Pam Longobardi is based in Atlanta, GA with her artist husband Craig Dongoski. She spoke with me about her latest exhibition Discontinuity Continuum that include large copper paintings and work on paper. Discontinuity Continuum will be on display at Tinney Contemporary until March 30, 2013.
Whitney: I’ve noticed small vignettes in your paintings: parts of seashell bridges, small figures, rainbows and snowflakes that begin to tell a deeper story. Is there any relation to the copper paintings and your Drifters project?
Pam Longobardi: Yes, because I’m really interested in the collision between the natural world and the human made world. For instance, the drifters pieces which are ocean borne plastic, they have been modified and transported and changed by their journey across the vast pacific and around the world. These paintings are also indicating a kind of change in the natural world we are experiencing right now a lot of it due to human action. The impact of culture on nature and vice a versa and the interconnectedness of all that is what I am really interested in.
W: Explain the process of how you begin one of your copper paintings.
P: I consider the copper and the patinas, which are chemicals that interact with the copper surface, the elements that stand for nature. The paint, which I used to primarily only work with oils, but now I work with oils, inks, lacquers, and enamels all together at the same time.
W: Does it ever get toxic? Do they emit any fumes?
P: None of the materials do except the lacquer. I do all cold application patinas, some patinas you have to heat and those do emit fumes, but I try to keep it as simple as possible. It is more like painting.
All the paintings go through this abstract expressionist phase where I am just working really fast. It is all liquid and it is flat, so the painting is lying down. Then I leave, and the patinas start interacting and everything starts transforming, curing and becoming what it is going to look like. Then I come back and start working into that surface with oil paint.
W: Are the paintings sealed or will they continue to evolve over time?
P: They are mostly sealed. They are not changing. I used to let them do that but I am interested in them continuing in the way they look now, in capturing that moment. They have changed dramatically and almost violently in a way during the process of curing.
W: How long have you been working on copper?
P: I have been working on copper for twenty years.
W: Does the vibrant/subdued color palette speak directly to nature and the earth and man made structures?
P: Yes, but I think it is a more heightened vision. Though there is a lot of emotional intensity in the way I feel about the subject matter, so that comes out in the colors. Some of the areas are completely the natural process of the patina on the copper, and they are completely untreated. Other areas are painted over with many different colors. Then I use different kinds of pigments and iridescent, and things that cause a type of interference, so there are a lot of optical qualities that come through in the paintings that are impossible to photograph. They are all about seeing them in person.
There is also a real quality of scale because I am interested in the microscopic surfaces that are happening as well. The crystallization patterns that arise naturally from the patinas, in a way they guide me in the painting process because I feel they are simulating natural processes like erosion and crystal formation and all of these sorts of things we do not get to see happen live. Here they happen in a compressed time frame.
W: In your Drifters series, what happens to the installations after they are exhibited? Do you store them for future exhibitions or recycle them?
P: All the pieces that become formalized in an installation arrangement, I keep them really organized and numbered. So all the things are categorized and numbered.
The pieces I don’t use I recycle, the pieces I do use, I keep a track record of them: where they were found, when they were found, the location, the condition, if there is any text on it in another language, what that is translated to in English. I feel like I am actually documenting an event that is happening, a change that the ocean is undergoing right now. The ocean is undergoing this process of getting rid of this material that doesn’t belong in there.
W: What is coming next in your work?
P: I have a big project going on in Greece, which is going to take palace this summer for the third year. I have been excavating caves there. They have a lot of caves along the coastline of this one particular island that I travel to. This summer I am actually going to work with an archeologist who has ancient remains that she is excavating from the caves and underwater. We are both very interested in this continuum, this timeline, of human presence. So we are going to be looking that these materials and how they are adjacent to the things she is working with.
W: Is there going to be an installation of this work that both of you discover?
P: Yes, that is what the hope is. I just met her and we haven’t worked together, we have only spoken about this. The process will evolve when we get together.
The other project that I have been working on for the last couple of years is now going to happen this summer. It is an expedition with artists and scientists, and we are going to the remote coast of Alaska on a ship. We are going to be tracking debris from the tsunami and other things that have already been in existence there. You know, the plastic that has been there prior to the tsunami. We have been looking at aerial photographs and finding locations we are going to be landing. It is going to be amazing.
W: Are these places inhabited or are they completely remote?
P: They are pretty remote. We have to prepare for grizzly bears and wildlife of all sorts. It is going to be an adventure.