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This Labor Day, we wanted to celebrate a woman you met earlier this year who is working diligently to create a more beautiful Memphis through creating and supporting the arts. From her works of art to her work space, she exudes creativity, intensity and vision. Pam McDonnell fell in love with Memphis and chose it as her home, and we’re sure glad she did! Happy Labor Day!


Memphis artist Pam McDonnell believes the combination of emotion and experience is the base of her work. Pam moved to Memphis from Atlanta to attend school, deciding to stay after falling in love with our great city. She has occupied her current studio, which is open by appointment, for more than 10 years. She has shown in many local exhibitions and public collections, has received several awards and has maximized her involvement in the local art scene as part of the board of directors for ArtsMemphis. She says she has evolved her career in two ways: by developing a further understanding of her chosen medium and skill and through patience. Today, we’re thrilled to feature her as our FACE of Memphis!

Pam McDonnell in her studio with her pooch, NAME TK
Today’s FACE of Memphis, Pam McDonnell, with her pooch, Gibson

What is your artistic medium of choice?

I work with two mediums: oil paint and graphite. I love oil paint because it dries at the same rate at which my ideas unfold … slowly. I can take more risks when I’m experimenting and wipe off what doesn’t work. Also, I’m captivated by thinly layered glazes that are rich, creamy and full of depth.

Since working with color is an emotional process, I find that there are times when I need to detach. I can then move over to an unfinished drawing or start a new drawing. I use No. 2 pencils that are very responsive to pressure yet even the darkest mark can be completely erased.

What themes do you pursue?

I will pursue anything that peels back the layers of human experience. Themes that expose what it’s like to grieve, hope, love and experience grace interest me very much. I hope that my work relays the sensitive nature of life.

Pam drawing with graphite.
Pam works exclusively in two mediums: oil paint and graphite.

How do you get inspiration for each piece?

Inspiration comes from all directions. Lately, I have been getting inspiration from clients while working on commissions. I just finished a piece for West Clinic and worked with Linda Hill and her very supportive committee. It was an amazing experience and I grew so much, both as an artist and as a listener.

Inspiration also comes from asking myself a lot of questions and waiting for the answers. I think when it comes down to it, there is a lot of psychology in my work. My hope is that people will feel a ping of vulnerability when they view my work and try to understand where that emotion is coming from.

Pam works on a large scale painting
Pam works on one of her large-scale paintings. Notice her notes, written to the left.

Do you see yourself in your artwork?

I see myself fully in my work while I am creating it. However, last week I went back and looked at some older paintings and felt like I was looking at work painted by someone else. It was a surreal moment because I realized how life changes you so quickly. I didn’t even recognize my own painting and had to find myself in the piece again and do some remembering. It was one of those thin moments when you realize the power and necessity of art. It can wake you up if you allow it to happen.

What is the most indispensable item in your studio?

While it’s more of a factor than an item, the quietness of my studio is indispensable. It’s a sacred room where anything, or nothing, can happen — there is zero pressure. It is a very special place where I can exhale completely.

Pam Mcdonnell

How do your memories shape your work?

When working with memory or the past, I try to focus on how I was shaped by an experience. Once I have an idea, I am ready to start looking for imagery that can serve the idea well. My last body of work was literal in its use of imagery; there really was a bathtub in the woods but the painting was not about the bathtub. It was about what happened around the bathtub and the contribution that memory made to my growth.

What is the last piece of art you purchased?

I purchased six abstract watercolor pieces by Jen Mann from Toronto. I don’t know where I will hang them but they felt right for me. Successful abstract art is 100 percent soul and pure poetry. I have a deep respect for how hard it must be to make.

What is your favorite Memphis restaurant?

I love Fuel Cafe. They serve delicious and creative vegetarian dishes that I couldn’t replicate even if I tried.

Pam's studio is a space filled with pieces of inspiration.
Pam’s studio is a space filled with pieces of inspiration; her brushes and the other tools of her trade are neatly arranged. “It’s a sacred room where anything, or nothing, can happen — there is zero pressure,” says Pam.

What’s your best piece of advice for others?

The best thing we can do for ourselves and others is to work on our personal evolution. Become your own adviser and find out what it takes for you to move towards becoming a better forgiver, a better lover and a kinder human being. Dig, dig, dig — and look at yourself deeply. It can be a very painful thing to do but be brave and do it anyway because in the digging, you will also see how beautiful and un-flawed you actually are. The best part of doing this work is that the world is gifted with someone who fights less and can let go a little.

A painting of a horse takes shape

What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?

Long periods of solitude, a dog that loves me and the woods.

See Pam’s artwork on her website,, and follow her on Instagram at @pmcdonnellart.

Our thanks to photographer Micki Martin for capturing these fantastic photos of Pam and her artwork.


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About the Author
Kristen Waddell