Pamina Stewart's work often begins with and consists of pieces thrown away, the detritus discarded by others. In the fine tradition of found artists, these objects are reanimated and returned to usefulness - if beauty, kitsch and a discourse regarding society, culture and consumerism is useful to you.
Pamina's work has scale and reach. She created the biggest bull in the world to promote recycling at the Bull Ring; Wickermen, promenading from locally grown willow in France. And of course, shells. We've been following along on Instagram and although, as you know, we like to say "We just don't know what's good anymore..." (paraphrasing Bowie as Andy in Basquiat - our fave scene from the movie), Pam has us thinking... Pam actually is just great...
Ancient Champion: Pamina, just for giggles as they say, because we can, let’s begin at the end… In terms of your work, what have you just done/completed and what are you working on, what comes next
Pamina Stewart: This morning I did my drawing for ‘Starting the line’, which will be exhibited in various places as part of a 50 foot long paper chain as part of the Big Draw 2021 project, Making The Change. My continuing work at the moment is making sculptures using recycled fake Christmas trees. Someone near me had thrown one out and I just had to grab it. I love working with it, it's basically furry wire and would have ended up in land fill. It started me thinking there must be lots of broken trees in people’s lofts so I have put the word out and already have another one to work with. Once I have a few sculptures made from the trees I can start to think where I might exhibit them… Might be outside or a gallery space. You won’t be surprised that they are based on animals, but for this project, I plan to make chimeric creatures of my own creation.
Ancient Champion: A cursory glance of your CV and you’ve had such an incredible and diverse academic and arts background. Can I ask, what made you end up in Coventry? And… how did you get out?
At one time I saw a number of art students dismantle a car on the forecourt of Lanchester Polytechnic, deconstructing as much as they could until the car ran out of petrol. It was kind of very Metzger-y, if less had been left at the end.
Pamina Stewart: I didn’t plan to go to Coventry. I was born in Dundee and went to a very academic school which was good in some respects but very limited in terms of art. So I knew I wanted to continue with art but had no idea in what field. I had applied to several Scottish universities and got places and then I found out about English foundation courses which sounded like exactly what I needed. I was late applying so got an interview at Coventry and accepted immediately so went for it.
Ancient Champion: Makes me wonder. Have you ever run out of petrol?
Pamina Stewart: Never run out of petrol, never owned a car. I use to hire ones occasionally when I needed them for projects but just don’t have a use for one.
Ancient Champion: Your work, would you say, is inflected by where you’re at, or where you’re from or both or everything?
When I ask this I guess I am thinking about the work with the shells… and there’s a lot of animals as a basis for your work. I would guess you care about animals a lot…
Pamina Stewart: I grew up by the Tay Estuary so near the beach and so I always collected shells. I saw a lot of the kitsch animals made from shells that are sold as souvenirs. The real obsession started during a holiday in France when I was taken for a seafood dinner and was watching the mound of shells grow on the table. I immediately thought I can do something with these. I like their beauty and they are a natural materials, and it keeps me endlessly engaged fitting all the various shapes together to make my creatures.
Ancient Champion: What about the ‘tosser’ dog owner video, wtf? (I got called a tosser in the street recently, not by you. Apart from being shocked by what I considered to be misdirected aggression, I’d marvelled too, at the word, tosser, hadn’t heard that in a long while and now twice in a week…Your video!)
Pamina Stewart: Yea I’m not particularly proud of doing a shaming video but he made me so mad and it was cathartic. Blurred his face.
Ancient Champion: And what role does being steeped in psychology play in your art?
Pamina Stewart: The Open University Psychology degree was also a bit of happenstance. I fancied learning something new and liked the course exploring how the brain worked. After doing it for a year I got hooked and kept going till I ended up with the degree. It was part time so I was still able to continue my art practice. At that time I was predominantly a painter and my work focused on human interactions using a lot of animal symbolism. I have always been interested in psychology, science, the natural environment and everything I learn feeds into my art work.
Ancient Champion: Recycling: I’ve been recycling everything for what feels like forever and yet 40 years of recycling and all that effort and some corporation negates it all in a moment and gets the Government greenlight, or moreover, actually let's not get the cart before the horse...Some corporation kills a river that is a community’s supply of fresh water and a subsequent Government enquiry finds it was an acceptable use of a shared resource in pursuit of profit. Justice forever delayed. At that point, since legally, corporations must make the greatest financial return for their stockholders, unless we rewrite the terms, amend the terms of business to include the needs of communities/stakeholders (habitat, animals, peoples) before profit, within articles of incorporation, soon there will be nothing left to lose… It is perverse.
