Country – Australia
City – Melbourne
Mosaicist Pamela Irving is the Mosaic review magazine’s next guest. Our mosaic magazine keeps to tell stories about prominent mosaic artists from over the world.
The mosaic world knows Pamela mostly as a mosaicist, but she is an artist who creates artworks in several another media, like sculpture, ceramic, drawings and printmaking.
She uses a lot of materials – bronze, ceramic, plastic and other. One of her irreverent and quirky sculpture artwork – Larry La Trobe – the bronze dog was installed in 1992 at the corner of Swanston Street and Collins Street in Melbourne (Australia).
Pamela has been making mosaics and other artworks for 38 years in which time she has participated in over a hundred group exhibitions and held many solo exhibitions in Australia and overseas. Her works are included in Municipal collections, University and School collections as well as Regional Galleries, Artbank and The Museum Victoria as well as significant corporate and private collections.
Supervised by Professor Noel Flood, (ceramicist and the Head of Ceramics Department). She was one of the first two candidates to be approved to undertake the Master of Arts Degree in Visual Arts at the Melbourne College of Advanced Education, later merging with the Victorian College for the Arts.
If we start talking about the origins of her passion for art, it is hard to mention that her brother and both her parents are artistic persons too. Pamela’s Father background is in advertising and he loves making furniture like piece of art. Her mother is also very creative. They always encouraged Pamela and her brother John, to make THINGS.
Pamela’s early art was influenced by artists including Arthur Boyd, John Brack, Noel Counihan, Mirka Mora, Sidney Nolan and John Perceval. In recent years, Pamela has been influenced ″by the honest and direct expressiveness of ‘outsider art’ (the art of self-taught or ‘naive artists’).
Significantly, this interest grew following Pamela’s visit to Nek Chand’s Rock Garden in Chandigarh, India.
The most famous Pamela’s artwork is the sculpture – Larry La Trobe, placed in front of the Melbourne Town Hall. The life size pooch is loosely based on Pamela’s own dog, Lucy, and his name is inspired by the word for Australian boisterous behavior, “larrikinism.” The pup’s surname, “La Trobe,” was appended to represent the relationship between Melbourne and the state of Victoria; Charles La Trobe was the state’s first Lieutenant-Governor, from 1851 to 1954.
At the same time, the artist’s idea originates in the legends of Ancient Rome.As Pamela says – “I have always been enchanted by the myth of Romulus and Remus, the twins who were suckled by the she-wolf and considered the founders of Rome. In 1984 I interpreted this myth in clay. Since then my practice has been synonymous with making dogs. I have since adopted Larry as an avatar, reproducing him in paintings, ceramics, sculptures and mosaics.”
Holidays to exotic and foreign lands, often influence new works which see Larry appearing in many guises in her art. Pamela’s love of ancient mythology, patterns, traditional textiles, primitivism and above all sense of bold colors may be seen in all her works. Like the “The Roman Never Conquered Victoria”.
As the artist says – “The Roman Empire spread far and wide and its influence on art and aesthetics has been enormous. However, the Romans never conquered the Antipodes. As a mosaicist and ceramicist this is both refreshing and an impediment. I am free to reinterpret ancient myths and diverge from traditional mosaic techniques, for example integrating found objects into mosaics.
In this Mosaic artwork, he holds in his left hand a 3-D plastic digitally produced miniature of Larry LaTrobe. Beneath him are two antique Dresden china pudding dolls.
“- They represent my own children replicating Romulus + Remus with the She Wolf in the Roman souvenir. The head of my figure is shaped like Larry La Trobe and the body is the shape of Victoria, where I live. The predominant colours of the mosaics are red, green and white, representing the Italian flag. “
The Larry’s body is covered with Italian smalti (Venetian glass), the head is made up of hand-cut porcelain while, in his hand, is a painted bakelite map of Australia. All together, they represent a synthesis of Roman and contemporary Australian mosaic techniques, reminding us that while my aesthetic is connected to ancient Rome, I irreverently note that they never conquered Australia.
