Pamma FitzGerald is a very interesting multimedia artist who combines ceramics with collage, charcoal, pastel and other materials to create visually compelling, layered works of art. Pamma has two fine art degrees from the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD), one in drawing and the second in ceramics. She fuses those skills with an interest in characters (from folktales, legends and historical points in time) to create unique worlds in which the viewer can wander, wonder and explore. Perhaps Pamma can explain things more clearly, so I point you to this video from a few years ago:
JW: You studied and create works in multiple media, including ceramics. How did that come about?
PF: Although I do admire artists that stick to a single medium and hone and perfect it, I would feel flattened by that limitation. Each medium, method and technique I use informs another – and I find intermingling traditionally disparate media exciting too.
Emperor, to the right, is a combination of collage and drawing, and is part of my series Les Contes de Fées – moments from well-known fairytales.
JW: What attracts you to ceramics? And what can you do in ceramics better than in other media?
Nothing compares to manipulating clay with your hands, and I feel a finished piece using clay reflects that intimacy with the medium.
JW: On your website it’s a bit tricky detecting which parts of your “clay” work is actually clay vs. collage, charcoal, pastel or gel. (For example, “The attic door had been left open” and “It happened on the first flight” — are these clay plates? So the clay is essentially the ground upon which you sketch, paint and apply other imagery?)
PF: The two pieces you mention are a mix of clay, paper, pastel, charcoal (and a gel to fix the pastels). Calling clay the ground puts it down in my mind so I won’t call it that! In fact, the drawing (drawing being mark-making of any kind) is usually decided on before the clay comes into play. But I make different works in different ways too. I have used many different types of mark-making on clay – printing, mishima, decals, etc, but collage alongside clay has resonated for me for the last few exhibitions and projects. (My next project is already percolating and will be quite different!)
JW: What are your sources of inspiration?
PF: If I have a story about a piece in my head it makes the piece feel much richer, personal and multi-layered for me. I feel a need to tell that story and present it in a different way so that viewers will be able to see it from a different point of view. Examples of this are the five pieces that comprise ‘Left Behind’.
This body of work tells the story of a village in France – Oradour-sur-Glane – that was annihilated in June 1944. Nearly all its 642 inhabitants were rounded up, the men were taken to barns and shot, and the women and children were taken to the church and burned to death. After the massacre occurred, the village buildings were all burned to the ground. A few people escaped including one 8 year old boy, and the title ‘Left Behind’ refers to them. The ones who when their entire families and all their friends had been murdered were left behind with survivor guilt and excruciating sadness. To make this piece, I researched the story extensively and I visited the village that has been left as it was on that fateful day as a reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.
JW: It also looks like you incorporate poetry and linguistics (audio recordings) into your work. Will you tell me about that?
PF: For the exhibition ‘Unhappily ever after’. I was motivated to make pieces after reading a book of poems by Tyler B. Perry, a friend of mine here in Calgary.
All of the 5 pieces are characters from well-known fairytales, and as we all know, those old fairytales could be pretty brutal. I made Red to reflect the moment she comes face to face with the wolf and Hansel as he watches his father abandon him in the woods for example.
After I had made 3 pieces, I reversed the process with Tyler and I created pieces that he then wrote poems for. In the exhibition viewers could press a button corresponding to each piece and listen to the poem via headphones. It turned out that visitors to the gallery spent a lot of time with my pieces whilst thoroughly enjoying the poems (children especially!)
Tyler and I also collaborated on the exhibition Caught and he read the poems at the opening. He made the works come alive. I’ve always enjoyed collaborating with other artists – it just makes everything that much richer as everyone offers something different.
JW: I see numerous references to WWI and WWII in your work – are those reflections somehow of where you physically live?
PF: My interest in the two world wars was always lurking in the background. I was born in London and lived with grandparents who had lived through the bombings in the Second World War. Every one I knew had the same shed in the garden and it was only recently that I discovered those common sheds had in fact previously been air raid shelters. There are many more vestiges of war that still lurk in London. But it is in France in the little villages that memories of war still leaves scars. Every single family has a connection to those who died in the wars. My children’s great-grandfather was also killed in France in the First World War, a father of 2 little girls. His story appears in my work too.
Pamma was recently awarded an Alberta Foundation for the Arts grant for the exhibition she’s working on – 10 large-scale collage/drawings and 8 ceramic/collage wall pieces. The exhibition, entitled “Jeter de la Poudre aux Yeux”, is an exploration of romantic and idealized imagery of war derived from French postcards of the WWI era (1914-1918).
Dividing her time between two locations, Pamma will create the 10 large-scale collage/drawings in Alberta, Canada. Pamma will travel to France to work on the 8 ceramic pieces. She will use French clay, fire her pieces in France, and exhibit her work in a French gallery located within a renovated tile factory which once made tiles from the same clay.
Readers can see more of Pamma’s work on her website.