Whether you’re familiar with Pamela Marie Pierce or not, if you live in Saint John, it’s likely that you’re at least familiar with her artwork; it can be found in many of our coffee shops and storefronts, gracing the covers and pages of ‘Hard Times in the Maritimes‘, and, for the month of December, she has opened a ‘Pop-up Art Shoppe’ on Germain Street. She possesses a remarkable artistic talent, but it might not be so surprising if you’re having trouble putting a face to a painting. Pamela is a quiet and humble individual; her voice barely exceeds a whisper and she manages to drop it a few more decibels when she’s required to talk about herself. “Some people are gifted at talking about their work, and I admire that, and enjoy hearing about it, but a picture saying a thousand words kind of works for me. If I wish to say it, I say it, and if I wish to draw it, I draw it… I should have just made you a comic.”
A self-taught artist, the bold lines and intricate patterns of Pamela’s work are well-suited to comics; citing Archie illustrators, Dan DeCarlo and Samm Schwartz, as early influences, she works primarily in ink drawings with water-colour washes, “though I am secretly in love with oil painting,” she adds. “I learned a lot about drawing from reading comic books, as a kid. Even an Archie could contain a dozen lessons: Dan DeCarlo, Samm Schwartz…very good stuff, but it started before I was able to read; I remember being really, really little and getting so lost in studying the lines of everything. I remember very strongly being in my crib while visiting with family at my grandparents’ place and scrutinizing the wallpaper, which had all of these great, colourful animals…lions, giraffes…, and trying so hard to compare the lines and colours of those funny animals to the lines and colours of everything else in the room. Everything has always seemed, to me, to be made up of lines.”
“If anyone should catch me staring at them, I’m probably drawing their lines in my head. ….probably. It’s a good excuse, at least!”
Pamela’s style is sometimes dark, sometimes whimsical, and often haunting. It’s a perfect match to the gritty/arts & crafts/pseudo-Victorian aesthetic of ‘Hard Times in the Maritimes’, which she and Julia Wright began producing in the summer of 2013. “Julia thought it might be time to start a new ‘zine for Saint John and asked whether I’d be interested in doing it with her. I thought it was a great idea; There was a feeling to the project of choosing to build, even in the face of loss. We are both pleased that it’s still going and we have a good amount in common when it comes to our taste in aesthetics, subjects, and mood. It is fun to spot people with copies of ‘Hard Times’, to see them holding and reading, or even wearing, something covered in my artwork.” In the last year, ‘Hard Times’ has become an uptown staple and a binding agent in our community. It is, perhaps, the project Pamela has become best known for, but she remains humble about stepping into the spotlight of even a local celebrity, “I don’t expect that they would connect it to me, but it’s kind of fun to walk into places and see people with it.”
Though born in Cape Breton, Pamela represents an ideal amongst Saint Johners; not only because she has contributed to the cultural and economic landscape, but because she has moved here and embraced it. She sees the beauty in its rough, half-industrial, half-Victorian scenery. “When I moved uptown a few months back, I thought that I was really going to miss living where I had lived, in Hampton, because there was a lot there that I found quite beautiful: the trees, the river, the mountain behind my house, but when I moved uptown, the vision of Saint John relentlessly grabbed my attention. I was constantly getting caught on the beauty: little corners of buildings, the light, the lines; there’s so much beauty uptown and I just can’t stop falling for it. At first, I was taking a lot of photographs with my phone and flooding my Instagram with it. I found it very comforting that my eyes and heart were just as happy here as they had been in the country, and felt grateful to the city itself, and wanted to embrace it.”
The experience grew into the subject of her most recent work: a collection of postcard-like illustrations of Saint John. Silhouetted brick buildings and power-lines that could almost represent any street corner, backyard, or rooftop view, feel comfortably familiar to those intimate with the city. “I feel at home here, even though I had expected to feel displaced, so I started drawing a lot of pictures, then thought that I’d like to gather them up and send them back out as little love notes to the city. It’s significant for me to dedicate this much time to drawing a specific subject; It really has to move me, to make me draw so many pieces, and I’ve done quite a few of these ones. It involves spending a great deal of time wandering streets and alleys, having long exchanges with buildings, and listening to others who also love it here. I’m embracing the uptown by touching as many edges of it as I can.”
For the month of December, Pamela can be found at 122 Germain Street, next to Backstreet Records, at her ‘Pop-Up Art Shoppe‘, selling her framed illustrations (many of which are featured here). Originally, Pamela had placed a dozen of her works in her temporary studio/gallery, with the expectation that they would make their way out the door in an orderly fashion, as the holidays approached, to be replaced with more of her works in an equally orderly fashion. Expectations and intentions flew out the door, along with her artwork, nearly selling out her on-hand inventory on the first night and maxing out her year-end commissions in the first few days. Her shop has been re-stocked, in the meantime, but the demand for her art, this Christmas, seems likely to exceed the supply.
“You’re familiar with the idea that every painting is really a self-portrait of the artist. I think that’s probably true and also quite misquoted, but you get the gist.”