Linda Pace: Muse

by Wendy Atwell July 13, 2007

I’ve known Linda Pace since I was a little girl. I remember standing
just outside her kitchen with her daughter. We were taste-testing hot
sauce, and I shamelessly told Linda and Kit that, of course, I hated
hot sauce: It was too spicy for kids. Now even the hottest version of
Pace’s isn’t spicy enough for me. I love hot sauce, and I love
contemporary art, and I owe both to Linda.

Courtesy of Artpace San Antonio

I met Frances Colpitt in the archive room at Artpace, which led to my decision to get my master’s degree in art history and criticism. Over time I gained a true appreciation for Linda’s conception of Artpace, which brought art to San Antonio that I otherwise would have only read about or had to travel far to see. My mother and Linda were longtime close friends, and when Dreaming Red was published on the occasion of Artpace's 10th anniversary, we went to the Dia Center in New York for the book signing. After she found out she had cancer, I told Linda that she personified a true feminism: she acted on her ideas and brought huge changes to San Antonio and to the contemporary art world.

“When I was first diagnosed,” Linda Pace said in a May 11 interview, “I didn’t dream for at least a month. I was overwhelmed with what I had to deal with. But then slowly the dreams started coming back. They’ve been less anxious; I haven’t had a lost purse dream in a long time. Recently, I had an absolutely incredible dream: Courtney (a longtime friend) and I were going to Galveston to see the re-building after the hurricane. So we were on the beach, and there was a serpentine boardwalk, and we were walking along that. To the left was the ocean and to the right were some gray buildings that were part of the reconstruction. At the end of the boardwalk was a ruby city, like the emerald city, but it was rubies.” Pace showed me the drawing of her dream, hung next to her bed. It was a small, quick study of her dream’s jeweled city, made of many facets and angles. Though it was done in matte red pencil, it gleamed, luminous, valuable in its concept. I saw how it glistened there as hope and inspiration.

“What do rubies mean to you?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Pace, but red is a big thing for me. It’s about passion, about life, vibrancy. I’ve got a little project on the horizon cooking up that I was going to do later, but I’m going to do now.” Pace added that her project had yet to be announced, but it involved her collection.

Linda Pace...Red Crab in Back Seat...2006...Colored pencil on parchment paper...8 ½ X 11 inches

For many years, Pace’s dreams played an active role in her waking life. In Dreaming Red, she revealed in a very personal account how her close attention to dreams led her to make many life-altering decisions. Dreams led to divorce from her first husband and to the creation of Artpace. Pace’s last show at Joan Grona Gallery in San Antonia contained many drawings of her dreams and one eerie, large-scale sculpture of three black eggs. I asked Pace how she began to do her dream drawings — simple sketches made with graphite or colored pencil on parchment paper.

“I have been working on them for two or three years. It just seemed a way to honor the image. We have been talking in dream group about how important the image is. That’s really the thing. I get up and write my dream down. Not every dream has a great image, but when they do, I just draw them then and there.” The parchment paper’s translucence echoes the ethereal nature of dreams.

“I like the fragility of the material,” Pace agreed. The hastily sketched images convey the immediacy needed to record a dream before it slips from consciousness. Dreams possess an uncanny and sometimes oracular nature; Pace’s dream sketches are little sheets of truth from beyond the conscious world. But the idea of paying attention to dreams as messages, or information, takes careful attention and study; it requires sifting through the nonsensical to reach any meaning. Pace’s images emerge in the non-logical setting of the unconscious, where a brew of life’s daily images undergoes transformation. One drawing shows a pair of eyeglasses with its ear pieces curled into spirals, making them impossible to wear. Another image, one of the most colorful in the show, is a paisley patterned toilet seat.

“I can’t even remember,” Pace said when I asked about the meaning of that image. “I’d have to look that one up. It’s an old dream.” She maintained an indexical account of her dreams and made conscious use of this resource. Her most recent sculptures — intriguing, large-scale objects — are expansions of certain dream images. Parked in her studio was a vintage red Volkswagen bug covered with light tan faux fur. At Grona’s show was hung the drawing of the dream image that inspired the sculpture, entitled The Hairy Bug. Pace said of this dream, “Actually David Rubin (contemporary art curator at the San Antonio Museum of Art) was in it, talking about his psychedelic show, and I said to him, ‘You really ought to see my hairy Volkswagen.’ And Cornelia Parker and Jeff McMillan were in that dream, too.”

Linda Pace...Ruby City...2007...Colored pencil on parchment paper...8 ½ X 11 inches

Also on the floor in Pace’s studio were light blue fake flowers that formed the letters S-T-A-Y. The giant, all-capital letters were slightly curvy and mounded; the serenity of the color and the use of faux flowers had a haunting, funereal or memorial effect. “That was an amazing dream, too,” Paced said. “I was in my first house that Kit and I had bought, and in the bedroom there were stacks of stuff, kitchenware, everything, and it was just cluttered, and I said to the woman helping me, ‘You can’t put all this stuff in the bedroom.’ Then I realized there was clutter everywhere in the house. I wandered outside, and there was more stuff, like getting ready for a garage sale, boxes of jewelry, just everything. And then I looked over on the grass and I saw this STAY in blue flowers.” She sighed. “It just brings you back home again.”

