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Gavin's Underground

January Gallery Stroll: Pam Bowman & Noah Coleman

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2012-01-22 -
It's been a good seven weeks since we last saw a Gallery Stroll, and it wouldn't be a proper Stroll without strange weather. Fifty six degrees on a Friday night, not too warm and not too cold. We paid for it dearly the following day with sticky snow and whiteout conditions that closed I-80 and stranded many hipster celebrity-stalking douchebags up in the hills ... but I say it was worth it.
For the first Stroll of 2012, we made our way over to Art Access, now complete with new logos and a revitalized staff from the holidays to bring us a couple of unique displays. This showcase had two Provo-based artists: the hanging pieces of the “Ebb and Wax” show from Pam Bowman, and “Things Are Becoming New” from Noah Coleman. We chat with both, along with showing pictures from this past Friday, which you can check out here.

Pam Bowman

Gavin: Hey, Pam. First off, tell us a bit about yourself.

Pam: I was born in Salt Lake City. Soon after my birth, my family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where I grew up. When I was 17, I started attending BYU, where I met my husband, Jerry Bowman. After graduation, he joined the United States military. While he worked in the Navy and the Air Force, I worked in the home and together we raised three sons. In 1997, Jerry retired from the Air Force and we moved to Provo so that he could teach at BYU. I returned to school and completed a Masters of Fine Arts at BYU in 2005. During 2006/2007, we both had the opportunity to teach at Nanjing University of Technology at Nanjing, China. I have also taught sculpture occasionally at BYU. Now I am enjoying my new role as a grandmother. As a family, we have enjoyed the out-of-doors -- skiing, hiking and especially river rafting and kayaking. I love the beautiful mountains and deserts of Utah, and my work is often inspired by my surroundings. My first installation, called “Matter Out of Place,” was a collection of dirt from 30 different places, juxtaposed against 100 handmade brooms. Although I had soils from Hong Kong and throughout the U.S., the best colors were from Utah. The concept for that show addressed the irony between our need for dirt and our fight against dirt. Because of my time as a stay-at-home mom, my work often pushes against autobiographical memories of domesticity. Those memories have led me to be particularly interested in the rhythms, routines and rituals of life.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art and what were some of your early inspirations?

Pam: I remember going to art museums and seeing color-field paintings as a child. I took a few art classes when I was young. However, my primary focus growing up was music. It wasn’t until I was in college that I turned to the visual arts, and even then I started with design. I was always a maker of objects, though, and that love eventually evolved into making art. I was a late bloomer.

Gavin: Initially, you got into interior design and received your bachelor's in 1977 from BYU. What made you choose that original field and how was BYU at the time for you?

Pam: Similar to many young college students, I explored a few different majors, including music. I knew I wanted to have the opportunity to be creative. I thought about majoring in art, but I had a roommate who was incredibly talented at drawing and painting. Naively, I thought all artists had to be like she was, so I didn’t think I was capable of being an artist. Once I settled on interior design, I was happy and felt at home. It is interesting that it gave me a background that has been very helpful with installation art, because I learned to think spatially and to think about that spatial environment as a whole. Even though it was a roundabout way of coming to art, in the end it was a good path for me.
Gavin: After receiving your degree, what was your initial professional career like in the field? And how did you end up making the decision to be a stay-at-home mom?

Pam: I worked for only one year after graduation, as an assistant to the master planner of the campus for Utah Technical College, now Utah Valley University. It sounds more glamorous than it really was. Then my husband joined the military and we moved to Florida and had our first son at about the same time. Staying home to raise our children fit the military lifestyle as well as the LDS lifestyle. It was not a difficult decision, particularly as some chronic health problems arose. I knew it was the right choice for me.

Gavin: What sparked your interest in going back to college and seeking out your BFA? And how was it going back to BYU the second time around?

