Justice Distorted: The Todd Newmiller Series
This painting series was motivated by the incarceration of Todd Newmiller in 2008 for murder; Todd’s father is a colleague, so the story hit home in a personal way. Over several years, over several appeals, the improper handling of evidence and the unregulated forensics labs have been issues, although Todd’s verdict hasn’t been overturned. I expressed my reactions to the case in over 25 acrylic paintings.
Jacob Lawrence’s series, The Migration of the Negro, from the 1940s, inspired most of the compositions which include stark geometric shapes and patterns contrasting with figurative images. Bright, exuberant coloration belies the more serious undertones and sardonic wit of the works. The metallic surface of the paper adds unique angles and edges too. Gestalt principles of perception and camouflage techniques push and pull the surface tension in each artwork. Like Lawrence’s paintings, compositions are fragmented in a tableau style and images aren’t represented in traditional linear perspective.
Artist Ben Shahn is perhaps most famous for his painting series that covered the trial and condemnation of Sacco and Vanzetti in the early 1930s. The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti pictures the judge in the central position flanked by two prosecutors holding lilies. In the immediate foreground are two caskets holding the condemned men. The background very simply portrays classical columns and architecture. Shahn was an expert at abbreviating and telling stories with an economy of line and detail, inspiring me to do the same.
Images are culled from a variety of sources. From his cell, Todd provided me with sketches and drawings and Todd’s stained glass sculptures feature prominently in several works. Excerpts from his blog writings in prison, “I am Ahab,” and documentation and evidence presented during the trials provided me with raw material; even Todd’s signature was used.
Two large pieces are painted on flattened bandsaw sanding belts. “Nothing to Say” is a satirical look at the family visits in the prison. Whiling away hours, they draw and doodle, covering pages with funny cartoons. My translation shows empty pages and no hands holding tools capable of making any marks.
Several high-profile cases in the past years have shown that wrongful incarceration is an injustice in the U.S. prison system that is not easily resolved. My works express feelings about the specific case and general topics of injustice, flawed process, and families destroyed. “Justice Distorted” is one small scream from a dark cell.
– Pam Chadick-Aloisa
Subjects of War
War is not just violence on the field of battle, but permeates our domestic environments. The paintings in this series depict both interior and landscape scenes both with and without figures.
My goal with this series is to connect everyday life with war subjects; what might appear to be simple is not so simple. Some of the works are inspired by family photos; my son was deployed 8 times to war zones while he served in the army. Some are also inspired by my own military experience. Most are compositions merging images from a variety of photo sources to visually capture the complexity of conflict.
Distortion and abstraction play an important role in the styles presented in these works. Some subjects are treated with fine detail and a more realistic rendering; in the same work are areas that show exaggerated shadows, shapes, and very little detail, appearing almost unfinished or blurred. My techniques lend to the overall concepts I want to embed in the paintings: the juxtaposing of opposites (light/dark, vibrant color/dull color), the vagueness and lack of clarity in the narratives presented, and the inclusion of everyday emotions running the gamut from laughter and hilarity to anger and boredom.
Today’s wars are complex affairs. The black market, secret agreements, and unpredictable shifts in political leadership and global economies fuel and support many conflicts today. Providing arms to specific groups raise concerns about the weapons potentially being stolen, given to a corrupt cause, or falling into wrong hands. Changing notions of concepts of different religions adds to the complexity. Huge amounts of money cross borders via complex agreements; taxes of citizens not only support war and violence, but also provide humanitarian aid to allies.
Whether firing a weapon in the Middle East, showing a trainee how to pack bottled water on a pallet to be dropped off a plane, or watching a reality show in our living room overlooking the Front Range of Colorado, we are all part of today’s war machine. My paintings try to capture aspects of that machine and all of us who experience it in various ways.
– Pam Chadick-Aloisa
Slashed, Scraped, Stripped, Sliced, and Slanted
A strip of land is “slashed” with orange paint. Wedges “slice” through a face. Color is “scraped”, revealing another color beneath. Details are “stripped” leaving very strong basic shapes. Finally, all are “slanted”; every painting presenting meanings that slant according to the perceptions of the viewers.
The works in this collection are not just content-related, but rely heavily on a concept of form that involves pulling away from the rectangular shape of the framed format. They are all rectangular, but my intention was to defy that format with strong interior shapes and emphasis in the paintings. The smaller glazed works show literal “slicing “by having the images cut and positioned in such a way that the frames themselves become an important statement.
Figures are integral to my interest and expression, as they have been for over 30 years. My larger paintings are more complex in narrative and rely usually on more than one figure and subjects that are combined in unique ways to keep eyes roaming through the visual story. Meanings differ between individual viewers and provide a level of ambiguity that I enjoy in these works.
My usual techniques involving those of the European Symbolists are used, including bold strokes (slashes) and expressionistic brushwork. I have also experimented with the techniques of Bezold effect and Anticerne technique, which make use of contrasts in color and edge quality. I’m still working with these techniques and attempt to get traditional compositions energized with less predictable color combinations. I expect that my work will continue in this direction, but I also want to push more subtle emotions and contradictory moods in facial and bodily poses and expressions as I work on larger canvases.
Our culture is rampant with photographic and film imagery so I get immense pleasure in continuing to paint but especially delight in the surprise and shock that viewers experience when they face these newer paintings. Painting is still powerful expression!
– Pam Chadick-Aloisa