The most captivating pieces of Elemental, a thoughtfully curated and gorgeously hung exhibit of paintings by Pamela Gibson, are large, some in the range of 50 inches by 60 inches, and roughly square in format. Others are long and narrow, stretching up to 84 inches, oriented both vertically and horizontally. All are illuminated with color, light, and atmosphere. This exhibit of 25 abstract images explores the elements of earth, wind, fire and water, all infused with spirit.
Gibson’s encaustic paintings are made with hot beeswax, resin and pigment. When I was first introduced to encaustic, an ancient painting medium that had a resurgence of popularity in the 1990s, I was told it is a wonderful medium for artists because of its endless possibilities. In my experience, these “endless possibilities” can easily result in an unholy mess of hot wax, eclectic colors and random bits of embedded collage.
This is not at all the case with Gibson’s art. Despite the malleability and unpredictability of the medium, Gibson’s work goes far beyond merely experimenting with its properties. She has gained the expertise to masterfully manipulate up to 40 or 50 thin, fused layers of colored wax. In addition, she judiciously integrates objects and elements such as shredded paper, handwritten text, straight pins, watch parts, feathers and leaves for alluring symbolic effect and dimensional interest. She approaches the painted surface in ways that are both additive and subtractive, sometimes scraping through layers to reveal a luminous color buried beneath the surface. It’s obvious that Gibson loves her chosen medium and it serves her artistic ideas well.
Many of Gibson’s paintings evoke landscape and sky, which is not surprising considering that her own landscape photographs frequently serve as inspirational starting points. As she explains, however, her paintings are not about something external. They are “about living and about life.”
In addition to landscape she draws inspiration from musicians, writers, poets, and visual artists. Her titles connect the viewer to these references: “Love that Well” (Shakespeare), “The Answer is Blowin’ in the Wind” (Bob Dylan), “Give the Buried Flower a Dream” (Robert Frost). I enjoyed paging through the educational binder Gibson provided for the exhibition which pairs paintings with their associated poems, lyrics, and reference photographs. This material gave me insight into the symbolism and meaning of individual artworks.
My favorite? After much deliberation, I kept returning to a tall, vertical painting called “Love that Well,Two” –William Shakespeare. I was immediately drawn to the soaring, vertical format. I also appreciated the grounded feel of what could perhaps be interpreted as a small wedge of land beneath an endless pulsating sky above. The “sky” portion is painted with gorgeous shades of blue and lavender that ebb and flow in a fog-like atmosphere. Shredded memories (remnants of the artist’s shredded paper memorabilia) add intrigue and associations with buried history in the lower section. Tiny, intricate watch parts float in the atmosphere suggesting the inevitable passage of time. This painting speaks to me about growing older; feeling grounded in the past but yearning to stretch myself to expand and explore shrouded possibilities in the time that remains for me.
Pamela Gibson’s art is rich in meaning with striking metaphors for life. The artistic process itself is a metaphor for her: “As I paint, some passages go smoothly, while I struggle with others. I make mistakes, make corrections and move on,” she said. “While the mistakes might not be apparent in the finished painting, the painting would have been different had they not been there. Every moment counts in the end.”
Gibson’s work is visually complex and artistically compelling. I appreciate the maturity and experience she brings to each piece she creates. This exhibit makes me want to spend more time with Gibson’s work; even with the pieces — especially with the pieces — that did not speak to me initially. I am convinced each painting Gibson creates has valuable wisdom to impart.
“Elemental” is up through Aug. 31 at Turner Fine Art, 545 N. Cache St. Jackson.