Pamina Stewart: ABSOLUTELY
Ancient Champion: Of course I love the idea of found art, which I think is a central plank of your practice. I was once fortunate enough to hear California assemblage artist George Herms talk about his 60s art and, you know I think found art informs the fanzine based nature of outsideleft in a big way - we make use of… and reproduce whatever washes up… How do you find things? I am always concerned about hepatitis…
Pamina Stewart: Thank you for mentioning George Herms. Did not know him? So great to have a look. I have a lot of people collecting stuff for me. I am using a lot of plastic at the moment as I do not believe that the coloured stuff that goes into the recycle bins is recycled. Same with Tetra Paks. Shells… I use to have a studio near the Fish Market in Birmingham and they would let me take away the shells at the end of the day. Very useful when I was making large pieces like the ponies. A lot of cleaning. Now I tend to put shells in the garden and let the insects clean them for me.
Ancient Champion: Let’s talk about the semicolon. Amazing isn’t it. I really haven’t used them enough. The people who edit my stories come back with the appropriate use of semicolons. Everything is better for them. Thank you, you know who’s. So… semicolons I think take away time and I’m getting to a question!... I think that I love how you have used the Internet, I love how spare that use is. But how do you feel about situations like Instagram, that kind of take the time away, the time between pieces, how are we absorbing or even seeing when we see everything at once… There is no period, no turning the page it’s all semicolons... Can you talk a bit about the internet and your art and how you see that working together.
Pamina Stewart: I really like the format of Instagram, image led but obviously it comes with baggage. I want people to see what I make so it is great that people from all over the world see what I do and can comment. I follow other artists, friends and animal sanctuaries so really enjoy seeing their pictures and I have found out about art opportunities via social media. I spend less than half an hour a day on social media so it doesn’t take up much of my time and is a positive experience for me, but it is not where I go to for my news and I have no interest in posting pictures of myself or my dinner.
Ancient Champion: Musicians say, are always these days collaborating and I think it’s more say than folks getting together because they are admirers of each other's art, seems so much more commercially driven. Maybe I just am not accepting of… economics, or technology making it way easier. Have you ever worked like that, started or finished work in conjunction on a single piece with other(s). How does/would that feel
Pamina Stewart: Last year I ran a project which was all about collaboration. When the first lockdown happened, I was trying to think how I could continue working with others. So, I came up with the idea of artists making each other's work and having exhibition locally. So, I asked 3 other artists to join me: Joss Burke in France, Sarah Galloway in Lancaster and Simone Frater-Russell in Manchester. We each created instructions of how to make a piece of our art. So in each area there was work of four people but it had all been made by the local artist. You can see videos of the exhibitions on Youtube here.
Previously I have done joint paintings, swapping the canvases periodically. I am very open to working collaboratively and sharing skills.
Ancient Champion: What have you been listening to? While working or not.
Pamina Stewart: I usually have Radio 4 on in the studio with the occasional burst of dance music when I need a lift.
Ancient Champion: Finally… Coke Can Bulls
Pamina Stewart: Coca Cola commissioned me to make the bull to launch a recycling week. I loved making the bull, it is the biggest single sculpture I have made and was constructed so the cans could be recycled after. The underlying structure was made entirely from sustainable materials- bamboo and willow.
Ancient Champion: French Wickermen (love the look of that)
Pamina Stewart: The Wickermen were made for an open garden event in France. The theme was Promenade. I had just finished the video games MA and had been animating a lot of walk cycles, so it was a timely theme for me. The willow was all growing locally so perfect for me to use.
Ancient Champion: Pit Ponies (I am one)
Pamina Stewart: The pit pony theme was chosen for me as an animal to represent the Black Country. My job was to make the original sculpture from which a mould was taken and then reproduced for other artists and schools to decorate to form a pony trail. These were then later sold to sponsors for charity. It was a great project to be involved with and directly led to me making three life size ponies for the Henley on Thames Festival in 2010.
Ancient Champion: Home Interiors - love yours - we should start a new my favourite room series, beginning with yours, I am going to ponder that, I've wanted to do that for a long time...
Pamina Stewart: Yes happy to do that, I can send pictures.