Pamela Johnson's work holds both emotional and visual appeal because, face it, we all can relate to junk food on some level. Her still lifes are a reflection of the turbulence of our times and how we deal with it. They are seductive and worrisome - a guilty pleasure, like the subjects themselves. Not one to shy away from packaged goodness, I wanted to sound out Pamela to make sure I've been reading her work the way she intended.
Food, food, glorious food - this has been your dubious muse for quite some time now. How would you describe your relationship to food, as an artist? What message are you conveying through your work?
I do love food and, on a personal level, thoroughly enjoy both cooking and baking. Food plays a central role in life and is indicative of larger aspects of a culture. In my paintings, I use food as an impetus to talk about mainstream America. We live in a society based on consumerism and the ever present need to fulfill the insatiable American appetite. Mass produced, highly processed, junk food seems to be the appropriate symbol to explore those aspects of our culture.
Do you find that people are attracted to your work for the nostalgia factor (based on childhood memories) rather than your message? How do you feel about this?
Nostalgia is an important aspect of my work, just as it is an important element of most anything within our culture. The subjects of my paintings are part of many American childhoods and most of us have memories associated with that. I hope to create a balance between the temptation and appeal associated with these foods and the negative aspects of overconsumption. This is the culture that most of us grew up in and there are many, many great things about it. Even if there are negative aspects to our consumption, it is still a part of us.
I find that people are attracted to my work for many reasons. Some people understand my message, although there are many people that are drawn to my work because they love donuts, Hostess cupcakes, or whatever junk food is the subject of a particular painting. I actually enjoy that aspect of my work. Whatever the reason, all types of people are drawn to my work and because of this it allows a conversation to begin and an opportunity for me to discuss the ideas behind my work to a wider audience.
Your pieces are quite large-scale - what role does super-sizing play in your work?
The scale of my work is an important element used to emphasize the message in the work. My work is about consumption and excess. It is crucial to create that feeling when my paintings are viewed. By making the work not only larger than life, but also larger than you, the feeling of excess is unavoidable.
Images of the forbidden fruit of today tend to catch our eye. Why don't we see very much of other menu items? isn't all food loaded with meaning?
Junk food is the subject that started this series. My paintings allow me to explore deeper ideas and concerns that I have. So often the subject is purposely chosen to talk about something important to me.
Yes, all food and most things are loaded with meaning. For this series, I had specific ideas about our culture that I wanted to explore and felt that junk food best spoke to that. As I think about exploring other ideas, different food and even other subject matters might be more appropriate.
How have your series developed over the years? What are you working on right now?
This body of work began with very large canvases overflowing with massive quantities of donuts, hamburgers, or candy. The work was larger than life, excessive in quantity and overwhelming in scale. The work speaks of the excesses in in American culture and the prevalent desire to embrace quantity over quality.
Over time, the series has progressed to comment on other aspects of American culture. After the economic downturn and the continued recession, the huge canvases of piles of junk food evolved into smaller canvases portraying just the empty wrappers. Junk foods consumed to the extent that we are left with nothing but the resulting garbage.
I have very recently started branching out into other foods. In wanting to explore the widening income gap in America, I have begun painting precious little pastries. Each perfect pastry is set apart and isolated under a glass dome. The glass dome allows that viewer to admire and desire the object, but also keeps that object out of reach.
By the way, what's your favorite food?
I am not very good at picking favorites because I prefer experiencing new and different things. I do have a bit of a sweet tooth and love to bake, so anything in the homemade baked goods category is something that I am sure to love.