Come Closer – Stories in Woodcut and Linocut Print

Exhibition Catalogue Introduction

 

In this survey exhibition of her artwork in print, Pamela Dodds introduced moments of connection (and disconnection) between individuals. Stories unfolded among and between the figures carved into her black-and-white linocut and woodcut prints; in text and images printed from naturally-formed fragments of tree bark exploring the role of language in a relationship; and in an installation of tall colour prints featuring representations of figures in water.

 

This exhibition had been chosen for inclusion in the VAC’s 2017 season by previous curatorial staff. Of the four exhibitions scheduled during my term as Interim Executive Director / Curator, I chose to work more closely on this exhibition in part because of the rich layering of imagery and meaning.

 

The ambitious installation created for the loft space included eighteen tall prints hung in a way that encouraged a winding path–both literally, as visitors moved thoughtfully between the rows of works that were at once imposing and delicate, and more figuratively, as a narrative (about paired female figures on eight of the works) unfolded and was reinvented as different routes through the space were taken and abandoned. The immediate, overall impression of blue, perhaps particularly within a bright loft space, suggested sky; further and closer involvement with the work rebalanced the translucent blues with greens and woodgrain, and grounded the work and the viewer. The bodies of the female figures also began to challenge the initial suggestion of sky, shifting it uncomfortably toward an association with water, and thus changing the context for the figures–they were no longer flying but swimming, sinking, drowning. The title of the installation, Undertow, confirmed this, but the sequence of the final few prints provided space for hope that the undertow can be overcome, and that the water may be interpreted as sky once again.

 

In the small intimate exhibition space on the main floor of the Centre, some more subtle works had room to resonate. Dodds created prints from the soft, organic shapes of the bark of Plane (Plantan) trees from Catalonia, which struck her as “hardly different from the letterforms that we collect and arrange into words to create meanings.” She experimented with these shapes as language: sequencing them into an alphabet, for example, and (in Language for a Faltering Mind), creating a dialogue between them and poetic but disconnected phrases from a relative who was losing her ability to communicate due to dementia. Even in these non-figural works, relationships and conversations play a central role.

 

The larger main-floor exhibition space was a more formal, traditionally organized and - displayed introduction to Dodds’ black-and-white linocut and woodcut prints. Various stages of relationships, of connection and disconnection, were apparent: between paired figures in each work; between the figures and other, often natural elements in many works; between works in each series; and between the series. The tensions were at once muted and intense.

 

What is staggeringly, arrestingly, and sometimes distressingly human about single representative moments in a relationship was laid bare in works across this exhibition. Dodds generously invited her audience into her confidence by sharing something uniquely personal–she creates from a lesbian, feminist perspective and responds in her work to her own relationships–while the viewers could not help but to see themselves and all that is universal in the stories and the moments, and the moments between.

 

Sherri Helwig

Former Interim Executive Director

Visual Arts Centre of Clarington, Ontario