Pamela Day

Imaginative, expressive and unique can describe Pamela Day’s figurative ceramic work, as well as her paintings. Long working in gouache (opaque watercolor) painting, and clay mediums, her work transitions from a simple colorful use of space, to textural work, low to high relief, to working her figurative characters in true, three-dimensions. She does large gouache paintings, but may also integrate her mediums to create dimensional environments for her clay characters. Consistently, her paintings and clay work involve color, intricacies, and stylistic realism. Day’s work has been described as stylized-realism, a style she initially embraced when teaching her high school art students an art history lesson about the Olmec Civilization from La Venta, Mexico, on the Gulf of Mexico, beginning in the 1300 BCE. The Olmec’s created monumentally huge head sculptures of their rulers. Each head was different and expressed the ruler’s personality through expression and his head gear. Teaching the pinch-pot technique to her students, she had them each make two pinch pots from which they could begin making their heads. Each made their own clay heads to represent and alter-ego, which, with sculpted detail and expression, would tell the viewer any number of things about them.

Doing these demonstrations for her students, over time, she developed quite a number of heads of her own. Soon, in Pamela’s work the head, shoulders, and torsos appeared. An evident common thread in her art work and studies throughout her life has been her love of birds and bird images. It was said by her mother that even her first spoken word was “birdie” (roll the ‘r’ for the full effect). Watching out of the kitchen window, perched in her high chair in a second story flat in Detroit, Pamela had a bird’s eye view of the trees and habitat of the local birds. An impression was made and through the years it erupted into her art work in a variety of ways.

Pamela’s series began with her examples for her students that grew to be jesters – Renaissance characters – some with folds of striking realistic clothing. Imaginatively, some interact with birds, or have their own bird characteristics. Full torso pieces evolved with arms and additional parts, clay balls, nests, or glass eggs – made specifically for her pieces by her glass artist friend, Susan Fox. Nature is also given a personality in her work. Her characters are likely to have headdresses, hats, or ‘hair’ made to look quite realistically like twigs or bark, additionally adding her stylized leaves.

Another influence on Day’s sculptural and expressive facial characteristics was the clay work of artist Robert Arneson, by example of his very expressive and personal self-portraits in terra cotta clay. Also, there’s the influence from the 6th century Italians from their clay sarcophagus, The Reclining Couple. This comparison may be most evident in her sculpture of the couples, Cold Shoulder. The couple’s relationship is defined by the look between them and the colors Pamela chose for them.

All along she has found the expressive edge that gives her characters distinctive personalities. In the specific work of Jesters, the human jester looks askance at the crow “jester” sitting on his shoulder with a bead in its mouth plucked from the Jester’s hat. Each piece has a sense of emotion and an edge that can make one continue to ask questions of the meanings of her pieces, leaving room for many interpretations. Special Relationship has us wondering what is the story between the crow and the female figure? The crow flies so closely to her it appears to almost embrace her. Is the egg in her out-stretched hand a gift from or to the crow? Or, is Pamela engaging the viewer with a gift? And then, there are the eggs nested in the hand hidden behind her back. What could those mean?

Besides her style, there is the unique way in which Day finishes the surface of her characters. To begin, after they are sculpted, they are fired twice in the kiln. The first is a normal bisque firing, and the second is a firing with an oxide stain that defines the textual and linear surface of the figures and details.  This second firing adds more depth and nuance of highlight and shadow to the piece. Her after-fire technique is what one would find the most unique. She uses Prisma color pencils to color the surface, ‘scumbling’ layers of colors over the surface to achieve the desired effect and depth of color appropriate to each character.

Pamela Day’s work fascinatingly transcends into the world of fine art by its timeless subject matter, symbolism within each piece, the fine attention to craftsmanship, and personal expression of each unique character.

Pamela is an active member and serves on the Board of the Brighton Art Guild as their Exhibition Chair, Education Chair and is a member of the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, Michigan Water Color Society, and Michigan Ceramic Art Association.

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