Paula Gray

by Viktoria Vidali on June 10, 2017

in Art,General,Monthly Post,The Creative Voice

THE CREATIVE VOICE. This is the twelvth and last in a series of monthly posts that will explore the sources of creative inspiration of living artists. Featured artists will speak of the unique circumstances that cause the Muses to visit them, and how they understand and interpret what the Muses are imparting. The artists will share their personal intuitions and insights, sometimes by telling a story, sometimes by explaining a concept or vision. May this exhilarating voyage encourage and motivate the artist in each of us.

Is it fair to say that artists are by nature more sensitive, reflective, and affected than others? If the answer is YES, this might provide a clue as to how Paula Gray receives her creative inspiration.

When I arrived at Paula’s self-built home in the picturesque Yorkville Highlands with my friend Leeya Thompson last month, we were boisterously greeted by her three-legged rescue dog Rudi. Throughout our stay, Rudi remained close to Paula, their communication visibly affectionate, a manifestation of Paula’s life-long love of animals.

In fact, what originally drew me to Paula’s work were her depictions of donkeys: one a wandering bookmobile as is common in South America …

and another a donkey recalling those in Giotto’s paintings of biblical stories.

They got me thinking: How often do we humans neglect animals that not only make our lives easier but serve us so loyally? Paula is asking us to notice them, to simultaneously respect their place in our world, and by extension to be sensitive to other unrecognized and unappreciated creatures. She is also gently suggesting that we slow down.

Growing up in the fishing village of Moss Landing on the Monterey Coast, Paula spent her formative years playing in the sand dunes, reading, and drawing. At that time, Elkhorn Slough, which meets the sea right at Moss Landing, was full of otters, marine life, and birds. Her father oversaw the cannery and her mother was both postmistress and the town librarian (the library was located in a spare room of the Gray family home). The presence of so many books opened Paula’s eyes and her fantasy. She carefully studied the illustrations and would often communicate as a young child by sketching pictures. To this day, Paula’s home is filled with shelves packed with collectibles and books on all subjects, including both a menagerie of wooden children’s toys (showing her playful side) and a large collection of art books that no doubt informed her teaching of nearly three decades at Mendocino College.

Eventually Paula’s early artwork drew the attention of a syndicated cartoonist who encouraged her to attend Chouinard, a prestigious art school in Los Angeles. [In 1961, Walt and Roy Disney guided the merger of the Chouinard Art Institute and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to establish the California Institute of the Arts.] She enrolled in Chouinard and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Simultaneously, she worked at Walter E. Disney Enterprises making attractions for Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Several years later, Paula completed her formal education with a Master’s Degree in Environmental Design from UCLA.

Here Paula’s life set out on a new tack. She moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, where she took a position as curator for the Museum of Northern Arizona. She has always been intrigued with museums and still remembers the first time she visited one. During her three-year tenure, Paula was influenced by native Hopi and Navajo art and design.

Returning to Los Angeles, Paula supervised the creation of 30 murals as part of the Citywide Mural Project (L.A. is considered a mural capital with a deep tradition of communities expressing themselves through public art), served as an illustrator for the Constitutional Rights Foundation, worked as a fashion photographer, book illustrator, public school art teacher, and freelance graphic artist. Clearly, a woman of many talents!

In 1980, Paula moved to northern California and began teaching art in Mendocino County, all the while remaining committed to creating art. In fact, she has participated in over 100 exhibitions during the course of her successful art career.

Paula opened her free-standing, light-filled studio to us so we could see where she creates her artwork. Again, shelves and shelves of books, found objects, and projects in various stages of innovation. Also, an old-fashioned letterpress, evidence of Paula’s fascination with experimentation.

* * *

The modern world generates many stresses for people, from worries about finding a reliable source of income, to broken relationships, to the destruction of our magnificent planet, all of which can weigh heavy upon us and cause anxiety. In her latest show that ran from February 9 – March 26, 2017, at the Mendocino College Art Gallery, Paula addresses these concerns, even including a piece for the disappearing honey bees. Her inspiration? A dream.

During a trying time when I was grappling with the terminal illness of a close friend, I had a dream about the word anxiety. In the dream, the X was missing. My dream became a catalyst for a new series of work, which I named “eXplorations,” that began with a focus on the letter “X” and developed into pieces, both abstract and representational.


eXplorations is comprised of sixty artworks that include three dimensional constructions from found materials, collages, prints, and paintings.

What might the X signify? Symbolically, an X represents the center, the center of the world. As a consciousness, each person finds him/herself at the center, which can be a place of betrayal, suffering, and limitation. If one can, notwithstanding this reality, move into the future with courage, faith, and a belief that there is an overriding goodness and beauty in the world, one has the possibility of living a life of meaning and purpose.

This is exactly what artist Paula Gray is doing.

Author’s Note: This interpretation of the letter X has been given to us by Professor Jordan B. Peterson in his lecture Biblical Series II: Genesis 1: Chaos & Order.

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