Bold & Whimsical: The Artwork of Paula Bullwinkel
Paula Bullwinkel has had years within the art industry to learn, grow and experiment with a number of mediums. Her vast experience has shaped her artwork and artistic process. “My mom was an artist. I grew up observing texture and nuances of color at a young age,” Bullwinkel says. “But I actually pursued a degree in English literature. It wasn’t until I moved to New York in pursuit of photography that I started breaking into the industry.” Bullwinkel was hired by Andy Warhol, and photographed celebrities such as Morgan Freeman, Kevin Bacon and Kate Moss. For the first 20 years of her art career, she was a professional photographer in New York City and London, for Vogue, British Elle, Interview, The London Sunday Times Magazine, GQ and others.
“I’m inspired by the human form and specifically I love depicting the female form,” Bullwinkel explains.
After leaving London, Bullwinkel began down a different artistic path and became interested in oil painting and printmaking. “I enjoy creating characters and narratives within my work. I paint heroines and animal-heroes who balance feelings of marvel and mystery with a sense of conflict and uncertainty,” Bullwinkel describes. “The uncertainty can be caused by violence in the symbolic forms of snipers, soldiers, bullets and monsters. The women and girls are often on the move. They are strong and beautiful, even when facing and overcoming manifest violence. There is often a wondrous effort in my heroines’ energy.” Bullwinkel mentions that her daughters play a role in her narratives and inspiration. The spaces Bullwinkel creates are highly personal, and many times she will photograph her daughters and then use the photos as reference for her paintings.
Bullwinkel’s artistic process is heavily influenced by photography and fashion. “I will usually take photos of poses that I want to somehow incorporate into my work,” she says. The pieces then go through many iterations. Many times, she will do drawings, etchings, prints and finally move into painting with the same subject matter. “I like to work on three or four canvases at one time. I feel like there is less pressure that way, and I can work on several projects.” In addition, she takes inspiration from fashion photography, costumes and theatre and includes that within her paintings.
Her painting, Coney Island Massacre April 2097 encompasses the themes she loves working with. “I love showing women in their element being strong and beautiful, but there is always a danger surrounding them. Perhaps it goes unnoticed, but the danger is there,” she explains. Coney Island Massacre April 2097 is on view at the Portland Art Museum Rental Sales Gallery along with other paintings.
There are a significant number of Bullwinkel’s works that depict animals as well as human forms. “The animals that populate my images are similar to animal familiars; part of a person’s spirit in animal form. This kind of creature is one’s protector, and one protects it in turn,” Bullwinkel states. “Humans are another form of animal, so this close relationship is natural. Like ghosts or angels, the animals will help the women survive the violence and fulfill their quest.” Animals within her artwork create a “safer place” for her characters to exist in. This helps to create the tension between joy and whimsy and the dark influences that are so often featured in Bullwinkel’s work.
Bullwinkel’s current projects include a collaboration with her daughters where they write narratives for Bullwinkel to then illustrate. “My idea is to create an artbook that features a narrative about sisters journeying and then reuniting, similar to that of Homer’s Odyssey.” One thing is certain: Bullwinkel has no shortage of creative ideas, leaving her audience excitedly anticipating what she will do next.