Re-mastering The Masters
My fascination with portraits is based on powerful memories: As a child in a house without art, I discovered that framed fine art posters, in addition to books, could be borrowed from the local library. Renoir’s, “La Loge” and Modigliani’s “Woman with Red Hair” took turns hanging from a clothes hook opposite my bed. I went to sleep with those images and awoke to them each morning. As a teenager I worked in my aunt’s cosmetic studio where I spent my days making-up faces; and later, during my years in a TV casting department, I filed stacks of head-shots as part of my job.
My past has inspired me to turn master’s portraits into my own art. By adding materials and using a variety of techniques and juxtapositions, unexpected possibilities can emerge. In these collages, for example, Patenier’s Madonna, from Rest on the Flight to Eqypt, finds shelter in a scrap of American patchwork from the l820’s and a child-prince, from Van Dyck’s Group Portrait of the Three Eldest Children of Charles I, becomes the brutalized victim in Veneziano’s The Martyrdom of Saint Mark.
In my work anything can happen and it often does as my conscious thoughts of craft roam the storehouse of my unconscious seeking fresh combinations and surprising outcomes. The result: masterworks that have resonated with viewers for hundreds of years are given a new look, and new life.
Re-inventing Ammi Phillips
I am intrigued by the subjects of Ammi Phillips, early America’s great itinerant portrait painter. I re-invent his work in collages, telling imagined stories of the aristocratic men, women and children who lived in the Hudson River Valley, Western Connecticut and Massachusetts at the turn of the 19th century.
My interest in Ammi Phillips (1788-1865) began when I paid a quarter for the 1994 catalog: Revisiting Ammi Phillips: Fifty Years of American Portraiture, a publication of the Museum of American Folk Art, at the Desmond-Fish Library sale in Garrison.
The fact that one of America’s most important folk artists had worked as a local painter in Putnam County in the 1840’s added a personal association to my intellectual interest.
What were Phillip’s sitters thinking? Was young Harriet Campbell a queen in her own mind? Did the stern looking Joseph Slade dream of mermaids? Did little Elizabeth Smith long to take her pals along for a ride on a giant silver fish? Did Deacon Benjamin Benedict feel dapper in his green sunglasses? Stifled, shielded from the world outside her home like other women of her day, did Sarah Myndense Campbell feel caught inside the golden net of family?
My work tells stories of hopes, dreams and inner lives.While creating this series, my own autobiography infiltrated those of Phillips’ sitters: they speak for me and I for them. These blurred lines address the timelessness of our human experience.
Pamela Manché Pearce