Visual Arts

Pamela Fraser at the Blaffer; It's Funny Ha-ha But Also Not

In 1966 artist and writer Robert Smithson wrote an essay entitled "Entropy and the New Monuments," in which he deconstructs selected works in a beautifully written critique comparing the art to science, fiction and society in a philosophical, and somewhat metaphysical manner. Smithson says, "Questions about form seem as hopelessly inadequate as questions about content." In terms of abstract art, Smithson has struck a chord.

It is this essay that is the thread that ties together the work of artist Pamela Fraser in her new exhibition, "The Fourth Dimension was Ha-Ha, in Other Words, That it is Laughter," which opens June 1 at the Blaffer Art Museum. The title of the show alone questions form in and of itself.

At first glance Fraser's art seems simple. Most of her pieces are made from acrylic or gouache, and are in the form of well-known shapes, triangles or squares. But upon further examination these pieces ask you to question form and the answer is "inadequate" or inconsistent; there is no answer, only color and shape.

Fraser is a Tennessee native now living in Vermont and while she has shown across the United States, this is her first Texas exhibition. This show has been several years in the making as Fraser met curator Nancy Zastudil when Zastudil was still the associate director of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts. The two women say that they were eager to work together and it was just a matter of timing. In the build-up for this show, Fraser pieced together paintings that she wanted to showcase but the theme came somewhat later on.

"The selection was somewhat organic." Fraser says, "The Smithson essay was the thread that tied everything together."

From Fraser's perspective there is an element that Smithson writes about in which laughter comes from a place of seriousness. Fraser sees abstract art as also embodying the playfulness that comes out of the solemn and often humorless art world. Fraser wants her art to be seen as fun.

How Fraser uses color is fascinating. Her pallet is all over the place, purposefully. There may be a bright neon pink triangle next to a ruddy maroon shape next to a sea blue square and while you stare in perplexity wondering what the connection is, it then hits you --- there is none and that is the intent.

"I don't want people to make color connections," mentions Fraser. We pull so many connotations out of color combinations, red and green for Christmas, pastels for spring, colors are even branded at this point in our lives, pink is for Breast Cancer Awareness and so on. The challenge that Fraser and other artists face is moving away from those preconceived notions about color. And Fraser does tackles this in earnest.

Fraser's shapes are another source of non-conformity. What are they exactly? It's a triangle, but it's really not. Again, she does this with intention. She aims to bridge a gap between strict formality of geometric shapes and informality by making these forms slightly skewed. Several of her pieces consist of shapes cut out of the canvas, the absence of form.

This work is meant to make you think, but also asks you not to think too much. Fraser describes her own work as "whimsical" and "playful" but also mentions her approach to color logic and her intention for others to take the art seriously. And there's that dichotomy again.

I will say this, if you are looking for a solemn, weighty art exhibition, this is not the show for you. But if you are looking for an enjoyable collection that will catch you off guard with its profound color combinations and thought-provoking narrative, Fraser's work will be on display through July 27 with an opening and reception this evening, May 31. Go find the ha-ha emerge from the serious for yourself.

Pamela Fraser: The Fourth Dimension was Ha-Ha, in Other Words, That it is Laughter. Blaffer Art Museum. June 1 - July 27, 2013. Public Opening and Reception, May 31, 6-9 p.m.