3 artworks by Pam Fortner

3-D Studio Demo Artist Pam Fortner

Pam Fortner will be in the 3-D Studio November 25–26, 2017.

I have always been fascinated by paper. I love its many textures. I taught myself how to bind books specifically so I could take paper out of my two-dimensional practice and bring it into the three-dimensional world.

– Pam Fortner

Megan Farlow: What will your demonstration look like at the DAM?

Pam Fortner: I’ll be working on two different projects during my demonstrations (I’m demonstrating on two weekends). I’ll be working on creating another Phantasm piece. This is a paper and steel sculpture that is, technically, a stack of books. I’ll have all of the phases of the project created and displayed so the public can see the many steps that go into creating the piece.

I’ll also be working on creating more of my Tesori pieces. These are particularly fascinating because of the origami that’s involved. I’ll have a number of pieces of paper available for the public to play with so they can get a firsthand view of the magic.

Megan Farlow: How has your background influenced you as an artist?

Pam Fortner: I’ve had an artistic nature since I was a child and excelled at all things artistic at school, but I didn’t have the opportunity to go to college for art, so I’m not traditionally trained. I certainly have no letters behind my name! I feel my lack of formal training has been an advantage as I’ve never been told what not to do. I feel this shows up in my unconventional combinations of material—steel and paper for instance.

I started working at 12 and have had 19 different careers—all of which were designed to help me avoid being a full-time artist. Each career added to my skills, and I find that bits and pieces of that background show up in my work. Finally in 2001, I took the leap, admitted who I was, and started my art business.

My experiences in the construction trade have probably influenced me the most in the artwork I’m creating now. Working in that field fed my curious nature and taught me not to be afraid to try things. This, coupled with my natural mechanical ability, has encouraged me to try all sorts of different mediums and techniques. I use all sorts of tools and materials designed for home construction when I’m creating artwork—the hardware store is one of my best sources for art supplies.

Megan Farlow: Do you have any inspirations that help you create art?

Pam Fortner: My biggest source of inspiration is nature. I’m always looking at the structure of plants and the way they grow, and then I translate that into my own artwork.

Music also inspires me. When I can, I listen to music while working. It energizes me and reinforces the sense of rhythm and repetition that is found in my pieces.

Megan Farlow: How did you start using paper, specifically books, as a main material in many of your sculptures?

Pam Fortner: I have always been fascinated by paper. I love its many textures. I taught myself how to bind books specifically so I could take paper out of my two-dimensional practice and bring it into the three-dimensional world. I love making sculptural books.

Books, themselves, became a big part of my work a few years ago. I rescued a few boxes of books that were destined for the recycling center and quickly realized what an amazing material I had discovered. When I use books to create sculptures, my experience deepens. I will read snippets of the pages as I work (often the book has been cut apart at this point) and wonder what event was happening or what the author was trying to convey.

Forbidden Knowledge by Pam Fortner
Forbidden Knowledge by Pam Fortner.

Specific books have influenced the piece I’m creating. The piece entitled Forbidden Knowledge consists of romance novels whose pages have been painted black and that were then bound together with a red cord to resemble a snake. I would never have created that piece if there hadn’t been a bunch of romance novels in those boxes of rescued books.

Megan Farlow: Do you have any specific inspirations that drive the forms you make?

Pam Fortner: Again, it’s nature. The natural form is a big inspiration. The way a leaf is attached to a plant. The way flowers spiral up a stem. A piece of moss caught in a pine needle. The shape of a feather, or a clam, or a starfish…the list goes on and on. I have many, many volumes of botanical illustrations and scientific illustrations that I refer to regularly.

Megan Farlow: Lastly, can you explain a bit about your artmaking process?

Pam Fortner: Process is the most important aspect of artmaking for me. I find that I can make great art when I love the process. When I do not love the process, my work becomes stale and uninteresting.

I often start with an idea. First thing in the morning, as I am waking up, is when the best ideas come to me. Sometimes, I will sketch them, but many times I go straight to the studio and start working on making it become real. Whether it’s a painting or a sculpture, the process of choosing the material, handling the material, and manipulating the material is what makes me happy.

I do a lot of experimentation. Often, pieces will grow out of my discovery of how a material can be manipulated. I will repeat that manipulation 100 times and create something completely unanticipated!

Images at top: Phantasm I, Forbidden Knowledge, Tesori dei Serafini. Photos © and courtesy of Pam Fortner.

Megan Farlow was a studio and artist programs intern in the department of learning and engagement at the Denver Art Museum. She enjoys the museum’s American Indian art collection, especially works by Jeffrey Gibson.

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