In the Studio with Pam Douglas
What does a day in your art practice look like?
I’m seasonal like a wild creature in nature because I have to be. My work areas are my outdoor studio with a plank on horses behind the garage, and an appropriated dining area in my kitchen. In warm weather, especially when I’m making large sculptural pieces (as I did for “Sanctuary”) I work outside while daylight lasts. All winter I work only at night in my little space indoors. Usually, I prepare supplies in the afternoon, but I don’t concentrate until after dinner and then I go until around 10 PM. When I was creating my artbook/graphic novel I drew one page faithfully every night and sometimes spent a second night adding text or painting a layer after the first layer dried overnight. At that rate I made 448 pages in around two years and finished the book.
What would life be like without art?
I tried that. When I had to make a living as a screenwriter on deadlines, fending off pressures from producers while also raising a child, I had precious little time for art of my own. I was angry and probably not fun to be around.
What is the hardest part of creating your art?
Right now, I have a strong body of completed work raring to present itself, and apart from individual pieces in various shows, at this moment I don’t have a solo venue scheduled. Someone might think that’s not part of the creative process—it’s just marketing or a business issue – but for me, a good part of my intention is communication, reaching people. I don’t have difficulty making paintings, sculptures, even a book, or coming up with concepts. I love the process. But for me, the lack of a comprehensive outlet is like shouting from inside a sound-proof room, and it’s frightening.
What inspires you?
Two different sources: materials and human urgency.
On the craft side, I get excited by the possibilities of found objects, especially anything worn or “experienced,” including rust. I drag home parts of fallen branches and palm fronds warped into sculptural shapes. One time I found a broken part of a hoe a gardener had put in the trash, and I was delighted how beautiful it was. Lately, I’ve enjoyed working with used coffee bean bags and shreds of a plastic drop-cloth.
On the side of meaning, I am driven by empathy with struggling people – which is everyone, in some way. For the past 7 years, my subject has been refugees because their journey to survive encapsulates the human adventure and the value of individual lives. I read and hear stories that move me, not because of the magnitude of a problem but because of personal strength. I want to empower ordinary people in my work by recognizing them and encouraging response from all of us towards each other.
Now more than ever, we need a space for shared humanity, a possibility of beauty not by denying reality but within it.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Much more is to come, and you will change in ways you can’t yet imagine. Don’t believe people who say you have to “make it” in your 20s or you’ll be irrelevant. Take your time to broaden your life and grow your craft.
Who would you most like to collaborate with? Why?
My only “collaboration” is with my daughter, Raya Yarbrough, who creates music. Someday, I would like to merge our two arts more fully.
What is the [best] advice you’ve been given?
The worst advice is to ramp up sales by limiting art to what would sell for home and office décor. “Nobody gives a damn about refugees, so do something people like.” Anyone who measures art mainly by sales is talking about commerce, not art. Of course, I’m delighted when people love my art enough to want it for themselves, and I’m grateful. But that’s different from trashing your purpose for money.
If you could change anything about the art world, what would it be?
More supports and more accessible grants available to more individual artists.
More quality exhibition opportunities outside of traditional galleries.
If you had the chance to live during a different artistic movement other than now, which one would you choose? and why?
Los Angeles is abundant right now because so many kinds of art are flourishing simultaneously. I wouldn’t go backwards. But if you ask about artists I admire from the past, my heart is with Kathe Kollwitz from the 1930s whose passionate drawings, especially of women and children, revealed the Nazi perils to families. Of course, I wouldn’t want to be in Europe at that time, but I appreciate the German Expressionist movement as a reaction. I’m also awed by the social-realist portraits by Charles White (1918-1979). But as much as it would be exciting to experience the Harlem Renaissance and know Duke Ellington in his youth, no, I don’t want to go back. Let’s make our own time better.