Pamela Wilson’s The Absinthe Drinkers – By Joseph Bravo
I remember seeing several paintings from this series at an exhibit mounted in conjunction with TRAC several years ago. I was impressed from the first viewing and have coveted one of them ever since. I once told Pamela that one of these paintings should have been the cover art for a Tom Petty album. It Ain’t No Sin is a particularly fine example from the series.
The absinthe and top hats proffer a transgressive Edwardian gestalt but with an unmistakably contemporary edge. The image plays with androgyny and this along with the stripes and doubling carries a dualistic alchemical semiotic subtext that is subtle yet clearly present. There is the invocation of harlequins and their roles as alternately unreliable narrators and truth tellers. The absinthe carries the delusional connotation but also the visionary. These theatrical figures are not only transgressive in terms of their social context but transpositional in a metaphysical context occupying a non-ordinary reality that is at once exotic and foreboding.
The painting also offers an interesting negotiation with historicity. It’s setting is temporally ambiguous and there is an element of cosplay at work. It is not clear if this is intended as a straightforward historical image or as a scene from an imaginary Steam Punk brothel opera. The optic is unavoidably Postmodern as no such image would have been so commemorated in such a manner during an Edwardian era, at least not in a manner intended for public consumption. The exaggerated decadence of the setting and the eroticization of historical fantasy through the filter of the female imagination in the context of a locale of both sexual exploitation and negotiation proffers an unusually nuanced and even ambiguous take on the nature of feminine power.
Pamela’s surreal imagination defies politically correct pedantry and offers a more visceral and subconscious revelation of the contemporary human gaze as a reflection of a complex feminine psyche. Her work is deeply personal and informed by trauma yet celebratory and triumphant. Danger is usually present but fear is often absent. There is a curious interplay between menace and comedy. The paintings convey an overt flirtation with imaginary or metaphysical realities and yet a beautifully rendered earthiness that binds the viewer to corporeality. The works at once invite and defy an allegorical interpretation. Their very ambiguity provides enduring intrigue to the imagery as the viewer is encouraged to derive the implications of their mysterious narratives. Psychologically rich and visually dramatic, Pamela Wilson’s Absinthe Series represents some of the finest Imaginative Realism created by any artist in recent years.