Her sense of humor, love of irony and respect for storytelling are apparent in her varied body of work – from prints and paintings to large-scale mosaic installations. Pamela Irving is well known for her quirky images of dogs, cats, birds and other mythical creatures.
Pamela’s art has infiltrated many other public spaces around Melbourne, including her enormous mosaic reverie at Luna Park, titled ‘Dreaming with Open Eyes’, this works covers the Luna Palace Building inside Luna Park, Melbourne. Her paintings and prints depict many of the characters which appear in these mosaic murals.
The Mosaic Review asked Pamela to answer several questions related to her mosaics and other artworks, as well as her perception in mosaics.
MR – When did you firstly realize you wanted to be an artist?
Pamela – I have always wanted to be an artist. I spent my whole childhood creating things. I won my first art prize when I was 5 years old. It was a self-portrait.
MR – What kind of artwork you have made very first? Drawing, mosaic or sculpture? Or maybe something else?
Pamela – My first art works were mostly drawings, but I added things to them so I think they were more like collage.
MR – What about the first mosaic? Maybe you can recall it?
Pamela – The first mosaic I did was in 1982. I made a large arch way out of reclaimed, recycled tiles over a brick structure. I had no idea how long it would take. I totally underestimated the time it would take to cover the whole surface and then to grout it. However, I did fall in love with the materials and medium. I had studied ceramics and sculpture. I was smitten by the way that the materials reflected light and how beautiful mosaics look in a garden setting.
I also loved that I could take discarded things from tile shops and turn them into something quite permanent. Although I had studied Fine Art, mosaics were not really mentioned throughout my training in Australia. We touched lightly on Early Christian mosaics during history classes but learnt nothing about techniques or materials that could be used.
MR – Pamela, is it not easy way to be an artist?
Pamela – Making a living as an artist is a very difficult thing in Australia. We have a small population and to be honest not that many people are interested in the arts. Very few people here understand mosaics. They don’t understand the time it takes to create them nor understand the long history that mosaics have. A lot of people think mosaics is flower pots.
MR – Can you name your own artwork, what you like most of all and why?
Pamela – My favorite artwork is Larry La Trobe, my bronze dog which sits in front of the Melbourne Town Hall. I made him in 1992. Since making him I have made many mosaic dogs. I love using Larry to express my interest in other areas of the arts, like textiles and mythology. Years ago I made a Larry covered in red and white tesserae, inspired by Russian needlepoint and traditional costumes.
MR – What piece of art made the most lasting impression on you?
Pamela – The piece of art I love most in the world is the Hellenistic sculpture, the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre. When I was very young I did my Masters Degree Thesis on Angels. I used to make a lot of Angel Images.
MR – Your mosaics, in my opinion, always carry a certain challenge, prank, humor trace. Do you deliberately give that character to your work, or is this the very essence of your creation?
Pamela – I like to make work that has social commentary. My work is often humorous but it has a bite. I like to reference things like politics and social media. My mosaic work always tells a story.
MR – Where do you buy materials for your mosaics?))) Can you tell me who this special supplier is?
Pamela – I use a lot of very different materials in my mosaics. Sometimes I use found objects made from china or ceramic, I use a lot of expensive china, I also use domestic ceramics for example, old plates or cups and tea pots, that I source from thrift shops or sometimes auctions.
I also use smalti which I buy from Orsoni. I use tiles and marble that I source from tile shops in Melbourne. People often give me things that they no longer want or need and I create things from them. Not all my materials are permanent, I also like to use toys and plastic things as well as wood.
MR – What has to happen for you to pick up your tools and materials and start doing a new mosaic?
Pamela – I work every day in my studio. As soon as I walk into my studio I put my apron on. As soon as my apron is on, my mind clicks into work time. My studio is about a ten minute drive from my home.
As I paint and draw a lot too, I usually make paintings then think about them as mosaics. I have been working on a new series of paintings and will soon start the Mosaics.
