November 01, 2017

Musings With Pamela Topham

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It's almost impossible to believe, with the body of work she has produced, that the current exhibition at Guild Hall is Pamela Topham's first solo museum show.

She's been spotlighted in other shows, of course, and even was awarded first place in Guild Hall's 2015 member exhibition, and has shown at other galleries, back to the gloried Elaine Benson Gallery days. "I remember getting my own room in a show at Elaine's gallery," she said. "It was wonderful."

Topham's woven landscapes of the East End and points west are filled with layered nuance in color and form, both figurative but at the same time somehow magical. They have a huge roster of fans, and appear in numerous collections, along with commissioned works as well.

But then again, "There's still a certain stigma associated with what are considered 'crafts,' as if they aren't really art," she said.

When she was the winner of the 2015 77th annual Guild Hall member exhibition, "I couldn't have been more surprised," she said modestly. "I got the piece in at the very last minute too."

"Pamela Topham: Tapestry Visions" opened at Guild Hall in East Hampton last week and runs until the end of the year. The works on view include a selection of Topham's colored pencil drawings, photographs, and, of course, the tapestries, some small, some immense. They were selected by Marla Prather, curator for the development of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Museum of Modern Art, and the show is curated by Guild Hall museum director Christina Mossaides Strassfield.

Topham weaves on a high warp tapestry loom using wool, silk, and linen in varied textures and hues to form the foreground, while fine gradations of wool and silk capture the interplay of the ever-changing relationships of earth, sea, and sky in the distance. 

Her piece Northwest Harbor, which took first place at Guild Hall in 2015, is a layered three-dimensional tapestry, and is in this show as well. The series of layered works (imagine looking at a vista through a harp, sort of) all spotlight peekaboo views of various locales, usually with water somewhere in the piece.

"I love that we have water all around," she said. "We are so lucky. And I try to offer hidden views, something I might have seen while out in a boat."

Although the germ for Topham's tapestries derive from photos taken and sketches drawn, she goes into the realm of imagination to create.

Her Cliffs of Shadmore, for instance, which hangs in the show. "There was actually a white truck parked under the cliffs. I took out the truck," she said, "but I left the tire marks to add some depth to the beach."

Or her Accabonac Harbor Autumn Light, a massive 30" by 48" piece filled with striations of greenery and one bare tree. "I wanted to put that in there," she said. "It was my first bare tree."

With her Sagaponack series, Topham pointed out that if she created directly from photos, "It would be much more two-dimensional. There would be sea, and sky, with a flat horizon in between. But I like to make it look like I climbed up a telephone pole to take the picture. It adds perspective. I try to do that with all of my works."

Her art has graced over a dozen Dan's Papers covers, including last week's to celebrate the opening at Guild Hall. Topham and Dan Rattiner were previously married -- they have two grown children, Maya and Adam.

When not creating art, Topham works at WÖlffer Vineyard in Sagaponack. "It affords me the most beautiful views," she said. "Sweeping vistas of vineyards, changing seasons. And creating art is such a solitary venture. It's nice to come to work and be around people."

But her art goes further -- it not only provides aesthetics, but is there to preserve and inform the viewer. "Every time I see a farm field leading to an ocean, or a beautiful landscape anywhere, really -- out west as well -- it sparks my desire to preserve that property, at least in a work of art, before it disappears," she said.

Topham will offer an artist's talk at Guild Hall on Saturday at 3 PM. The talk is free, but reservations are strongly encouraged and can be made by visiting the website at www.GuildHall.org.

For more information about Topham and her works, visit www.pamelatopham.com.

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