Pamela Carroll bears witness to the world. In fact, the Carmel artist has made a career of exhaustively observing--sometimes inch by inch--everyday objects, down to their smallest aspects.
"I look at an object like you look through a camera lens," she says. "I just spend time looking carefully. You learn to appreciate things."
Rusted throwaway vases, 1940s-era children''s toys, and shimmering beets, gourds and persimmons are central to Carroll''s work, which can be seen in "American Still Life," her new exhibit at the Carmel Art Association.
Carroll''s eye for minutiae in the American household has blossomed into a full-time painting career. The self-taught artist has also launched several art business ventures, including gift-wrapping design, portraiture and children''s book illustration. Later this year, she begins work on illustrations for a children''s book (to be published by Sleeping Bear Press) devoted to California.
Commercial projects aside, it is the work of painting that compels Carroll. Endowed with a pictorial imagination and a poet''s sensitivity to light and texture, Carroll, 52, has taken up the examination of prosaic objects and imbued them with her own precision and warmth. Unabashedly sentimental, Carroll''s paintings explore beauty for the sake of beauty; if there is transcendence, it is through the objects themselves.
"The challenge of Realism is to get something to look as real as possible--to look three-dimensional," she says. "That''s when it comes alive for me."
To this end, she has produced dozens of paintings of books and vessels and bulbs that quiver on the canvas with a kind of reverence for the objects themselves. For Pamela Carroll, these are objects of the deepest mystery. Her effort is to make us see and understand what she experiences as she contemplates them. In Carroll''s paintings, the commonplace and the transcendent inform each other. She has an unapologetically awed vision of life, in which she sanctifies the homely and instructs us to appreciate the everyday world--both domestic and natural.
"I guess my imprint on a work is to respect the old things. To show how they were used and loved. I don''t want to produce depressing paintings. I want the viewer to feel comfortable, to feel at home," she says.
Her painting process, however, often involves hours of preparation. First is the search to determine what she will paint. This is a process that is not lost on her friends, who happily provide the artist with dispensable household bric-a-brac often destined for landfills. Like a thrifty French cook, Carroll wastes nothing--it all appears in her painting. She then composes the arrangement of things, often spending two hours just looking at objects before she even picks up a brush.
And while the arrangement of food and ordinary objects like books and mu-sical instruments have been a part of artistic compositions for hundreds of years, it wasn''t until the 16th century that still-life became a genre of its own. Seventeenth-century Dutch masters such as Willem Claesa and Jan Davidsz rendered lavishly realistic feasts or created monuments to impermanence with their gleaming skulls and extinguished candles.
For her part, though, Carroll''s paintings recall the works of the American tromp l''oeil artists, especially those of William M. Harnett. Harnett often depicted isolated fruit, cups, books or instruments set upon a bare surface against a darkened background. Light floods the scene from one direction and divides the canvas into brightly lit and obscured zones.
Born in Southern California, Carroll began her art education at age 6, when she would sit and draw her dog Skipper, or render animals from magazines.
"Drawing animals, or looking at books and copying other artists--that was something I could always do. I could always copy well."
Today, Carroll lives with her husband, Chris, in a Julia Morgan-designed house with airy views of the Santa Lucia range. Carroll has only painted the view from her window three times. With its sweeping panorama, the mountains somehow proved to be too vast and distant for someone whose love is in the details.
"I feel I have to get everything in," she says.
"American Still Life" runs through Dec. 6. at the Carmel Art Association, Dolores between 5th and 6th, Carmel.