The Wild Woman of Art

January 30, 2022

The hands continually covered with paint tell the of life via a path less traveled, living the ultimate bohemian experience. Look at the bumpy topography of our former dining room table from Wilmington, covered in years of painting on it, unfettered, for a road map.

My mother once said that I was in love with a paintbrush, but the real love comes from my husband Jeff, who puts up with having a crazy artist for a wife, hell-bent on making her mark on the world, or at least on Delmarva.

I started painting in college in the mountains of Northern New Mexico in the late 1960s. I ripped my first painting off my watercolor block and sold it to a doctor's wife. Doctors' wives are very important for struggling artists!

The tumbleweed town at the end of the Santa Fe Trail was like the one in the old Western television series, "The Rifleman," with new strangers appearing every week on the modern stagecoach – the train. "Santa Fe the Chief Way" was printed on its side, reflecting mesas and mountains. While in college there in Las Vegas, New Mexico, I hung out in a smoky downtown café where local businessmen congregated. This was a very important component of my college education, and I fell in love with the townspeople!

Jess Price, the owner of the local hardware store, became a patron. He let me show paintings in his hardware store window along with bug spray and paint. The strangers and townspeople passed by and carried away my paintings to far-off points. An artist was born!

After graduation with an MA in painting, I didn't have the courage to be a full-time artist yet. I taught art on a dark stage facing a noisy cafeteria, peering out a small square window at a chicken factory with feathers floating about, longing for the café and my old friends far away. Did they even know where I went?!? One day, after six years and a big snowstorm, I quit teaching.

With $2.62 left to my name, I started painting. I dyed my hair purple and scored an article in the News Journal titled "The Purple Painter Lady has no patience for rules." I have a lot to thank newspapers for – my existence and being able to be an artist, and now to write.

Being an artist is not all fun and games like most people may think. I work on several pieces at one time, and I carry them outside to dry in the summer and place them in front of the furnace in the winter. I turn my clothes inside out so they don't get ruined with paint. Sometimes I "blow up" small pieces in my paint-covered microwave for special effects.

Art shows are microcosms of the whole world. Artists' spaces are like separate countries vying for dominance. Once, I had set up at a local show and was moving my car when I swerved to avoid a hotdog truck. His ketchup and mustard went flying everywhere, and he yelled at me. The sun was barely up, and I ended up in a ditch. While I was charming a man in a pickup truck to pull me out, my artist "neighbor" next to my stand moved my whole table out of the shade and put hers in my spot! See what I mean?

Yes, art is both physical and political. It's sometimes an endurance contest to produce when you're exhausted, or have had a bad spell, but you have to face yourself when ennui sets in. There's also paint to buy like cerulean blue, gamboge, alizarin crimson, and rose madder. I have to comb through thrift shops and flea markets for frames and old junk jewelry, and purchase paper from France called Papier de Moulin Rouge. None of it is cheap!

There are sable-haired fan brushes, puffy paint tubes that you bite the tips off of, a "glitter bank" on the rug where you can find tiny stars if you crawl on your hands and knees, and the "bag of bags" full of items that you've collected for future projects or from kindly people who have left them at your front door! And did I mention baking small clay pieces in your oven at midnight?!

I once looked out my front door and saw the UPS man carrying a huge, mysterious box up my steps. It was from an anonymous benefactor from New Orleans, a treasure trove of Mardi Gras beads. Everyone says I should go there someday.

Yes, I've had a lot of interesting things happen in my artistic life. Selling a painting on the operating table, going to the MSNBC “Chris Matthews Show” to deliver a painting, and meeting all kinds of people including the woman who was getting a divorce and wanted me to paint her husband on his yacht with sharks surrounding it.

I'll do whatever they ask, and I usually hit the mark, being part psychic. But no perfectionists need apply!

  • Pam Bounds is a well-known artist living in Milton who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art. She will be sharing humorous and thoughtful observations about life in Sussex County and beyond.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter