Wednesday, October 22, 2008

November Artist: Living in the Moment

Paula Swaydan Grebel has considered herself an artist for only a decade. But, really, she’s been one her entire life.

She grew up in California drawing, making art, taking classes in school. “I always did something with the arts,” she says. “It was my way of playing. I would doodle—and I still tend to do that—when I was bored.” Later, she earned a BFA from California State University, Long Beach, where she studied under well-known L.A. artist John Lincoln.

Yet Grebel didn’t work as an artist right out of college. Instead, she took a variety of other jobs, even working as a nurse for eleven years. But still, art was always there. “I never stopped drawing,” she says. “And I had great nursing notes.”

When she noticed herself wanting to draw all her patients, she knew art was calling. And she decided to follow it.

Over the past ten years, Grebel, who lives in Plymouth, Wisconsin, has come to specialize in oil paintings, particularly plein air studies and still-life works. She showcases nearly thirty pieces at an exhibition, In the Moment, running through the end of November at Bungalow 1227.

Her focus on plein air painting was an easy choice. “I love to be outside,” she says. “I love the light and sounds and smells. I love to travel.”

She works outside as long as possible throughout the year—and can even paint al fresco in the winter, as long as the sun is shining, it’s not too windy and the temperature is at least thirty-two degrees, she says.

When conditions aren’t favorable, Grebel moves indoors and switches to still-life work. But she tries to keep the spontaneity of her outdoor art, sometimes throwing random objects on a table to paint or asking one of her kids to choose a subject for her. “I like that chaos,” she says.

Grebel has been complimented on her ability to capture a moment in time in her work. “Part of what helps me is not to pre-plan,” she says. “If you pre-plan on your canvas and grid it out, the moment’s gone.”

She also holds back from using too much detail because she doesn’t like making photo-realistic paintings in which every element is crisply delineated. “That’s telling me too much,” she says. “I want mystery.”

By revealing her impressions of a single moment to viewers, Grebel strives to show the beauty of the world and new ways of looking at it.

“I hope that I create an emotional response of joy or something that’s positive—that it’s a good soulful experience,” she says. “The true job of an artist is to learn to see.”

IN THE MAGAZINE: The November issue of Madison Magazine comes out tomorrow. Here’s some of the arts content you’ll find within the pages:
• A tidbit on the Chicago-based Giving Tree Band, which recorded a green album at the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center this summer. (Read more in this July 2 post.)
• Associate and style editor Shayna Miller’s Window Shopping column on paper goods and artsy gifts at Anthology.
• A profile on Valerie Kazamias, the force behind MMoCA and the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s annual Arts Ball.
• A poem by Andrea Potos (listen her poetry podcast).
• Our monthly Overtones section with picks on the can’t-miss performances, concerts, exhibitions and festivals taking place in November.

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