Pamela Fraser and her husband, Randall Szott, turned their apartment near Chicago into a part-time gallery while she was teaching studio art at the University of Illinois. “Apartment galleries are a big phenomenon there,” notes Fraser, who taught on the Chicago campus for six years before taking a faculty position at the University of Vermont in 2011. “But they wouldn’t work here. Who’s going to drive from Burlington to my house in Bolton to see art?”
Yet Fraser so relished the role of co-curating what was literally an in-house exhibition space that she’s gone and done the next best thing: turned her Williams Hall faculty office into a part-time gallery.
This time, it’s a solo enterprise. Fraser and Szott alternated in choosing artists to present during the three-year run of their apartment gallery, called He Said She Said. His taste tended toward “egalitarian,” while hers edged into “elitism,” Fraser explains with a laugh.
These days, Szott divides his time between sailing around the Gulf of Mexico as a member of the Merchant Marine and musing about art and life on his aptly titled blog, Lebenskünstler (Life Artist).
Two portraits by Philip Brou, a former student of Fraser’s, constitute the third show she’s presented at Office Hours gallery. Alongside this pair of classically styled, oil-on-linen likenesses of Hollywood extras hangs a sample of Fraser’s own, very different brand of painting. A chain of stylized flowers rendered in acrylic on a thin strip of canvas shimmies up the wall in a corner of her high-ceilinged office/gallery.
Fraser favors minimalist and conceptual work. Most of the paintings from the past three years featured on her website, pamelafraserstudio.com, consist of three geometric shapes — usually a triangle, circle and square in primary colors. “I like art that makes you think,” she says.
Fraser also apparently likes art that makes viewers smile. The arrangement of her painted shapes into facial patterns has that effect in many of the works from the past two years featured on her website.
Fraser, 47, has shown at several galleries in the United States and Europe, including Galerie Schmidt Maczollek in Cologne, Germany, which represents her internationally. After earning a painting degree from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and a master’s from the University of California, Los Angeles, Fraser lived and worked for a few years in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, where she still maintains a studio. Red haired with matching lipstick, she looks a bit like singer-songwriter Holly Near did 20 years ago.
It’s fun, Fraser says, to show the work of friends from outside Vermont to UVM colleagues, students and the occasional art aficionado who’s sniffed out Office Hours gallery. Mostly, though, Fraser uses her unique venue as “a place for teaching.” The gallery, which she opened soon after arriving at the university, has proved to be “even more of a pedagogical tool than I thought it would be,” Fraser says.
She invites the entire art department for cookies and cider at openings of Office Hours shows. Students seem to enjoy the opportunity to talk with her about the work of contemporary artists drawn from her social and professional network around the country, Fraser says. Her selection process is somewhat serendipitous. “I see someone’s work I like, so I call them up and say, ‘Hey, it’d be great if you could ship me some stuff to show in my gallery,’” she explains.
The pieces Fraser hangs are not for sale, however. “That’s a part [of the gig] I don’t want to get into in this setting,” she says. “I refer interested people to the artists’ websites, but I’m doing this mainly for the students.”
UVM undergraduates, she finds, are “generally good thinkers and good writers. Most could work a lot harder.” A “handful” of those in her painting classes exhibit the kind of talent that might lead to professional success as artists, Fraser speculates.
And what about the broader Burlington art scene?
“It’s pretty quiet,” she comments. “It’s not like the music scene here.”
As for the quality of art she’s seen in Vermont, Fraser says diplomatically, “There’s a wide variety. I’m not the sort of person who judges art.”
Office Hours gallery, 211 Williams Hall, University of Vermont, Burlington. Times change each semester. Check officehoursgallery.blogspot.com for more info.