Glass gets artist Pam Glew's views on the darker side of fame
When it comes to cultural icons, famous faces and celebrities that we, Joe Public, love to adore, critique or make heroes of, there are a sea of artists who immortalize them. Pam Glew is one such artist, whose latest collection of sensational bleached portraits on vintage flags, for which she is best known, caused quite a stir. Her portraits of the beautiful and the damned lathered the walls of Red Bull Studios in London Bridge earlier this month, at her second solo show in London, organised by events company, Death By Daylight and Eddie Lock.
In the appropriately titled show, Circus, Glew not only offers a celebration of the icons she depicted - tactfully yet hypnotically so - but more significantly (and this is where her work differs from that of other famous portrait painters), she lures her audience into considering a paradoxical down-side for their over-exposed, turbulent and sometimes dark lives. By the time it had reached 8pm on the private view night on 25th November, over three quarters of her work had been orange-stickered. What is evidently clear from the show is that everyone wants a Pam Glew on their wall. Even Gemma Arterton turned up earlier that afternoon to interview Glew (she owns one) whilst Goldie took the mesmerising portrait of Basquiat home with him. Amidst the hype and the flow of cocktails, Glass had the pleasure of catching 20 minutes with Pam Glew to find out her own take on the notions of celebrity and the cultural icons she painted for Circus as well as her thoughts on how we (the extra ordinary folk) perceive and judge them. Here's what the artist, swiftly moving up the female artist ranks in the UK, had to say.
Why did you pick the cultural icons that you have chosen for this collection and do they have anything in common?
I started looking at the 1960's, a time of liberation and celebration, that era seemed to be the rebirth of the teenager, a time when anything seemed possible. Films like 'Les Demoiselles de Rochfont' 'Dandy in Aspic' and 'Bonnie & Clyde' were pretty influential. I guess that 60s era is the nucleus of the show, I looked at Mia Farrow, Faye Dunaway, Edie Sedgwick, all memorable faces of the 1960's, somehow innocently beautiful. Blondie & Kate Moss were outside that era, but I wanted them in the show as they are so iconic. They are people that have shaped our pop culture.
I think most of the portraits in this collection look full of wonder and a little melancholic. I wanted to show a little of the dark side to the life of a performer. There is a sad side to some of these cultural icons, a kind of tragedy that is beautiful.
Faces in your work for this show can be coined as both 'celebrity' and 'cultural icons' - so many people would argue that the label 'cultural icon' carries more respect than that of 'celebrity.' I.e, it can be argued that the likes of Kate Moss and Blondie are both, yet someone like Jade Goody would never be called an 'icon.' Do you see a difference between them?
Sure, 'celebrity' is different to 'cultural icons'. I think of celebrity as being attention-seeking for the sake of getting attention, which could be seen asvacuous.But cultural icons are a different entity completely. When I think of the 60's I see Twiggy, Mia Farrow with that pixie crop fringe, a young Micheal Jackson, and all those amazing photos taken by David Bailey. They are cultural icons that have left a lasting impact on fashion, music, film, and the way we see.
Some cultural icons have grown up with us, like Jacko, he was quite a big part of life as a teenager in the 80's. I remember making up dance routines to certain songs and idolising that enigma. Icons stay with you.
What are your thoughts on celebrity and cultural icons and the way the media and the public treat them?
It seems to have changed massively. I mean you only have to go to the corner shop and you see a mass of celeb magazines, it really is overload. There's just so many outlets for fake paparazzi shots and inside stories. I think our thirst for knowledge is quite gross, it feels a bit repulsive but kind of addictive. X-factor, and all those competitive shows that aim for fame at the end, allow the viewer to be very indulgent in voyeurism. I guess it could be a dangerous game.
I think its a bit scary when kids get famous young, its important for kids to have a feeling of value and worth that doesn't involve their looks and image. Like Jackson again,l I mean he is the perfect example of the dangers of fame at a really young age, media attention and stardom seemed to replace the love and nurturing that he needed.
