A Delicate Balance

Pam Marchin sculpture

First exhibit in months to open at Garrison Art Center

The title of an installation that opens on Saturday (Aug. 8) by Pam Marchin at the Garrison Art Center — Monkey Bars — summons the wild energy of childhood, but also the risk of falling, a fear that becomes more pronounced with age.

Marchin’s installation, inspired in part by a decade she spent as a nurse treating a largely geriatric clientele, is about that tenuous balance between the joys and frailties of life. Although conceived before the pandemic, it serves as a commentary on the global crisis.

It is the first in-person show at the art center since March. Masks and social distancing will be required of visitors.

The centerpiece of Monkey Bars is a table that displays clay and mixed-media sculptures. Monotypes and transfer drawings make up the rest of the show.

Pam Marchin

Pam Marchin (photos provided)

“My work has always dealt with pathos: a fragility, a vulnerability,” says Marchin, who lives in Nyack. “I think of life as a balancing act. The sculpture installation is like a bizarre landscape of a barren playground — there are monkey bars, a seesaw, a hospital bed – with animals in it. 

“It kind of just poured out of me. I started making all these little sculptures, in organic shapes. I looked at a lot of anatomy books. Some have peg legs, some need to be held up by sticks, or propped up in different ways.”

Although Marchin studied fine arts in college, her father ran an advertising company and she wound up working with him. Eventually she became a graphic artist, then an art director, freelancing for over 25 years. 

When the assignments began drying up and she felt a desire to do something more meaningful, she went back to school at age 51 to become a nurse. She did that for 10 years before retiring 18 months ago.

“I’ve finally been able to devote all my time to art,” Marchin says. “In a way, all these careers were a way to support my art, but now I go into the studio. It can be difficult; the creative process is not easy. Constantly coming up with ideas takes a lot out of you, and sometimes it’s easier to go into a job.”

Drawn to animals through many visits as a child to the Bronx Zoo with her grandfather, Marchin has long made them a focal point of her art. “My work has always dealt with biomorphic forms and the limitations they have,” she says. “It has always dealt with psychological entrapment: You are who you are; there is no escaping it.” 

She says that because her sculptures are abstract, there is no common reaction. “I like ambiguity,” she says. “The feeling [the art elicits] is more important to me than the ‘What is it?’ Mood, and the way the characters interact on the table, the dynamics between them, is more important.” 

Monkey Bars will run through Sept. 13. The Garrison Art Center, at 23 Garrison’s Landing, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Monday. See garrisonartcenter.org. 

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