Sunday Slideshow: Studio Visit with Allen Brewer and Pamela Valfer

Being an artist is a family legacy for Allen Brewer; he continues to carry the torch with his multi-faceted gallery work and illustration clients that include: Target, United Airlines, and Smithsonian. Pamela Valfer has an extensive resume in the arts including many exhibitions and lectures.  Together the couple shares a studio in St. Paul and they’re currently preparing for a 4-month trip to Ireland for Pamela to teach a semester for MCAD abroad.

View the slideshow on Flickr.

Photos and interview by Kelsey Johnston

Secrets of the City: Where did you guys grow up?
Allen Brewer: I grew up in St. Paul.
Pamela Valfer: I grew up in Wayzata.

Secrets: How did you guys get started in you individual fields?
PV: I did music for a long time. I was in a band call Kitty Craft. I had a little stint with that for a while, went to Japan a few times. I’ve always been kind of an odd duck. So, I didn’t have any other choice, I knew I wasn’t going to be an accountant. (laughs)
AB: I sold my first drawing to the mailman when I was seven years old, a drawing of Garfield for $5. Other than that I come from a pretty artistic family starting with my great great grandfather who was a landscape/portrait painter, and he had a bunch of sons who were artists. The art gene got passed down generations. Both my brothers and my dad are artists, there wasn’t ever a question of what I was going to be. It all depended on the capacity in which it would become.  I went to school for illustration and got into doing fine art.

Secrets: Allen, how would you describe your style?
AB: Currently, I am doing paintings and drawings that involve looking at found imagery and drawing or painting them without looking at what I’m doing. So, trusting my vision and the purity of the form rather then have my mind actually make up the in between stuff. So really it’s just like drawing and painting blind, but trusting my hand to record exactly what my mind is seeing.

Secrets: Pamela, I’d like to hear more about your sleep project that I saw on your site.
PV: That’s an older project that came about 2004 or 2003.  It was born out of a frustration from another project, so I wanted a diversion. I started shooting stealth pictures of people in the airport and on airplanes.  Selfishly I love the gestures but, then it became really apparent that it’s the only time or place in public where people become really vulnerable. I was really interested in that public/private tension. I was inspired by Freud’s paintings of his mother sleeping where she looked dead, so I liked that tension of this public death, this moment of total vulnerability.

Secrets:  It looks like your recent work includes hole punch circles, is that right?
PV: Yes. They’re from Home Depot paint swatches. The work was initially for a group show where the theme was contamination. So I started making these collages on the side and they have sort of taken off and have a life of they’re own. I’ve been obscuring and revealing information, I’m interested in how things effect each other.

Secrets: Some of the work I looked at on your web site Allen, have some childhood themes. Do you have a favorite childhood icon or character?
AB: I think that appeals to the illustrator in me. I continually go back to childhood as a theme because that’s when the ideas of major life concepts are formed and revealed. The ideas about death, life, and your own existence I see that not as a cliche kind of thing but, more of a formative… that’s when those things hit you for the first time, these huge ideas. Maybe it’s part of the innocence of that time and making sense of it that I really like. The more we live and the more we see the more things get muddied so, I continually go back to that age as a more of a purity and Innocent way of seeing things. They say, I don’t know who they is but, that you often dress and carry yourself in a way that is from a time that you were most happy, lately I feel myself dressing in like I did when I was kid. I think psychologically that has a lot to do with my work. My work also has to do with religion and life after death: figuring out big questions, unanswerable things that, growing up, people of influence tell you to believe in.

Secrets: Pamela, where did you learn taxidermy?
PV: I don’t officially do taxidermy. I’m self taught. The quilts came first, they are just recycled jackets, hats, and old minks found at local thrift stores. There’s a learning curve, I did a lot of research as to how you sew through fur, and it’s difficult because it’s incredibly tough but very fragile at the same time so, I had to figure these things out and ask around.  For one project I needed to reuse an old deer pelt and mount, so I did actually have to learn a bit of taxidermy process. So I turned to YouTube and  watched a taxidermy video of some old guy in his garage doing deer taxidermy, very unofficial.  It was a nine part series  but, really that was the only official training.  I don’t think I could actually do taxidermy because, even though I use fur, I tend to be a huge tree-hugger and couldn’t use anything but recycled fur.
Secrets: What tool can you not live out?
PV: That’s a great question because we’ve been trying to figure that out for our trip to Ireland and we’re only able to take so much along with us.
AB: I’d say photographic reference. You can see I use hundreds and hundreds of books- it’s what I depend upon to either draw or inspiration. I think I could do okay on my own just by making things up and drawing from life.
PV: I’m the grand appropriator, I don’t consider myself an artist that comes up with things. I see things around me and and recontextualize things, I see myself as more of a  juxtaposition artist so, found objects, or I guess found photographs/imagery. AB: That’s what I’m looking forward to in Ireland, if their art stores are complete crap and I have to build a  fire and make my own charcoal and draw in a cave. PV: The houses aren’t heated by systems they have stoves to heat the house and they don’t burn wood, they burn peat moss.

Secrets: So, I’m guessing you’ll be without WiFi?
PV: They do have it! It’s through the college but, apparently if a cow stands in the way of the signal it can be out for days.

Secrets: What is your favorite part about living in the Twin Cities?
PV: How easy it is, the quality of living, how vibrant the art scene is and when you travel you realize how lucky we have it. Minnesota culture upholds the importance of the arts. That is seen through programming, grants, and funding…. here more than any other city especially of our size.
AB: I would say the nature.

Secrets: What is your favorite establishment in the Twin Cities?
AB: If we were to create a list; W.A. Frost is our go to, the Walker we really like the M.I.A. is always good to go get lost for a few hours, local junk/thrift shops.
PV: M.I.A. is kind of my church.
AB: The Como Conservatory in the winter is a sweet place to go to see some green.