Pam: While raising my children, I continued to be involved in taking classes such as weaving, photography and basket making. I was always a maker of objects, and became very good at fine craft. While attending national basketry conferences, I always liked the classes taught by people who had an MFA. There was definitely a difference between them and the people who were simply basket makers. It became my goal to be like them. After 20 years in the military, my husband was offered a job teaching engineering at BYU. It was then that I immediately knew I wanted to go back to school to study art. I originally planned on getting a BFA, but BYU only allows one bachelor's degree per person. So I thought, “I guess I will need to get a master’s degree,” and I did, not realizing at that point quite what I was getting into. That seems to be my modus operandi: I just charge ahead, somehow thinking I can learn whatever I need to learn to pull it off. First I took some undergraduate classes to learn more about art, to move from a designer’s aesthetic to a fine art aesthetic, and to build a portfolio. I loved my experience at BYU both times, but even more the second time. I enjoyed the energy and creativity of the faculty and the other students. Many of the students that I worked with have become influential in contemporary art in Utah.
Gavin: What made you decide on sculpture and installation as your emphasis, and how was it for you learning the genre and exploring your talents?

Pam: As I hinted at previously, I was hesitant about my drawing ability, and had experience making three-dimensional fine craft. It felt most comfortable to start with ceramics and sculpture. I found that I loved sculpture and was surprisingly good at it. As I started in the MFA program, I was drawn to installation art and decided to give it a try, as an experiment. And I kept at it. I created and exhibited four major installations while I was working on my MFA. I found it provided a way for me to most fully express myself, and bring together all of my different life skills and experiences. As a mature student, I had a lot of thoughts and feelings to express and conceptual art was a good avenue for me.

Gavin: What was it like for you breaking into the local art scene and having your installations shown in galleries?

Pam: Exhibiting as an installation artist is different than being in a commercial gallery. Both paths have challenges. As an installation artist, I send proposals to art centers and museums, hoping they will like my work enough to exhibit it. Since there is a lot of competition for exhibition space, there are a lot of rejections. You have to be able to accept that and keep going. I have also had a lot of success. Since finishing my MFA seven years ago, I have had seven solo exhibitions, two invitational group exhibitions and I have been accepted into three juried shows. It has been enough to keep me busy and my neighbors amazed at the odd things I am currently collecting or making.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a new piece, from initial design to final product?

Pam: The first step is having an idea that I want to convey. This is something that might come to me while reading, while I am meditating, or when I see something that inspires me. Then I try to figure out how to visually put across that idea. During this planning stage, I bounce a lot of ideas off my family. I choose materials and processes that will help to convey meaning, but some of those choices are intuitive and based on materials that speak to me. Sometimes a process that I feel is right for the installation is something I have never done before, so it involves learning and practicing. I make sketches and sometimes models. I always draw a floor plan of the layout of the exhibit. Once I am comfortable with a plan, I start to work.

Gavin: Considering the pieces and the genre, do you tend to play with the design before you finish it, or do you stick to what you've chosen from the start?

Pam: Some of both. You almost always have refining ideas as you work and as you respond to what you are making. These can’t come until you dive in and are in the middle of it. Overall, though, the end result is usually close to what I originally envisioned. One of the challenges of installation art is that you can’t see how it will really come together and look until you install it -- just before the exhibit will open. So you need to be pretty good at visualizing it all in your mind.
Gavin: You've been involved with a number of high-profile exhibitions, including the 337 Art Truck and "Kinetic Melodies." How has it been for you being involved with the massive projects?

Pam: My projects are almost always large. I can never procrastinate and leave the work to the end. I need to work slow and steady and I always need help setting up. My family is a great support. The Art Truck was actually one of my smallest installations, space-wise. The great thing about it, though, was that it lasted for over a year, and had 40,000 viewers. So even though it was small, it had a big impact.

Gavin: You've also taken your work overseas to Nanjing, China. How was that experience for you and what was the reception like to your work over there?

