Identity Deconstructed

Contemporary artist Pam Glew experiments with vintage textiles to explore identity constructs.

Pam Glew is known for her singular bleaching technique on fabric, using dye and bleach to create distressed vintage textiles. In 2007, she began to use flags, quilt, and brocade as a response to war. The resulting piece, “Afghan Girl”, appeared on the cover of Le Monde News. Glew’s work went worldwide, with approximately one-hundred group exhibitions and six major solo shows.

When asked about inspiration for her contemporary art, Glew says, “I wouldn't say cull inspiration from as such, but ones that feed my eyes are Herakut, Candice Tripp, Antony Micallef, Chuck Close, Etam Cru, Craww, James Jean, Will Barras and many more. I also take inspiration from historical textiles, boro is my current obsession, mending old garments is similar to mending my quilts and flags, and I enjoy the aesthetic of something well-worn and loved. Also vintage and antique quilts are a constant inspiration, I especially enjoy the historical names of the quilt patterns, like 'Drunkards path', 'Bachelor's Puzzle' and 'Young Man's Fancy'.”

Glew uses 100% cotton textiles, for their ease in taking dye. She finds the vintage fabrics at flea markets, vintage markets, and auctions and auctions sites.  After machine washing the textiles, she dyes the fabric a dark shade, usually DYLON Machine Dye Black or Navy Blue. She then washes the material a second time, using salt according to the directions. Once the textile is dry, she irons the fabric, having sewn extra fabric at the top and bottom. This allows her to hang the textile tight with dowel rods. 

She culls images from either ‘pausing’ photo films, using photographs of herself in costume, or the internet. The artist manipulates these images with Photoshop and draws with a Wacom Graphics tablet. Once the image is printed out, she references it while painting with household bleach, wearing gloves and a mask with a special chorine filter. After the bleach sets for ten minutes, she remains in her protective gear while washing the textile with detergent. Glew dries, irons, and paints with bleach again. Glew repeats this process, sometimes using up to ten layers of bleach. 

“I think the most challenging process of making the paintings is that as I use vintage and antique textiles they have very different reactions to dye and bleach. Sometimes it can be plain sailing and the fabric will dye well and bleach perfectly. Other times the fabric will have some content of polyester or wool which stops it either dyeing or bleaching well, and so I have an ever-growing pile of vintage fabric that can't become a painting. I have started using these remnants to make limited edition home-wares, cushions and small functional pouches and such, so that they can live on again as objects when they can be fulfilled as paintings. Even though I have a solar- paneled house, I think my use of washing and dyeing is a little wasteful. Re-use of old materials and sustainability is something I am passionate about, despite the time it takes.”

Her recent involvement with the “There’s a Good Girl” exhibition celebrates art by women in the creative industries. The exhibition further challenges the domination of the “male gaze” in advertising, television, and the media. Glew remarks, “I hope more women become artists or fulfill whatever path they want to, there is a long way to go to social, economic and employment equality, and the more women who make their mark the better.”

This contemporary artist continues to revolutionize ideas about social constructs and propaganda by exploring the theme of hotel rooms. Raised in Cornwall, England, known for its holiday seaside resort, the hotel industry and its subsequent lifestyle impressed Glew as a rural child. “Hotels are full of intrigue, secrets, affairs, and have a deeply embedded 'upstairs/ downstairs' hierarchy which is both old-fashioned and yet essential to function of a hotel. I find them fascinating.”

Through her edgy use of vintage textile, Grew challenges the viewer to ​deconstruct cultural norms and the integrity of selfhood. The contemporary artist examines her philosophy concerning the dialogue between the viewer, the art, and the artist. “My subjects are often staring back at the viewer, and I enjoy this relationship. The audience becoming the subject. There is an uncomfortable staring match between the observer and the art. I like that relationship, the paintings are larger than life, and they never break their gaze.”

To learn more about Pam Glew, please visit www.pamglew.co.uk.

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