Theory in practice: Black draws on her teaching

Pam Black, "Theory and the Ethereal, #1."
Pam Black, "Theory and the Ethereal, #1."

Mind your manners. I'm sure they're impeccable, but if you go see Pam Black's exhibition, "Theory and the Ethereal," you'll need to watch your p's and q's because the "Dean's Gallery" at the University of Virginia School of Architecture includes not only the hallway outside the dean's office, but also the assistant to the dean's office and the dean's office itself.

Despite the venue's awkwardness, the setting is appropriate since many of Black's images originated at the architecture school, where she teaches drawing. Black repurposed pages on which she'd demonstrated various principles for her students to serve as jumping-off points for her semi-abstract compositions. She limited her media to the basic tools she prescribes in the classroom–- graphite, charcoal, colored pencils, ink pads, and pastels–- and focused on the core of her teaching: using line and composition to establish "accuracy through expression."

That accuracy means more than simply making the physical world recognizable in the drawings and paintings that constitute "Theory and the Ethereal"; it encompasses Black's creating a harmonic whole out of disparate aspects of her life. Her career, symbolized by diagrams and notes illustrating perspective and linear construction, becomes the underpinning for her passion for horses, dogs, and all things bucolic, and, in a more abstract way, her commitment to art-making.

If the architect's challenge is to establish structures in nature, Black's images move in the opposite direction, making architecture the ground for the natural world. For example, in "Theory and the Ethereal #3," Black overlays a background sketch depicting a hall of blue doors, which recede along a diagonal toward a vanishing point, with three smudgy studies of a dog. For one figure, she uses negative space to suggest a head. In another, a single rear paw is articulated. And in front, she adds a red collar to a sitting dog's neck.

In each composition, Black plays with adding and subtracting information, creating a flow between areas that are defined and others that are merely suggested. She uses color in subtle and tricky ways, such as in "Theory and the Ethereal #2," where buff and red create definition and warmth as well as link the foreground and background images.

Black's layered marks and erasures have an open-ended energy that's riveting. The longer one looks, the more–- and less–- one sees. Just remember not to fixate if you're standing in the dean's office.

Pam Black's exhibition, "Theory and the Ethereal," is on view through May 30 in the Dean's Gallery at the University of Virginia School of Architecture. A "closing reception" (it's not really closing) is scheduled for April 30, 5:30-7pm. Campbell Hall, second floor. 924-3715.