© 2016 by Pam Grau Studios

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon

I am the daughter of a former Disney animator and a graphic designer, I was born to be an artist. True or not, I didn’t inherit a voice; I had to earn it. At 17 during a European tour I committed to becoming an artist and thought an education would guide the way. Little did I know then that I would have to throw out much of what I had learned to find my own style.

At Mills College in Oakland,California, I studied art history and studio art I worked hard and had inspirational teachers. Each one left a mark, but I found myself moving farther away from knowing and hearing myself. I then attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California and paid my bills after college as a graphic designer while waiting for my big break. It was the late 1970s, I took my portfolio around Los Angeles, where all the gallery doors seemed closed—and firmly so. I was told there were “no great women artists,” and that I was “too pretty to paint well.” It was humbling, and I took rejection hard, recoiling from even the idea of putting myself out to be seen. Looking back at my early pieces, they were too safe to be great—not raw enough to be meaningful. I wasn’t diving in and pulling out  guts. That would come later.

 

 

In 2000, I joined the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, and I began working with others to help create an artistic community—and a shared purpose. I helped coach other artists toward success and found my more of my own voice in the process.

 

Between 2003 and 2004, I joined artist Judy Chicago’s “Envisioning the Future” project. For six months, groups of hand-picked artists were tasked with exploring global and political issues through art. The end products were collaborative works we produced in teams. And it opened my eyes to the pleasure—and, also, strength—of community participation. More importantly, I began to see my work as being more than personal expression but also statements of social responsibility.

 

Inspired by my experience working collaboratively there, I became Director of Exhibitions at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art in 2005 and continued that role until 2010, when my life changed radically.

 

First came marriage. In 1981, I was 26. I married and played house. And I was blissfully happy and side-tracked raising three children. But like a ticking time bomb, the creative impulse pulsated inside. It had to get out. But it took time.

 

It wasn’t until my late 30s that I woke up, remembering who I was and, more importantly, who I wanted to be. It started small in a non-threatening way with art classes and painting trips. I re-honed my skills and slowly began discovering my voice. It was strong, confident and loud; and it grew louder as my marriage crumbled.

 

When my mid-life crisis came out it was like neon flashing billboards to the world—frustrated, angry and exhausted, hiding my voice was no longer possible. But I had to leave my artistic comfort zone before I could begin expressing it meaningfully.

 

Trained as a painter, I began sculpting in 1995; and afterward my works have had a texture and depth that the two dimensionality of my older paintings never did. Part of my process ever since has been to re-examine the beauty of everyday objects. In my 1996 installation, “Unusual Suspects,” I used landfill-bound tennis nets. Later, I would re-purposed wire, foam, plastic cups, twigs, sticks and plaster into my work. And in my 2009 installation, “Crustacean Infestation,” I used old socks to create hundreds of life-like, barnacle-clad bottom dwellers.

In a 12-month period, I divorced my husband of 28 years; my father—a major influence in my life—died; and at 55 years old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, a disease which had taken my mother at 57. My year-long battle with cancer meant radiation treatment after radiation treatment. Chemo killed the cancer, but it also debilitated me in the process. My dreams of revamping my art after my divorce were stalled by insomnia, physical weakness and a lack of focus. Colors beyond black and dark blues were anathema to me. Drained of energy, just moving my body was hard, and creating art was harder. During my battle, a friend who had survived cancer told me, “Cancer is fabulous, if it doesn’t kill you.” Reflecting now, she was right. The experience forever shaped my perspective and what I valued. And my vision—and purpose—as an artist changed as well. Too weak to paint, I started rolling balls of clay—anything to get back to creating again. To cope with endless nights without sleep, counting and mindless repetition helped and would become the structure of my work during recovery. In a respite from chemo, I created “Things We Cannot See,” using iron pigments and clay to create an aerial plane—a bird’s eye view of grid-like world far below. And my desire to create a personal narrative through paint was replaced by a strong desire to engage fully in more universal issues—the environment, consumerism and individuality amid impersonal global macro forces.

Today, life is bliss - I live with my love and fellow artist Jeffrey Crussell. I am actively involved in developing, promoting and enlivening a creative life in my new town - Ojai.

 

Post script 2015

Sitting in my beautiful Ojai home I look out on the most magnificent landscape. I am inspired and humbled daily by nature. My new work continues a journey of re-purposing found objects and playing with paint. It continues as a hybrid of sculpture and paint. My thoughts are more reflective on my inner world and connecting to a universal consciousness. I am happy and the new work reflects that inner transformation with vibrancy and color. I am dreaming my paintings and painting my dreams.