I won an Australian mosaic Award called the ORO Award. My plan was to go to Israel and study the Ancient Roman mosaics, but then Covid hit. My plans for this award have now changed. I am making a series about my Landscape, titled “I am my Landscape”.
MR – Is it possible to create a real artwork to order, or does this always require an emotional uplift, inspiration?
Pamela – I like doing commissions, sometimes the person I am making them for allow me to be very creative at other times they can be very specific. I think it’s good doing commissions because people have comments and suggestions which take you in different directions to how you might normally think.
MR – Are the local motives in your work more a tribute to the traditions of your country or part of your creative identity?
Pamela – I really like this question. I am really interested in the history of mosaics. Mosaics, traditionally are about storytelling, I consider myself a contemporary story teller in mosaic. I think my work is very Australian. I think the free nature of my work is quite Australian. My humour is very Australian.
MR – What attracts and amazes you in the art of the indigenous people of Australia?
Pamela – Our indigenous peoples are amazing. They are one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Their art work has traditionally been made on rocks as story-telling. They also used to draw in the sand and soil as temporary works. Since the 1970’s Australian Aboriginal art has made a big impact around the world. Mostly dot painting techniques. In the early days they used mostly earthy tones of brown, ochre, black and white. As the contemporary art scene has developed , the colours that they use now are much brighter and varied.
I am attracted to the patterns and dots and story-telling. If you fly over Australia the paintings make more sense, when looking from above. You can see the lines in the landscape. It is very beautiful.
MR – Can you describe your vision of mosaics in contemporary art? What can it express better than other media?
Pamela – For me mosaics sits somewhere between painting and sculpture. It reflects light better than anything. Light on top of the surface as well as between the tesserae. It has a permanence which is very alluring. I love that you can make something three dimensional that plays with light on the surface as well as the form. I hope that one day there will be Contemporary mosaics shown in our public Galleries here. My hope is for greater understanding of the medium.
MR – Have you ever seen another artist’s work that you would certainly like to buy and put on your home?
Pamela – Oh yes, my house is filled with art that I have collected by other artists. I have a lot of Aboriginal Art and Art from Pacific Islands too.
MR – What more accurately reflects your artistic mood and perception – mosaic, sculpture or drawing? Or does it all complement each other?
Pamela – I think they all complement each other and each offers different things. I really enjoy the variety. I usually work through themes. Each medium offers different results. They all speak to each other. I think it’s vital that all artists draw. Drawing is the key to making.
MR – You have taught at several educational institutions. Do you like teaching, do you like teaching students to understand art?
Pamela – These days the only teaching I do is at the Chicago Mosaic School. I love working there. It’s great to be associated with an institution solely devoted to Mosaic Art. The standard of work coming from there is wonderful.
I also exhibit with the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaic which is associated with the school. I tend to do a lot of commission work these days so I don’t have time to teach in Australia.
MR – What do you teach your students first of all? What’s the most important thing?
Pamela – I think the most important thing to teach is “how to tell their own story” and “how to become more visually literate”. In my opinion, learning techniques is very important, but it’s more important to know what to do with techniques. Becoming a better craftsman comes with continuous making. Eventually after many years one develops their own style.
MR – In your opinion, are all people creative? If not, what makes a creative person different from other people?
Pamela – I think that being creative is different to being an artist. I’m not sure if all people are creative. I think you can teach techniques but you can’t teach someone to be an artist. Artists think differently to other people, they see the world differently. There are a lot of creative people in all kinds of areas, for example science, mathematics etc. I think creativity is an innate gift.
MR – Could you tell your wishes for aspiring artists?
Pamela – It’s not easy being a full time artist. I think it is important as an aspiring artist to have a routine, a good work ethic, self-belief and not be fearful of making mistakes. The best learning comes from the mistakes you make along the way. Learning not to fear things is a great part of the process.
MR – And for all your numerous friends?
Pamela – I wish all my artist friend the very best, especially at this crazy time in world history. I wish all my artist friends to be safe and healthy and to continue to be optimistic about the future. I look forward to being able to travel again so that I can see my International artist friends again.