Has this affected your depiction of them as tragic figures?
Yes, in a way. I think putting anyone on a massive pedestal is dangerous. People have as many faults and weaknesses whether they are famous or not. To turn someone into a demi-god is playing with fire. Its like the 27 club, all these incredibly intelligent, talented enigmas (Hendrix, Cobain, Jim Morrison, Jean-Michel Basquiat) dying young. You can't really imagine them getting old, they lived such full and vivid lives, early death seemed almost inevitable. But there's clearly a tragic beauty in those people, their faces seem more poignant for having such short and vital lives.
A lot of the faces featured have interesting life stories (how they've died, how tragic some of their lifes have been) Tell us some of these life stories and your film influence... such as the Edie Sedgwick portrait called, 'A Certain Kind of Love.'
Well the Edie Sedgwick story is a fascinating one. I wanted to paint a Factory Girl, because Warhol is somewhat the godfather of Pop Art. And he coined the 15 minutes of fame idea. Edie Sedgwick seemed to want fame and glory, but it was always twinged with sadness. She had a unsettled adolescence and a odd relationship with her father, so when she was thrown into the public eye with Warhol she seemed to be still battling with demons. Drugs seemed her way of controlling things, but she was the all-time party girl: enigmatic, stunning and a style icon. But when you took the drugs and partying away, who was she? Warhol found her fascinating and he said “the fascination I experienced was probably very close to a certain kind of love.”
Francious Deloreac was Catherine Deneuve's sister, they were in 'Les Demoiselles le Rochfont' together, a sugary pretty musical in the 60s. After that film Deloreac drove to catch a flight and not wanting to miss it, she tumbled her car and died in the car crash. A bit Diana-esque, a young beauty who will always be remembered as fresh and full of promise.
Why are we as a society so obsessed by famous faces?
I think it's about escapism, and in small doses it can be quite healthy. Like in the 1920-30's, when America was going through the Depression and Hollywood actors and actresses were like lights in the dark - people worshipped these stars, they were success stories and were glittering. Like when the recession started in 2007, cinemas said they were doing better than ever.
I think now 'the family' is quite disparate, so we look for other faces; models and icons to shape our lives. Gone are the times that your Grannie lives down the road, and your aunty round the corner. We probably know more about what's going on in Cheryl Cole's love life than our cousins.
What is the most favourite piece of work you've done and why?
I'm never entirely satisfied with anything I paint, and until I am I will keep striving to make the best painting I can. But I'm happy with the Basquiat piece I did for the show, that's my current favourite. I guess it looks right and conveys a certain madness and obsession, which is a little haunting.
When is the Art Star Ralph Lauren Polo Jeans due out?
I was lucky to be asked to make the first ArtStar at the beginning of this year. The ArtStar is literally a 5-pointed 3D star that's taller than me. It arrived in the studio in January when it was snowing, the star was made by some amazing wood-crafts people in Germany, and because of the short deadline it needed to be literally driven through the snow from Germany to my studio in Brighton. I spent every waking hour in January sewing sections together for the star, trudging in the snow to the studio every day. It was an exciting project and lovely to be asked. It has since toured round Europe and been shown in Germany, Italy, Sweden and Amsterdam.
After I finished my star, another 40 or so artists made an ArtStar including Herakut, ROA and Kate Moross. The ArtStars were auctioned on 6 December for Teenage Cancer Trust, a great charity doing amazing work for young kids.
The exhibition of all of the Art Stars, including Pam Glew's is on display at Philips de Pury until 10th December. Pam Glew's work has been successful on an international level and no doubt, it won't be too long before you hear her name again, in art circles or otherwise. It's not just because she paints famous faces that people who come across her work want a Pam Glew original on their wall. It's down to the fact that her work offers a haunting albeit stunning portrayal of fame in modern society a culture which is relentlessly infatuated with fame.