My Art & What It Means to Me
While my art is abstract in its imagery; it is, at its core, all about people, relationships, and the world in which we live. My work depicts people’s relationships with themselves, family, society, and nature. It describes peoples’ thoughts, memories, and feelings as they move through the world. It is about going beneath the surface of what we see and touch and exploring what might exist if we could see into each other’s heads and souls.
I focus on creating from a point where very little is known about the outcome of the piece beyond a particular color, feeling, or the drive to incorporate a certain symbol or shape. I enjoy the excitement and joy of feeling more like an observer and being surprised by what emerges rather than the architect hitting certain milestones during the creation process. There’s a delicate line of balance between controlling the activity of creation and letting it do things you hadn’t planned on. I have found that when I take the role of an active listener, my paintings end up much closer to my original intent of creating something beautiful and meaningful that stands fully-formed apart from me.
I find different stories in my pieces and these stories often change from viewing to viewing depending on my own state of mind. Sometimes groups of people become a stand of trees. Sometimes tiny plants become a family gathered together. Often, I feel as if I’m glimpsing into another alien world that looks different than ours but still operates on the same emotional playing field ours does.
What I love is that people find their own meanings and stories within my images. I often find myself learning new things about my work and myself from their impressions.
How I Got Here
Pamela Roberson is most interested in the interior landscape of people. Making art has always been a way for her to express her own interior life without relying on the symbols of words but rather through a kaleidoscope of imagery. The images she creates help her to explain those things that words cannot seem to describe.
Roberson was born and spent her childhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma where she was free to roam fields and woods, exploring creeks, climbing trees, and befriending horses in their pastures with handfuls of long green grass. She spent hours lying in the grass on her belly watching ants scuttle by inches from her nose and then rolling over on her back and sensing the sky as an enormous blue bowl canopying the earth.
She credits her initial love of art to her mother, a German immigrant, who kept their home filled with art, classical music, and literature. Roberson grew up reading from a large home library stocked by her mother’s membership with five book clubs. Her mother also decorated the house with prints of Picasso, Degas, and Lautrec. Each month, her mother received the exotic German woman’s magazine, Brigitte, in the mail. Similar to American women’s magazines, it had articles and fashion photos but it also featured a full-page modern masterpiece. Roberson and her mother would flip to that page first to see if they thought that month’s offering was worthy of the honor.
Roberson’s mother also regularly took her children to the local Gilcrease Art Museum that houses the world’s largest collection of art of the American West. Roberson loved the fascinating and beautiful depiction of life in the West.
There was a single moment in kindergarten that she first understood her life’s ambition to be an artist. She was painting a picture of a lamb for her mother. When her teacher asked if they could hang her picture on the wall for the class to enjoy, she refused. For although getting a spot on the limited wall space was indeed a great honor, this painting was especially for her mom. Roberson’s nickname at home was Pam the Lamb and the painting was of a fluffy white lamb under a blue sunny sky. Her teacher said she could stay behind and paint another lamb and then pick which one she’d like to take home and which one would hang in the classroom. The rest of her schoolmates moved to another room and she was free to paint another happy lamb in silence. She knew then, without a doubt, that she wanted to be an artist when she grew up.
Roberson drew and painted throughout school and at home. Her family moved to Houston, TX where she was one of the 1984 winners of the regional Scholastic Art Competition and her stylized portrait of angst was sent to the national level. Although her mother was an art lover, her parents didn’t support her desire to pursue a career that would certainly end in poverty and failure. People simply didn’t become artists when they could be a lawyer or graphic designer, instead. She couldn’t wait to be welcomed into the bosom of her artistic family in college and excitedly attended the University of Houston as a Fine Arts major. Instead of being granted access to the world of Fine Art, she found herself struggling to keep up with classes that had nothing to do with art, her restaurant job, a dramatic personal life, and Accounting students taking “easy credit” art courses. But the pungent smells of turpentine and linseed oil in her 3-hour studio classes in later semesters became her second home. An exciting and comforting place where she was beginning to discover the faint traces of her artistic path ahead. As she saw no value in completing all the of required non-art related core courses to gain a Fine Arts degree, she was only allowed to take two years of studio painting courses and once she completed those, she left college.
She continued to create work and grow in her mastery of her tools and her voice. Her next artistic breakthrough took place on the floor of her Seattle apartment in the early 90’s. The symbols she’d been just starting to discover in college suddenly flooded, fully formed, into her work. Symbols that told a story of hardship, anguish, and loneliness. While she didn’t realize at the time what most of the symbols meant, she did realize that this was the best work she’d made yet in her life. She had a small solo show and participated in some local group shows. But her drama-filled life took up most of her energy and her art was put on the back burner for a few more years.
Eventually, Roberson found herself working in corporate America. Her creative energy was poured into Excel spreadsheets and outside the office, healing personal work. During this time of restoration, she reviewed her work and began to gain a better understanding of what it meant. As she became more emotionally healthy, she wasn’t sure that she needed to create art anymore. By her 40’s, she was making less and less artwork and she began to suspect that art had simply been a phase in her life and that she no longer was an artist.
But one day, with India ink, a dip pen, and paper she started drawing. It was nerve wracking, she wasn’t sure she knew what she was doing and was certain, in any case, that what she was doing was probably no good, but it felt so good doing it at all, so she continued. She started creating more of these energetic black and white drawings and began to understand that she needed to change her life. That making art was not a phase, it was her purpose. Making art wasn’t simply an exercise of self-expression by an unhealthy person. The kindergartner she had been painted those two lambs in love and joy not because she was somehow broken.
Roberson realized that she would never, on her deathbed, bemoan the lack of Excel files she’d created but she would be regretful of not continuing to make art and hone her skills. That year she packed up and moved to the small and charming town of Eau Claire, WI. Here her art flourished in a way it never had before. She began working with watercolor in tandem with her dip pen and ink. She earned a spot in 2013’s Confluence of Art Annual Show and won an honorable mention. The following year, she had a large solo show at Riverwood Art Gallery.
She now resides in Battle Creek, MI where her studio overlooks a small idyllic lake. Her work has become even more colorful and energetic. She continues to explore her fascination with color, line, and symbols and how they can represent all the tangled emotions within and between people. Her joyful work calls out to the viewer to explore with her the mysterious and unseen but ever present world of the interior.