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This is the first story out of a new OSN series “FACES OF PATAGONIA” which hopes to bring to life profiles of every day residents of one small town in Southern Arizona.
Standing in a hallway surrounded by seemingly random images on canvas, 72-year old Paula Wittner’s mind begins racing as her tiny stature is dwarfed by an elaborate maze of her own artwork.
Some pictures portray politics or religious figures. Others include eggs. But for Wittner, all of them represent memories or thoughts that have been frozen in time.
For thirty seven years Wittner has been compiling these thoughts, some she sells, others she keeps — but, like her life, all of them have a long story.
As she paces her studio she spots a painting on the wall, points up at it, and her eyes dart back and forth excitedly as she begins speaking, “When Moses comes back with the Ten Commandments and all the people were getting restless because he was gone so long, they asked his bother, Aaron to make them something to worship and so.. collected all there jewelry and got this golden calf, when Moses came back they were all worshiping and that’s when he smashed the Ten Commandments…But I like to have it in modern terms.”
Next, Wittner points inside of the picture to her depiction of a grey haired man in the position holding the Ten Commandments.
“You see this is Bernie Sanders.”
Then, she points to a cow.
“…and this is Donald Trump.”
Next, she points to a disheveled crowd of onlookers.
“..and these are all the Republicans, but they aren’t going to the promise land they are all ending up in the pit here,” said Whittner. She smiled slyly.
She has made it clear that she has strong negative feelings about Republicans, and Donald Trump. And like the rest of her thoughts, this too comes out on her canvases.
The studio is in a quiet part of a quiet down, down an unremarkable unlit side road covered in grains of sand. But once inside, the studio doors open up to give a view of an active, vibrant, and sometimes colorfully bizarre, mind.
Aside from politics, strangely placed eggs appeared to be the another theme of her paintings. There is the painting of a man hurling an egg off a pan and into the air. Another of an egg lurking behind the devil. Another of an egg seemingly suspended in mid-air.
“I was a cook,” she explained, matter-of-factly.
Clowns are another image that hold a certain sway over Wittner’s mind.
There is the painting based off a legend of a man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for talent. So Wittner decided she would take a shot at her own interpretation and painted herself trying to make a deal with the devil so she could be a talented Cello player. In the painting, she is dressed as a clown.
Wittner’s paintings may have the feel of stream-of-consciousness, but are the result of a winding biography that took her across the country.
She knew she loved art from a young age when she noticed her brother drawing. Her older brother was four and a half years older then her, and was someone who she really looked up to, so when she noticed him taking on art, she decided to copy him.
The passion was immediate.
Growing up in Washington DC, she wasn’t out and about as much as other kids. She enjoyed staying inside and drawing. After she graduated high school in 1965 she knew she wanted to do something with art as a profession. She decided to attend the University of Maryland and mayor in Photography, explored National Gallery of Art and was exposed to the painters of the Italian Renaissance.
After school Wittner got a job as a cook in Arcosanti, Arizona, just outside of Phoenix.
In 1972 she met a man who is now her husband. She recalls that he was behind her in line and was annoying her a lot — so naturally, she married him and it was around that time that she believed her passion for art could be more than a hobby, but a profession.
She says the rich colors and landscape of Patagonia, Arizona — along with coffee, science fiction books, and documentary style vampire comedy movies — now prove the perfect inspiration for her next project.
For Wittner, it is all part of another life theme — keep moving.
When asked why she creates art, Wittner’s looks up at all the paintings she had created through the years, pauses, and sighs. Like her collection, her mind is very busy. Always thinking. Never at rest.
“My art is a life long pursuit and a place I go where my mind can rest.”