Pam Cardwell Discusses Artwork Inspired By Travel

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On Monday, April 9, Artist House Artist-in-Residence Pam Cardwell visited the library at the College to present her lecture, “On Art and Travel Throughout Turkey and the Caucasus Countries.” Cardwell discussed how her childhood and international travels have played a part in influencing the style of her abstract art.

Carrie Patterson, Associate Professor of Art, introduced Cardwell as “a gatherer of visual information and knowledge” who has “had a very hectic experience of St. Mary’s.” Over the two weeks before the lecture, Cardwell had been working with students in art classes and on her own art at the Artist House.

“I want to start by talking about where I grew up,” began Cardwell. She grew up in a very isolated area in West Virginia, without access to art museums. But she was exposed to a lot of the interesting and abstract patterns in quilts, as they were made by her grandmother. Cardwell is fascinated by the art of quilters because they are “so involved in the process.” They are not satisfied with the finished product and just keep creating new quilts.

Cardwell is further inspired by the light and natural shapes created by water and is an avid swimmer. She created a lot of paintings in the Dominican Republic from shapes she saw in the water, and is doing the same thing here based on the St. Mary’s River. “I’m literally building rhythm as I’m working, like a swimmer,” she said. “I’ve always been amazing by things I don’t understand.”

As an artist, Cardwell finds herself easily inspired by the works of other artists throughout the world. “My problem as an artist is not to copy another artist but to kind of find my own way with it,” she said. She draws a lot of inspiration from the artist Arshile Gorky, who was born in Turkey but moved to the United States. Gorky’s paintings are a combination of surrealist and abstract expressionist styles.

Cardwell also draws inspiration from ancient Armenian manuscripts, saying, “I liked the more primitive looking images instead of the more refined ones.”

Cardwell did a lot of traveling throughout Eastern Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, creating what she called “impressions of a landscape.” She would go on long walks with her sketchbook and paint small fragments of an interesting landscape and then later refine them for months in her studio using paint supplies she found from local merchants. She is “very interested in pattern and rhythm.”

The style of the frescos that Cardwell found in the Republic of Georgia and Turkey also show through in her current work. These frescos were paintings on a hue scale, with vibrant colors, painted as a part of the landscape. “Georgians are really good with color and line,” she said. “They use a really reduced pallet.”

“I liked a lot of [the frescos] because they were faded,” said Cardwell. “There’s been work to fix them, maybe too much work to fix them. I like kind of faded things.”

In an interview with Studio Critical, Cardwell described a recent exhibition of her art at the Salena Gallery at Long Island University. She said, “The installation at LIU consists of 6, 5’ x 30’ and 5’ x 20’ pieces. The gallery wall is curved and these pieces were done specifically for this wall. They are made with parachute cloth, a traditional muralist’s media, and enamel paint from the hardware store.  This was my attempt to integrate drawing and painting.”

She continued, “Four of them literally wrap around the curved wall. You can’t look at the whole thing at once. The other two are flat on the wall. They hark back to the sense of space and color that I found in the early Christian frescos that I was lucky enough to see in Turkey and the Republic of Georgia. In these the sense of color is very intense, simple blocks integrated with drawing in most cases. Every time you move your head or body you see something new.”

During the question session after the lecture, Professor of Art Lisa Sheer asked Cardwell, “How do you retain a certain quality of an object without replicating it?” She explained how some students in her sculpture classes have difficulty with this. During the lecture, Cardwell explained how though she uses natural objects as inspiration, she does not simply replicate them in her paintings, which instead have an abstract feel to them.

“It takes a lot of years in the studio to let go,” Cardwell explained. “You just have to keep working.”

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