By Milisa Galazzi
Milisa Galazzi: Thank you, Pamela, for agreeing to be interviewed for this ProWax Journal column, Artist Communities. For the past year, the column has focused on individual experiences with artist residencies and how each artist created or maintained a sense of community through that endeavor. In this issue, we shake things up a little! Since you and your artwork address this topic of community, please explain how ‘community’ became a topic near and dear to your heart.
Pamela Winegard: My interest in definitions of community developed over a lifetime. As a child of a military father I was uprooted quite a bit. I carried that sense of being uprooted into adulthood when I joined the military. Both the detachment of moving and the sense of belonging to that transient community inspired my artwork.
MG: Can you tell me more about your early influences?
PW: From childhood in the 1960s through young adulthood in the 1980s, politics strongly influenced my acute feeling of belonging or not belonging. Women’s roles were changing. Watergate changed my relationship to national politics. As attachment to small towns changed, a twisted sense of nostalgia influenced how we carved out a community identity.
MG: Can you share some more with our readership about becoming an artist in this changing view of community?
PW: When I concentrated on serious study of art and an art practice, I knew that I didn’t just want to make art about superficial qualities or esoteric formalities. I was strongly motivated by visual narratives and storytelling. I explored traditional mediums, always working in a representational fashion. I began to chop up the picture plane, to break up the surface, create layers, and I started to explore a mix of materials. After about a decade of work, I found myself using non-traditional and more contemporary materials as a way of leveraging that discussion of community. In this way, layers of visual information became metaphors for all of the disparate elements of community. Breaks in imagery became the lacuna in the storytelling and the found materials or human detritus acted as memory links or physical connections. Architecture became a metaphor for our footprints.
MG: Pamela, you mention that politics have shaped your understanding of community. Can you talk more about that?
PW: I am strongly affected by my politics, my sense of patriotism, my liberalism, my feminism, my faith, and my family. All of these influences shape my understanding of my immediate and larger communities. I was privileged to live abroad as well as in the United States. I lived in West Berlin, Germany. I have some profound memories of that experience. I am Jewish. I have some profound experiences because of that, too. I have visited the Western Wall and traveled throughout Israel. I have been the new kid. I have been poor. I may have moved about 60 times in my life. I have been in the early generations of women who served fully integrated in the Armed Forces. I turn all that life experience into a discussion about who we are and what we do as a people. I consider the question, “What does it mean to be in a community?” and I confront identity or try to confront identity as a result of what I see happening around me today.
MG: Can you talk more about your present work and the ways in which themes of community literally show up in your art?
PW: I am working on several bodies of work specifically directed toward concepts of community. Paths to Nowhere is a diptych recently completed for a solo show in Austin, Texas. This body of work confronts homelessness; it began in response to itinerant population growth in communities like Austin, but reflects the ubiquitous situation across the United States. I created the work as a reaction to children crossing borders into the U.S. to escape horrific issues in their home countries. Symbols such as water towers represent gatekeepers of the more permanent element of the community; motels represent the transient way stations. Some images are quite literal with no need for interpretation. Others are symbolic, more ambiguous in order to lend themselves to the viewer’s own story. All of this work was created with the intention of weaving a larger visual story of community and interconnectivity.
MG: Thank you, Pamela, for sharing your thoughts about art and community!