review of paula gorski exhibit
Below is an excerpt from a review I wrote for my friend Paula Gorski, whose exhibit of paintings and sculptures is currently on display at the public library in Eau Claire, WI (which has an excellent gallery area.) I’ve been a close friend of Paula’s for thirty years, and I thought I knew her work very well. Yet last week was the first time I’ve been alone in a gallery filled with her paintings and sculptures, the focus totally upon this body of work spanning about ten years. The exhibition area at the library was quiet on a weekday afternoon, and although I had seen all this work before—I’d helped her hang the show, and had seen some of it as she was working on it--it appeared to me in a new and fresh way in this setting.
I saw, initially, the bright colors of her paintings, with their simple, iconic faces and magnetic alphabet letter inscriptions, and the rich fabric textures of her 3-D wrapped objects (these include sculptured ladders, shopping carts, an exercise ball, and a towering female figure.) A collection of objects in a display case—journals, toys (wind-up robots, a PeeWee Herman doll, a plastic ET) and weird finds (including a leopard skin platform shoe) illustrate her statement (spelled out in one of her paintings) that she lives in “a house with many things.” There is the sense of a cheerful, imaginative spirit at work, an artist who transforms the ordinary in an unexpected and engaging way--and who is drawn to the quirky side of life. This is the aspect of Paula’s work that elicits the many variations of “fun show!” that fill the library’s guest comment book.
Yet there is more here, a deeper thread of wisdom and spiritual awareness that lies beneath the “fun” exterior --an acknowledgement that people’s lives are often difficult, complex and painful. Woven together with references to death, loss and suffering In Paula’s work are messages of acceptance, joy, faith, and compassion.
Paula has a special knack of elevating personal narrative to a universal level, for telling offbeat stories of her own life that invite the audience in. "It’s Hard to Be Paula Gorski" the letters on one painting declare--a statement that reads not as self-pity but as a wry remark about the human condition. "Boyfriends" describes in acrylic portraits and brief narrative three men in her life who ultimately let her down, yet the way they are presented—bright colors, deadpan faces, the little quirks of their appearances--render this story darkly humorous. It is a bit of human relationship drama observed, a story we’ve all been through.
On a deeper level, a theme of interplay between spirituality and everyday life runs through much of Paula’s work. "Pachamama" is a nearly life-sized version of the smaller wrapped female forms that Paula has been making for years. It was created using techniques that Paula learned from her grandmother, who made rag rugs from cast off clothing. This use of fabric wrapped cotton cord--seen in various other sculptures in the exhibit as well--requires the kind of repetitive motions that are part of traditional women’s work. This type of work is not often seen as anything other than humble and ordinary, and in this case the result is something resembling a child’s doll. Yet "Pachmama" large in scale and elevated on a pedestal--has a powerful and mysterious presence. Her featureless cloth face hovers above the viewer, her arms raised away from her body as if in blessing
The theme of spirituality expressed through transformed, ordinary objects can be found in other work in the show, such as the two sculptural ladder forms and a wrapped bike tire called "Mandala." Like "Pachamama," these are made using cloth wrapped first around cord and then around an armature, and finally embellished with sequins and beads. The repetitive nature of this technique makes reference to meditation, prayer and other ritual practices.
(photo by Andrea Paulseth of Volume One Magazine.)