Pam: I was living in China for one year -- 2006-2007 -- while my husband was on sabbatical, and while there I entered a juried photography show. I was pleased to have three photographs accepted into the exhibit, especially considering most of the other successful applicants were professional photographers. The exhibit was at the Nanjing Museum of Art which is a high-quality museum -- one of the best in China. The opening was a very big deal, with TV cameras and a lot of spectacle. If I had been able to speak Chinese, they would have interviewed me for TV. It was fun. After I came back to Utah, I put together "Kinetic Melodies" which was a response to my time in China, realizing that people of all cultures are more alike than they are different. One of the constants is daily rhythm. The work in the show juxtaposed the rhythms of daily ritual in China against the rhythms of daily ritual in the United States. The exhibit consisted of video and mixed media, and it was shown at Finch Lane Gallery in 2009.
Gavin: Tell us about the works you have on display for this month's Stroll.

Pam: Two influences came together to give me the idea for “Ebb and Wax”. I was invited to create work for a new display space at BYU called “Smart Space.” It was small -- box size -- when I was used to working room size. It was an interesting challenge. Afterwards, I wanted to take the same idea of hanging wrapped sculptural forms that I used in that small work, “Strands,” and make it room size. The second influence came from watching caterpillars. These particular caterpillars live in trees. They slowly descend down a fiber, and then slowly climb back up. I realized that this was the life rhythm for these caterpillars. I put the two ideas together and added a kinetic component to make the sculptural forms fall and rise. This relates to life rhythms that are all around us. We breathe in and out. The tide ebbs and flows. The moon waxes and wanes. Life has its ups and downs.

Gavin: What are your thoughts on being displayed at Art Access along with Noah?

Pam: Noah and I definitely have some things in common. We both combine sculpture and installation, and both sometimes use kinetics in our work. Our work is idea-driven and we are both interested in repetition and cycles. Noah and I both work in Provo. My work usually incorporates fiber and has a soft feel, while his is definitely more hard and masculine, so there is contrast, as well. I think it will be a strong show.
Gavin: Moving on to local art, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Pam: I think Utah, because it is a conservative state, has been slow to accept contemporary art; however, in the past few years I have seen a blossoming of contemporary art here. Indicators include having a full-time contemporary art curator, Jeff Lambson, at the BYU MOA, and the increased attendance at the Salt Lake Art Center, now the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. Adam Price, with 337 Project and the direction he has given the UMOCA, has been a great influence for contemporary art in our community. The Central Utah Art Center is another good example of growth in contemporary art in Utah with their quality of exhibits and creativity in getting people to Ephraim to see them.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make things more prominent?

Pam: I see education as a huge factor. The 337 Project Art Truck is a great example of taking art out to the people, primarily children who are so open to ideas of what art can be. I love it when I see groups of children at the museums. I was comparing symbolism in art to symbolism in the Bible in a Sunday-school class, when the students all asked me about Adam Bateman’s work at the BYU MOA, wanting to understand it better. I loved that they were questioning -- not necessarily understanding, but wanting to learn more. As the public learns about contemporary art, it will become more prominent in Utah.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of this year and going into next?

Pam: I am currently working with the curator of a museum, and hopeful that I will be included in a show involving five women artists. It will be my largest and most ambitious installation to date. I hope to be working on that this year and next.


Noah Coleman

Gavin: Hey, Noah. First thing, tell us a bit about yourself.

Noah: I'm Noah. I grew up in Illinois, about 50 miles outside of Chicago. I live in Provo with my wife, Becky. I work part time and I spend the other part making art. Hopefully, that ratio tips more in the art direction.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art and what were some of your early inspirations?

Noah: I grew up painting and playing with construction paper. I also liked to tinker with things -- like taking apart old VCRs and stuff. We would take them apart and pretend to make time bombs and stuff like that. I didn't think it was artistic at the time, but it has definitely influenced me later on.

Gavin: You recently received your BFA in sculpture and studio art from BYU. What made you choose BYU and what was its program like for you?

Noah: I actually started out as an English major, so I kind of landed in the BYU program by default. I really loved the program, though. The professors were very accessible -- especially in the 3-D area. They helped me push in several directions and they were great to work with -- they encouraged experimentation, but also exploration of one particular idea. There is also a great sense of community, and I loved working in the studio and talking with the other students and teachers there.
Gavin: What was it like for you breaking into the art scene while still in college, and how was it doing exhibitions between campus and local galleries?

