Essay by Craig Krull - Ucross Foundation Summer Exhibit 2010

The past lives on, in art and memory, but it is not static;
it shifts and changes as the present throws its shadows
backwards. The landscape also changes, but far more slowly; 
it is a living link between what we were and what we have
                                                                Margaret Drabble *1

Upon my desk are little piles of stones collected from places that have become sacred. Each cluster reflects the physical elements of a place, as well as the forces of the place that shaped it. They are concrete facts, but also talismans containing the power to recall in my mind all of the sensations and memories associated with their origins. We are equally formed by the places that we inhabit, like the contours of a river rock. As the poet Gary Snyder maintains, “Our place is part of what we are.”*2 As a native of California, some of the elements that have defined my place include rolling hills of dry, pale brown grasses dotted with still cows and oak trees. The fact that these places are often referred to by locals as “old California” suggests that they are disappearing. Perhaps it is Pamela Kendall Schiffer’s reverence for these places that first drew me to her work. I find a connection with Pam’s paintings in the same way that I respond to the stones on my desk. They are certainly “a link between what we were and what we have become,” and all the more poignantly because, as Margaret Drabble concludes, “when a loved landscape is altered out of recognition; we lose not only a place, but a part of ourselves, a continuity between the shifting phases of our life.”*3

Pam’s recent paintings, made in Montana and Wyoming, are equally reverential. In fact, her approach to the sublime and expansive American West parallels the work of the Tonalist painters of the early 20th century who avoided the majestic, spectacular views of the previous generation in favor of a more reductivist and intimate composition that evoked a poetic mood. Tonalism, according to curator Harvey Jones, is characterized by “subtle nuances of color gradation with a relatively narrow range of spectrum hues.” Mr. Jones observes that this palette, along with modest and simplified forms, conveyed a “primacy of individual emotion” and a sense of spiritual transcendence.*4 Sounding like a true Tonalist, Schiffer says, “I’m structuring the paintings in an ever simpler way. I try to pare down a scene to its essential qualities. I hope to make the images fairly uncomplicated, while still imparting a sense of space and atmosphere and stillness, and paying attention, as always to the quality of light.”*5

It is perhaps Schiffer’s quality of light that is the most sacred and evocative element of her work. Her interpretations of moon glow are as haunting as an Albert Pinkham Ryder, and her depictions of flattened light in cloud-covered snow scenes give one the sense that their evenness of light is symbolic of a quiet harmony of all things. Her attention to light has always reminded me of Vermeer’s Woman with a Pearl Necklace. Standing before a mirror, the woman holds her necklace and her breath is taken away by the delicacy of the moment. What we are really looking at is the space between the woman and the mirror. Her eyes are actually Vermeer’s and he is in rapture with the light falling softly across the wall.

Craig Krull

Craig Krull is the owner of Craig Krull Gallery, located in the Bergamot Station Arts Center in Santa Monica, California
1.Margaret Drabble, A Writer’s Britain, 2009, Thames & Hudson, New York, Pg 269
2.Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild, 1990, North Point Press, New York, Pg 27
3. Drabble, Pg 269
4. Harvey Jones, Twilight & Reverie: California Tonalist Painting 1890-1930, 1995, The Oakland Museum, Oakland, California, Pg 1-11
5.Correspondence with Pamela Kendall Schiffer, April 13, 2010