“I love that in some very tiny way, I’m making the world a smaller place.”
Pam Ingalls lives in a special world of sun-dappled rooms, familiar faces, and the life force that connects us all.
The Vashon Island-based artist casts a beautiful, glowing light on everyday people, places, and things we take for granted or walk right on by, taking magical oil-on-board snapshots, focusing on the soul of every piece.
Juried, studied, celebrated, and shown around the world, the Spokane native’s award-winning art — moving portraits, still life reflections, and rooms with a view — appears to hover just beyond the mind’s eye, and then, as if by equal parts imagination, intention, faith, and surrender… stroke by stroke… images are made real and true.
"I’m planning another group of Edmonds portraits for early 2022. I’m really eager to paint people there again! I’ll be collecting short videos of people to paint from at Cole Gallery in early September."
A neighbor down the hall. An attic washroom, rippling with activity moments earlier. A local hero, a traveler, an old soul in a child’s innocent eyes. A ripe, succulent grapefruit with one wedge missing, waiting for completion. Refugees in this pandemic. A young Jamaican student named Blocka, just trying to get through school.
The “Facing…” global portrait series — 14 years in the making — earned Ingalls a reputation as an artist of some renown, gifted with the ability to show people as they truly are. Her portraits cut through formalities straight to the heart of the matter, bringing strangers together, bridging superficial gaps, and building communities.
Four years ago, Ingalls set her sights closer to home just across the water, resulting in about 46 outstanding, uniquely Edmonds portrait paintings of the famous and infamous residents who live here.
Her “Facing Edmonds” show at Cole Gallery grabbed headlines, deepened bonds, touched and opened hearts, and introduced neighbor to neighbor — with a keen depth of perception and unconditional love.
“I feel very connected to Edmonds, especially since I did a portrait show there a few years ago,” Ingalls explains. “And I’m planning another group of Edmonds portraits for early 2022. I’m really eager to paint people there again! I’ll be collecting short videos of people to paint from at Cole Gallery in early September. I’ve also shown at Cole Gallery for about a decade, and have taught there many times. Plus, in 1996, 1997, I won a big prize at the Edmonds Art Fair, which pretty much set the direction for my interior paintings. So Edmonds has played a big part in my life, though I don’t actually live there.”
There is a pulse to your paintings, palpable, stunning, unforgettable. Your art gets to the heart of people, places, and things, often through the angle of natural sunlight at a certain time of day. How did you arrive at this compelling, personal style?
I studied with my father until I was in my early 20s. Later, I learned to paint from Ron Lukas, a protégé of Russian impressionist Sergei Bongart, from Kiev. Those teachers and the old masters were great influences. But I think that everyone automatically has their own style — if they just let it happen.
When I get excited about light coming into an interior scene or falling over a person, I hear myself saying, “I should paint that!” Then, I just paint. The magic happens when I step back and see that the painting has turned into a reflection of the subject that I didn’t expect.
What first strikes you about your subjects, your muse, before you put paint to canvas, and how do you proceed from an image or a feeling in your mind to the final piece?
I guess that last answer sort of covers this question. It’s usually the light on a subject that inspires me. If I can, I sit down right there and start to paint. But more often than not, I end up taking a photo of a little video of the subject, so I can paint alone in my studio. I choose a frame from the video — and paint from that.
You mention “a sense of humanity and presence, as if someone is either about to enter the frame or has just left it [website bio]” in describing your still life/interior scenes. You also capture the spirit of a room with all its things in place, as if it has a life of its own. Have you ever been startled with reverie and discovery by one of your paintings?
I love painting rooms that are a bit disheveled, as if someone just left the room. Rooms are so personal. A child’s bedroom or a kitchen counter only looks that particular way for a little while. Years go by… rooms get remodeled, or maybe they just cleaned up.
When I paint a scene, I get to continue being with the feeling I got when I first spotted it. Even years later, I still feel the same way about that particular moment.
Quite often — maybe always — I fall a little bit in love with my subject — even if it’s just a piece of fruit! I get lost in the nuances of what I’m painting. I just keep trying to translate what I see and feel into colors and values. As I keep going, I discover more and more about how beautiful the subject is.
What is your favorite subject matter to paint, and what is your process? Do you have a favorite painting?
I love painting everyday scenes and regular people. It’s fun to paint people. I am always striving to get better at that. I adore that moment when a face looks back at me from my painting. Often, the painting has more in it than I intended to put there. (That’s the amazing thing about oil paints!)
I switch back and forth, though. I love painting interior scenes, too — if the light is right. It’s fun to paint simple subjects — things that people normally wouldn’t think warrants an oil painting — like a bathroom sink, or some silverware, or just a couch.
“Splash and Dash” is one such example of living art, and you capture the pulse of the person (decidedly male, and a rugged adventurist) and the place so dearly. What’s the story behind this one?
Actually, “Splash and Dash” is of my friend Sandy’s loft-bathroom that she had for a while, years ago. She was helping a friend of hers with chores, I think, and got to live in the attic for free. When I saw the scene, I swooned to paint it. The wooden paneling, the blue towels, and the white sink jumped out at me. It’s just the type of scene I love to try capturing.
As I said before, I like it when things aren’t all cleaned up. They look lived in. These kinds of scenes say so much about people.