Noah: I think the exhibitions at campus and local galleries kind of fueled each other. A campus gallery is a great place to experiment and refine your exhibition skills, but the local galleries expect you to have your act together already, so the one helps the other. As far as breaking into the art scene, I think it was a great time to do it. I feel like the earlier you can show your work, the better off you are. The experience is invaluable.

Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a new piece, from first design to final product?

Noah: A lot of my pieces start out as an idea or an image, like a ball rolling down a ramp, or a barrel full of murky water. I usually visualize the piece as a whole, or at least I visualize the essential elements that I want and then figure out how to incorporate all those elements into a design that works. There is usually a lot of tinkering and trying new ways to get a similar effect. If something is just not going to work, though, or I come up with a better, simpler idea, then the design will evolve with time. Sometimes the design is a result of those elements I wanted to have, and sometimes the elements are subordinate to the design. It goes back and forth. Because those essential elements are usually spontaneous and not the result of some prescribed program, there is a lot of time spent trying to make sense of my work after it is finished -- to categorize it.
Gavin: Do you usually mess with your designs before finishing them or do you stick to the original idea?

Noah: Change is inevitable in the artistic process, and that's not a bad thing. With me, I'd say I only really mess with the design about half of the time. When I do change a design midway through, it usually has the same basic idea, just in a different format. Sometimes the format changes two or three or more times before I find a good fit.

Gavin: For the first few years, you mainly displayed work in Provo and occasionally in Ephraim, but you've now expanded around the state. How was it for you breaking out beyond Utah County and showcasing in more high-profile galleries?

Noah: It has been a really great experience. I have just been responding to calls for entries and contests and that has worked out for me so far. My first show in Salt Lake City was just a few months ago with Art At The Main and they were really great to work with. I have had a great experience with Art Access, as well.
Gavin: A number of the pieces you create seem to invoke a message or statement as part of the collection. Is there an effort on your part for your works to have a specific meaning, or is it simply there for people to interpret however they wish?

Noah: I love it when people come to my work and leave with their own interpretation. I think the minimalist aspects of my work act as a sort of screen that people can project their own experiences and ideas on. That said, I usually set my pieces up in a framework of meaning so that people have a toehold to go on. That framework is usually the theme of the show. In this case, the framework is destruction and creation, but I hope people come out of the show with more than that. I think the meanings that we find for ourselves in art are so much richer than when we are told the meaning.

Gavin: Tell us about the works you have on display for this month's Stroll.

Noah: Like I said earlier, the show is about destruction and creation. The last little while, I have been thinking about the creative process and as I was working on the pieces for this show, I realized that I was destroying or altering a lot of things to create my art. This relationship was really fascinating to me and I began to see my work through that lens. Some of the works were created after that moment, and some were made a good while back and have been brought to the foreground because of the creative/destructive elements in them.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on being displayed at Art Access along with Pam?

Noah: I am super-excited to be showing alongside Pam. I love the materiality of here work; it is so luscious. I believe that we are circling some of the same ideas, and looking at them from different perspectives. I think that our two shows will work well together.

Gavin: Moving on to local art, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Noah: I miss Sego Gallery in Provo, but I think the Utah art scene is really thriving, but it is spread so thin. You have a nexus of galleries in Salt Lake City, and then a handful in Provo and Ogden, and the CUAC out in Ephraim. I think Utah gets a bad rap because of the lack of galleries, but it's not that we lack good galleries, they're just all an hour's drive or more from each other.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make things more prominent?

Noah: I think the Gallery Stroll is a huge thing that can be used to make the art scene more prominent. I also think the UMOCA is doing a good thing with their locals-only gallery. It is really neat for local artists to have the opportunity to show in such a prominent venue.

Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of this year and going into next?

Noah: I am probably going to be doing some more video and video projection. I'd like to experiment with projecting onto different objects and surfaces. It's not fully formed yet, but I think that's the direction I'm headed in.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Noah: Come see my show at Art Access Gallery through Feb. 10! Also, there is a Website for the show, so people can get a more in-depth look at the pieces and the show.


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