By Jaime Uranovsky / Cape Jewish Chronicle / March 2, 2018
Pamela Silver’s latest exhibition, titled, The Colour of Light, is aptly named.
One does not need to spend much time regarding her vibrant watercolours, etchings and monotypes before beginning to absorb their exuberant energy oneself. Although the world-renowned artist (with more than twenty-five solo exhibitions and various awards under her easel) needs little introduction, the perfect one was provided by Professor Deborah Posel, who opened the exhibition on 3 February at the UCT Irma Stern Art Museum.
Research and preparation
Posel, a prominent sociologist and historian at UCT, said that the planning for the exhibition had begun two to three years ago, which is when she started researching the artist. ‘I didn’t know Pam or her work, so I Googled her and what presented itself was a rush of sheer joy, celebrating life, colour and pattern; images that made me smile.’
She used a parable to describe Silver’s attitudes towards her work and towards life, and to illustrate Silver’s nature: that of finding a silver lining in the direst of times; that of seeking the colour of light. Of this nature, Posel said that she was ‘persuaded by flowers in Vilnius. They come from the Ponary Forest, outside Vilnius. The forest shrieks silently about a silent past: Jews taken to death.’ Here, she refers to the massacre of up to 100 000 (mostly Jewish) people in this Lithuanian forest during the Holocaust.
Posel drew attention to the different ways in which she and Silver experienced the Ponary Forest, which they have both happened to visit on separate occasions. ‘We visited at similar times; both in summer. I didn’t see any flowers but Pamela did. She took the seeds, planted them and painted them. This is a parable of an artist who has a gift of finding the flowers both literally and metaphorically. Flowers feature in much of her artwork, but they are not decorative. [They] perform a different kind of symbolic work [and] can be traced through [it]: a geography of flowers of her journey between places, between past and present. The figure of flowers as a juncture between the conscious and subconscious; an elixir of memory; wistful, calmer, slower.’
Watercolor, the most immediate of all painting mediums, is just pigment and gum arabic soluble in water. To use it, all you need is a jar of water, a sable hair brush and some good hot-pressed paper or Japanese sumi on which to work. Oh yes, and a feel for original composition and a lifetime of skilled experience. Watercolor cannot be corrected; mess with it and you are lost. Few, if any, Israeli artists are better at conveying the medium's transparent watery riches than Pamela Silver (b. South Africa, 1948, here since 1973) whose work currently fills three rooms at the Jerusalem Artists House. Silver began as an instinctive painter but her work has become increasing sophisticated over the last decade. Her latest show of many parts contains a few dazzling innovations, particularly the Eye series, in which a few calligraphic stokes of a large brush are placed in relation to one another with the eye of a Japanese calligrapher. These are also rendered in deep, nearly opaque color, lending them a special power. While Silver has learned here that less is more, she shows other successful works that contain a myriad of little experiences and areas of wash, expertly brought off with a variety of brush points. Just look at the three large loosely circular paintings in the foyer. One is a watery spiral, its neighbor a group of washes seen against tiny drawn additions, a case of instinctive beginnings gradually combined into a meaningful whole. Neither is overworked.
The monotype is a single print made by pressing the paper onto a composition painted with oils or ink on a hard surface like glass. Of all the graphic arts techniques (intaglio, relief or serigraph) it provides artists with instant satisfaction but deprives them of a limited edition, for no two monotypes can ever be the same. Pamela Silver's (b. South Africa, 1948) abstract monotypes created at the Jerusalem Print Workshop in 1998, transmit compositionally and chromatically, a broad spectrum of human emotions. One after another, from receiving Nourishment, an expressive surge of unsullied carmines, vibrant yellows and ultramarines to rusty bars and silver gray background of tame composition entitled Two People Four Ways, Silver employs a stream of consciousness to translate color, shape and line images, smells and sounds of dreams and memories from an emotional stockroom. A talented painter of watercolors, a technique in which immediacy also plays an important role, Silver manages prints with ease and efficiency.
Pamela Silver's work has spontaneity, energy and a free flow of color. Her paintings reflect the well known transparent and airy qualities of watercolors. Silver is a virtuoso with this technique and uses it correctly and with relevance to her artistic statement.