Artist Interviews 2022

Paula Bullwinkel  
By Johnny Otto

  Where are you from and how are you from an artistic family?

 I grew up in the Bay Area, 20 minutes south of San Francisco. My mom was an Artist-with-capital-A, in that it was her passion and total focus. She made ceramics in the 60’s-70’s, studied with Peter Voulkos and others at San Francisco State college. In the 80’s, she turned to oil painting local landscapes. As a kid, she taught me how to notice color in nature, and the way different fabrics feel (she had her degree in fashion design). Mom made tiled floors, rock counters and furniture in our house, too. My brother made jewelry, and worked with glass and wood. Dad was a great encourager for all of us. 

How would you describe your painting style and what or whom are your greatest influences?

  Figurative expressionism, neoexpressionism, and romanticism influence me. Mixing styles works best for me. Vuillard, Bonnard, Francisco Goya, Edvard Munch, Kirchner, Paula Rego, and Neo Rauch are some of my favorite painters. I think I am most influenced by use of color and ability to achieve a mood. 

You described your work as dangerous, but fun. Are you dangerous or fun? 

  Sometimes I am fun. It helps to laugh! I can make myself laugh, thankfully.  I’m not dangerous, though some people would regard speaking up against major power groups as dangerous or threatening. There is a sense of imminent danger in some of my paintings. It’s about the characters (=me) feeling unsettled or even angry, a rational reaction when the world takes bad turns, as it so often does. I am reacting most to sexism and racism. 

Can art really change the world?

Yes, it has, again and again in history. For instance, the photographer Lewis Hine was not trying to make art but trying to show the country the horrors of impoverished children working long hours in factories. Because of his activist images, which are also strikingly beautiful, the public demanded new laws restricting or banning labor of children.

As for paintings today, it is hard to reach and change a jaded world already flooded with imagery. But if you are showing something people don’t know about, and they choose to really look at it, art could have an effect. And if an artist could even just make someone laugh or feel like they are understood or connected to others, it can make a difference culturally. Art can provide respite and maybe healing.

How long have you been painting and are you self taught or did you study?

I have been painting for 23 years, before that dabbling. I did photography before painting, when I learned about light and composition. I am mostly self taught because I only had a few college art classes. I learned by closely looking at paintings in galleries and museums to figure out how they were made (much layering), and what was inspiring the artists. I would ask myself, why do I like this painting? What did the artist do that causes me to react?

Are you currently showing or do you have something coming up? What are some memorable shows you've had or experiences? 

A new solo show just went up at Coos Art Museum in Coos Bay, Oregon. The museum is cool WPA building that was originally post office.

In summer 2021 I was excited and honored to have a solo exhibit at Transmission Gallery in Oakland, California. They have many great painters and sculptors and a lovely light space.

I also have work year-round at the Portland Art Museum Rental Sales Gallery.

Most memorably, I once had a solo show in 2019 that was censored after 24 hours. It was in a privately owned, public atrium. My series of paintings (4 feet tall) included quotes (1 inch tall) said by our last prez (#45). The owner of the building demanded they be removed due to “offensive” words like “shithole” and “pussy”. It didn’t matter that our prez had said all this, and more! The whimsical imagery was of girls, women, rats and beauty products. It was all pretty absurd, both the artwork and the censorship. But the ending was sweet, because the best gallery in town then offered to exhibit the series.
{Read about the censored show}

What other hobbies or interests do you have? 

I hike with my dog on the trails where I live in Bend (a high desert mountain town in central Oregon, and do some yoga too. Reading good fiction with strong female characters is a fave pastime, preferably set in another time and place rather than here and now. This is all calming. I love going to art museums in different cities and discovering new works or new artists and being drawn into their worlds.

Does music influence your art or do you listen to music when you paint or do you prefer quiet?

I like listening to podcasts because I like stories: Fresh Air, NPR’s Throughline, Smartless, This American Life. Sometimes I play music: David Bowie, Latinx (especially Cuban), Spanish guitar, 80’s stuff (the Cure), and traditional East Indian music. It’s eclectic.

Who would you love to collaborate with, if given the chance? 

That is a good question. The first kind of person that comes to mind is a writer or poet. Emily Dickinson if she was still alive, or Mary Oliver. Elena Ferrante is my favorite living novelist (The Neapolitan Novels/My Brilliant Friend). I would illustrate their stories/poems. For artists, it would be a dream to collaborate with Yayoi Kusama because her mad dot worlds are so perfect and inspiring.

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