“Were you feeling the impulse to escape the stuff, is that why the message ‘stay’ was there?” I wondered.

“It was getting that clutter out of your life,” Pace said, “getting to stay. It was a great dream.”

At Grona’s gallery, three black eggs stood clustered together in the middle of the gallery floor. The eggs, made from matte black vinyl, have been sewn together with visible seams. A shiny, metallic purple ribbon connects them and forms a bow on top of each, so that they seem like storybook Easter surprises. Yet the scale and color belie innocent delight. The objects perversely distort these symbols of new life, spring and redemption. Pace said about the dream that inspired them, “That one’s a little more simplistic. I had gone with a museum group to tour Deedie Rose’s house, and we were going through, and she came up and started talking to me and said, ‘Linda, you don’t have to come with a museum group; you can come anytime and see whatever you want.’ And the new thing in her collection was three black eggs connected by those purple bows.”

“At first,” I told her, “I thought of them as giant bowling balls or bean bags. Then with a closer look, I thought of Easter.”

“But why black?” asked Pace.

“Black is disturbing,” I agreed. “Have you worked with your diagnosis of cancer through your dreams?”

“I go back to that crab dream, the first cancer dream I had, a year ago June,” she said. (Pace wasn’t diagnosed with breast cancer until seven months later, in January 2007.) “I had been in somebody’s parking garage. When I was leaving, I turned around to back up, and there was a red crab in the backseat of the car. It was very menacing. I didn’t draw it for a long time, but then I finally did, after the diagnosis. I realized the connection of the crab image with the zodiac sign of Cancer. He kind of looks whimsical, but he wasn’t.

Linda Pace...STAY...2006...Colored pencil on parchment paper...8 ½ X 11 inches

”That was the first one, and then I had another dream in October. I dreamed I had cancer and had gone for chemo, then I had come home, and I was going to continue treatment at home. There was also a component of the treatment that was about chocolate, and a friend of mine walked by; he could see me in my window on Eldon Road … I never lived on Eldon Road,” she added, laughing. “He said, ‘Oh, I see you have had cancer. I did that same treatment when I had it, but now I am cancer free.’ I said, ‘What’s this chocolate part? The doctor didn’t explain that very well.’ Then my doctor walked by and she said, ‘Oh, that’s alright, you can wait ‘til next week. Come by the office and I will explain it.’ I was sort of annoyed because I thought she should have already explained it. I named the dream Chemo Chocolate. And at the end of it, I thought I really should get a whole body scan; this may be a warning. And it obviously was. So I switched doctors then. I really had been going to another doctor who didn’t check up.”

Pace’s relationship with her dreams reflected the inspiration she in turn gave others. While dreams may have been her muse, she acted as a muse through her philanthropy and the creation of Artpace. Her engagement with the complexity of her dream images undermined the stereotype of dreams as meaningless unconscious chatter. By paying careful attention to her dreams, she found them functioning in her life much like contemporary art, as vehicles that may deliver truths that people often prefer to keep hidden. In Jungian terms, being “unconscious” does not mean being knocked out, but instead not really awake or alert to experience. In Buddhist terms, engaging with the unconscious leads to “mindfulness,” an awareness of one’s actions in the world.

Another stereotype Pace had to struggle against was that her wealth brought her privileges as an artist and so somehow invalidated her talent. In Pace’s obituary in the San Antonio Express-News, Kathy Vargas wrote that “people tend to be embarrassed sometimes or — how would I put it? — shy about speaking about her as an artist, but I think one of the best ways I connected with her was as Linda Pace, the artist.” Pace was willing to share the hard truths of her life with frightening clarity (such as her son Chris’s death caused by an overdose of heroin). “I like how everyone has a different story to tell about the pictures,” Pace said of her drawings. The images she chose to share created openings and possibilities through her own vulnerability. Dream meanings may be self-specific, but everyone shares dream language; for example, when she spoke of a hurricane in Galveston, we know there wasn’t a recent one, so it may refer to Katrina or to the devastation of a cancer diagnosis, etc.

Linda Pace...STAY...2007...Wood and artificial flowers

Pace’s sculpture STAY suggests the kind of discipline she used to persevere with her dream images and to learn from them; dreams can have as many facets as her ruby city. She was hardly a victim of “affluenza,” a term used to describe the wealthy elite’s addiction to material goods. Instead, she cleverly used her wealth as a lever to exponentially increase her passion for contemporary art and artists. While Pace’s dreams may have begun as simply that, she spun them into three dimensions. At the end of our interview, I told Pace how I thought of dreams as performing the work of a muse. “That’s a really good way to put it,” she replied. “Muse, that’s a really good way to put it.” So it is hardly goodbye to Pace, a muse to many, who cleverly structured a legacy that will continue to bring inspiration long past her death.

Images courtesy Artpace and Linda Pace's studio.

Wendy Atwell is an art historian currently living in San Antonio.

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