What have been some of your best memories, proudest moments, showing in Edmonds and beyond?
The best time I had in Edmonds was the opening of a portrait show Cole Gallery held for me called “Facing Edmonds” in 2018. I painted about 40 portraits of Edmonds residents. I was so excited to see people find themselves on the wall, and talk about other people they recognized in the paintings. It was a thrilling night for me!
And in 1997, when I was just getting started painting on my own, I entered the Edmonds Art Fair. When I won a prize there, and sold the painting, “Sun in the New Bathroom,” I felt like I’d hit the jackpot! That triumph gave me such a boost and encouraged me to keep pursuing art as a career.
The “Facing…” portrait series (you’ve been working on for 14 years) really exposed you to so many people from all over, not just Edmonds. Denise Cole of Cole Gallery raves about it.
I started by painting 50 portraits of people on Vashon Island, sort of as a gift to the island. Then I got the idea of going to other small communities to paint people to bring back the portraits to Vashon. It was a way of connecting us to the rest of the world.
I had a friend who’d moved to Jamaica, so I started by painting about 40 paintings from there. Then, I painted people in Guatemala; Native Americans in Nome, Alaska; Masai at a girls’ school in Kenya; Khasi people of Shillong in North Eastern India; New Yorkers in a HUD housing apartment building in Manhattan; Mauri people in New Zealand; refugees from all over the world at a refugee center in Chicago; and several other “Facing…” shows on Vashon Island, when I wasn’t able to travel — local heroes, LatinX, elders, children, teens.
And the one I took down recently, “Facing Newcomers,” people who’ve relocated here during the pandemic. It’s been an annual spring show at the Hardware Store Gallery on Vashon. It’s definitely been a labor of love...
Each model got a print of their painting. (They weren’t expected to buy them.) If a painting did sell, I gave 10 percent of the sale back to the model, and 10 percent to the community where they lived. I love that in some very tiny way, I’m making the world a smaller place.
When there was a hurricane in Jamaica, and the owners of the portrait of a young man in Jamaica named Blocka, wrote me to ask if Blocka was alright. And the money I sent Blocka from the sale of his portrait actually paid for his schooling for a whole year. It’s small things like that, that keep me doing this.
When I had the opening of a “Facing…” show in NYC, people who’d lived in the same apartment building for decades talked to each other for the first time in front of a portrait of someone they both recognized. The shows have been community builders. And selfishly, I have had some amazing people to paint through the years!
What does it mean to you to be an integral part of the Edmonds art-loving community and a featured artist at Denise Cole’s Cole Gallery?
Denise Cole has been such a champion for the artists and the arts in Edmonds.
I met her before she started her gallery, when she took an oil painting workshop from me on Vashon Island. After she started Cole Gallery, she kept asking me to join. I finally dropped my other gallery obligation to join her stable of artists. I’ve never looked back. Edmonds is so dedicated to art. I’m always amazed at the openings there. Everyone is fascinated with art, and Denise has a fantastic group of artists showing at Cole Gallery. I’m proud to be a member!
When did you know you were an artist, what sparked that pursuit?
My mom was a graphic artist, and my dad (also an artist) started the art department at Gonzaga University. So, I was exposed to art all my life. We sketched together as a family, and I visited many great museums as a child when my dad taught art in Florence, Italy. But I wasn’t all that great at drawing as a child.
Then in junior high school, a social studies teacher asked me to draw some animals for her bulletin board. The animals came out great! That was the start of the art bug for me. She didn’t even know how much she encouraged me. I did art all through high school, and majored in art at Gonzaga U. I took classes at the Accademia Delle Belle Arte in Florence during my junior year abroad. But I felt like there was so much more to learn.
After college, I did a few other things, like getting married, working for a year as a Jesuit volunteer in the Central District of Seattle, walking for peace against nuclear arms, living in community, working for my mom’s graphic art business, building a house…
But I always felt like what I really wanted to do was paint. It’s a long story, but in the end, I found my master teacher, Ron Lukas. And when I did, I ended up going to every class he taught (four nights a week), following him to workshops in California or Eastern Washington. I was desperate to learn by then. After about three years, he stopped teaching, and I was on my own.
It took a few years to start earning my living at it. But that painting sale at the Edmonds Art Fair was near the beginning of realizing I could do it. I’m so grateful for people who support the arts. And I’m very grateful that I get to do what I love for my living.
If you could live your life all over again, what would you be instead?
Such a fun question! Maybe I’d be a Buddhist monk? Or someone who works for a non-profit that helps people along their path in life. I’m always trying to somehow connect my painting to my social justice views. I guess painting is my way to make the world a tiny bit better when I leave it. I hope so, anyway.
The artist works on her next, popular “Facing…” oil-on-board portrait in a 14-year-plus series, connecting people and building communities.
“Facing Edmonds”: “The Traveler,” Rick Steves, 11x14”.
“Cozy Corner,” 9x12”.
“Facing…”: Blocka from Jamaica, 12x9”, 2008.
“Sun in the New Bathroom,” 11x14”, 1997 — sold at the Edmonds Art Fair.
“Facing…”: Noor Aziza from Burma, 12x9”, 2019.
“Splash and Dash,” 9x12”.