Paula Nees’ two fluffy dogs keep her company in the studio, along with the ethereal figures that inhabit her large-scale paintings. Not one for labels, she works in the traditional medium of oil painting without all the rules and restrictions. It was a delight to see her creative space and hear about her artistic process.
What did you have to unlearn about painting after leaving school?
I think the time period I came out of you were either a realist or an abstractionist. Really elements of both feed into each other. Neither tag identifies me. That dogmatic approach doesn’t work for me. I see those influences [figuration and abstraction] merging in my work. Also, professors always said start with white. I often use drawing loosely with cattle marker paint sticks as a jumping off point.
You describe yourself as a “materials person.” What do you mean by that?
Paint is just another thing. I am interested in using materials and not necessarily that I am always painting. For example when I dye a work, I am still working with color and pattern. I can do that without using a stick with hairs on the end of it. I am trained as an oil painter. I love the smell of it and you can fuss around with it, but I find that pastels have similar properties.
You paint on cloth, typically linen, as well as depicting cloth in your paintings. What is the conceptual importance of cloth to you?
When I was first interested in not covering up the linen was linked to my first trip to India where cloth is so prevalent and you see it everywhere. They do an extraordinary amount of design and dyeing. That is where I became intrigued by the idea of dyeing the linen with indigo and using that cloth itself as part of the subject rather than painting it. The dye looks different.
Maybe the intention and not wanting to stop at a certain point… I love the idea that if it’s not working, I just cover it up again instead of throwing it away. So there are some paintings that have a pretty good thickness of paint on them! Where I guess 10 years ago if [a painting] wasn’t working I would rip it off the stretchers and pitch it and start over again. There is something interesting about resurrecting or not giving up on something. Maybe letting a little bit of whatever is underneath show the history of the work.
What role does color play in your current body of work?
The color is less about nature and more about temperature. Going back to the influence of India, I think that the color there is more intense. Seeing the color of bright curries and fabrics. I was very struck by how beautiful, bright fabrics were dyed in such dingy environments. That contrast surfaces in my current work.
Thelma, CAW Professional Award
Jumping through Hoops, Ohio Arts Council Award
Mystery Sister, Honorable Mention
Visit www.paulanees.com to view more of Paula’s portfolio.