with Michael Harding paints. Having ground my own paints in college at BYU, even boiling my own linseed oil, I know how quality paint feels and acts. Michael Harding makes consistently good paint. I used golden taklon filberts by Trekell, and sables by Rosemary’s Brushes. In my glazes I use a bit of 16th-century amber varnish and a few other secret ingredients.
My models have a look I like, or a beautiful oddness about their look, or their apparent nature. They can be directed well, and can best represent what I want to “say.” This love between artist and model cannot necessarily be explained, but it isn’t hard to understand why they are most often my good friends, or become such after working together. It is a collaboration, and I very much respect my models’ work.
The way this friend/model appeared magically out of thin air, understood where I was emotionally, dressed herself up and dragged me into the yard with a gun, and because we are much alike – she is very much the gal in the painting.
The rifle is an antique flintlock. It is beautiful and in perfect condition. I love the old machines. I don’t see them as killing machines as much as works of art. My love of guns comes from shooting them as a child with my dad – and my hatred of them comes from my boyfriend shooting himself (suicide) in 2001. My brother used to threaten to kill me with one. So I use them occasionally and they evoke a lot of emotion for me. I think many people have love / hate for them.
The model is dressed in a lace blouse with pearls and other jewels from the 1920’s which I dyed pink long ago. The skirt is part of a handmade 1880’s silk wedding gown ensemble. It’s beautiful and heavy. The wig is a white Marie Antoinette which I also made pink. The Angel’s Trumpet flowers are in my backyard. When I turned the whole scene pink they did take on an hallucinogenic air.
Living with several forms of synesthesia including the most common, Grapheme-color, my world is very visual and very colorful. I also experience deja vu and jamais vu almost constantly. It is great fun for me to play with time, mixed eras, and with nostalgia in my work. I work on several “layers” of meaning simultaneously, even though I don’t think most people pick up on a lot of it. But I do it for myself, and the odd weirdo who might appreciate it. I think nostalgia is a powerful tool to lead a viewer into a “place” and then you can play with their memory. I am beginning to explore this concept in more detail, and I have some great ideas – stay tuned.