Who: Paula Bullwinkel is a painter, printmaker and Central Oregon Community College art instructor. Prior to moving to Bend, she worked as a photographer in New York and London for the likes of Interview, Vogue and British Elle. Last week, Bullwinkel hung five of her paintings for an April show at Franklin Crossing, only to remove them a day later after someone lodged an anonymous complaint about the large paintings, which included small, hand-lettered quotes from President Donald Trump. Several less explicitly political works by Bullwinkel can be seen in the all-female group show “Figuratively Speaking,” on exhibit through May 25 at At Liberty.
Q: Will people be able to see the five paintings? Are there four now? I know one of them sold.
A: There were five, and then yeah, one was sold. (Art consultant) Billye Turner asked if it could be borrowed to exhibit, and (the buyer) said no. I think he doesn’t quite understand that it might be worthwhile. So we’ll see. Right now there isn’t a place to show them but my home.
Q: What do you have up at At Liberty?
A: Some of them are works that I did two years ago, but they related to my newer works, both the explicitly political paintings, and then other newer works. I started doing vintage paintings and vintage family snapshots, paintings inspired by that — my own, my mother and dad’s, and things I found on the internet.
Q: You started your career as a photographer, didn’t you?
A: I definitely started it, yeah. I was really serious in those days. I was 23, and I moved to New York City, not knowing a single person there, to be a fashion photographer. Which was a crazy thing to do because it’s an insanely competitive world and you usually have to know people. But I just went headlong into it. I started at Parsons School of Design, and then after a semester I dropped out. Everyone said, no, it’s better to assist other photographers to learn the business and make connections, and they were right.
Q: Did you start painting and printmaking when you moved to Bend?
A: Before that. I got a master’s in art education, and so I had to take a lot of studio classes. I always liked to paint but was not schooled in it. About 20 years ago, I started seriously saying, “OK, how can I become better at painting? What can I do with this?” I really wanted to paint people, namely girls and women, and so it just took a lot of work and effort to learn to do that. Learning by doing, really.
Q: Have your paintings always been pretty political?
A: I think … they always were. There’s an essence to them where there’s a conflict within the painting, there’s an unsettledness, either very overt or kind of subtle, and the girl is the heroine and she has to overcome this. So there’s a lot of energy and often motion, and there are animals that act as animal familiars that will help her. Ultimately you get the feeling that she’s going to succeed. They’re powerful and joyous on one level. On another level, they can be somewhat unsettling and have a dark side — often like real fairy tales.
Q: As far as what happened at Franklin Crossing … did one of the businesses complain about the text?
A: We’re not sure, and now nobody’s talking. But they went up on Tuesday, and then Wednesday morning, Billye said they have to be taken down because there’s been a complaint. … And I said, a complaint about language? And of course the language (is) exact, fact-checked quotes that our president said. One of them has a word he used, “s--thole,” as in “Why do we want people from s--thole countries coming here?” I kind of understood that and said, “What if we just put a little black piece of construction paper over that word, or any other words that the president used that people find offensive?” Because most people know those quotes pretty well. That was a “No. … They all have to be taken down now, immediately.”
A: So it was kind of stunning, in that I just didn’t know how to react. I put it on social media. I got more comments than I’ve ever had on anything that I’ve posted, from New York, Seattle, Florida, London. People that I know all over were outraged. I was moving out of my shocked phase, and going, “Yeah. Yeah. All I did was quote our current president.” The words aren’t even that big. The canvas is 4 feet tall, and the words are at the most 1 inch on most of the canvases. … Obviously the imagery isn’t offensive. It’s the same imagery I use all the time. … I was excited because it got a reaction, and that’s what I want. Any kind of art, if you get no reaction, then it’s basically mediocre. It hasn’t achieved what it’s supposed to achieve. So it’s been a very positive thing in the end because people are talking. … There’s a conversation going.
— David Jasper, The Bulletin