Artist Interview: Paula Wilson

Your piece is titled City Girls in the DesertWhat does the contrast between women in the city and nature symbolize?
When City Girls find themselves in the desert they are awestruck by the emptiness, by the ridiculously blue sky, and by the lack of other humans. The City Girls try to make sense of this expansive space— one turns on her cellphone to shoot a video while the other looks closely at the pattern of needles on a cactus. Space becomes a blank canvas. Urban by habit, they do not see the use-value of the desert. Instead they see nature’s power to generate life in the most arid and rocky conditions. City Girls in the Desert are inspired by the creative potential of both land and mortal to express the infinite.

Why was it important for you to depict biracial women in your piece?
I am biracial. I create work that differs from the atypical historic depictions of women. It is my aim to spotlight a diverse world that reveals a multiplicity of self and form. I employ a collage process that allows disparate elements to form a cohesive whole— a biracial way of working if you will. As an artist, I feel particularly well placed to broadcast a diverse and nuanced worldview through a medium that welcomes complexity and forever seeks new voices.

You mention wanting to bring “a contemporary view of women in nature” through your video component, can you tell us more about that? What are some differences between women in nature historically and contemporarily that inspired your work?
The video component embedded in the painting shows a woman emerging naked from a oversized painted bag. She rises, looks about, then flees the scene. The video then reverses— sucking her body back into the bag and looping indefinitely. This video plays on the cellphone held by one of the City Girls in the painting. The bag, from which the woman emerges, is now a part of the painted surface of the piece. I am drawn to empowering the act of looking. In this piece we are caught between moments— through observation we are freed from linear time into the infinite archive of nature. Women have historically been the subjects of our gazes in art. In this piece there is a feedback loop between the creator and the created giving birth to a contemporary view of women where we are both agents and players in our natural world.

I am inspired by Romare Bearden’s depictions of women in nature in The Prevalence of Ritual series and Ana Mendieta’s Silueta Series. Both artists found brilliant ways to integrate the female figure in nature— showing us at once our connectivity to our environment while seamlessly depicting an alienation therein. I respect how Medieta harks back to fertility figurines and Bearden to Renaissance themes taking ownership of known troupes for a contemporary view of their world.

Paula Wilson received her MFA from Columbia University in 2005 and has since been featured in group and solo exhibitions in the US and Europe, including the Studio Museum in Harlem, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Bellwether Gallery, Fred Snitzer Gallery, The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Center for Contemporary Art Santa Fe, Johan Berggren Gallery in Sweden, and Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw. Wilson is a recipient of numerous grants and awards including a Joan Mitchell Artist Grant, Art Production Fund’s P3Studio Artist-in-Residency at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, Artist-in-Residency at Cannonball Miami, and the Bob and Happy Doran Fellowship at Yale University. She lives and works in Carrizozo, New Mexico. You can see more of her work at:

About the Interviewer
Carolina Quintanilla serves as Interim Gallery Creative Partnerships Manager for SOMArts Cultural Center. She has a B.A. in Asian American Studies and is an Ethnic Studies MA candidate at San Francisco State University.

The exhibition: Visions into Infinite Archives opens January 14, 2016 and is on view through February 10, 2016.

Images from top to bottom: image courtesy of artist Paula Wilson; “City Girls in the Desert”, mixed media, 2015; close-up image courtesy of Paula Wilson