For Paula Schiller, making art has been a sensory experience that has taken many exciting forms. Early
on, she was told that she didn’t have strong drawing skills and could never become a painter. While that
feedback was discouraging, it wouldn’t deter her from creating. Instead Paula focused on sculpture,
photography, and collage. She credits these media with helping her forge a great understanding of
composition and form.
By 1970, she was a film major at New York University (where a young Martin Scorsese would sign out
the student cameras). “I really loved creating narratives by using film editing techniques, and eventually
I became a film editor, and later a sound editor.”
Paula says that the competition within the film industry of New York was difficult, so she decided to step
away for a while. She made her way back home to Spring Green, Wisconsin to reflect on her next move.
While at home, she was listening to Public Radio and was excited by the sound effects she was hearing
on various programs. She decided to knock on the door of radio station WHA and say, “I can do sound
effects for you.” That started a great relationship with Public Radio as Paula worked on shows such as All
Things Considered and becoming the Producer/Director of the NPR station in Fairbanks.
When Paula fell in love with and then married a charming Australian in Sydney, Paula found the time
and freedom to do something she’d always dreamed of – she taught herself how to draw. By poring over
drawing books and practicing tirelessly, Paula found success. She was accepted to the National Art
School in Sydney and completed her BFA with honors, a four-year intensive study in an atelier setting.
From then on, she has worked as a professional painter.
Today, back in Wisconsin since 2019, she says of her painting style, “Even though I eventually received
formal training, I don’t try to paint like someone who did. I don’t mean to negate my education, but I
really enjoy challenging the rules and disrupting expectations. The time I spent working in sculpture,
photography, and film gets layered into my work and I feel that this adds some depth. I mingle genres
and some of my pieces I think of as ‘movie stills’ or the boring bits that end up on the cutting room floor.
Unnecessary to one plot, they can be interesting fragments of another story.”
“I am an oil painter. I am painfully slow in my process because I layer and scrape back, and then layer
again. I don’t cover my mistakes or my decision making.” Paula says that she really tries to pay close
attention to angles, shapes, and negative space. When asked how she approaches her compositions, she
laughs and says, “As a person who loves film, I have to say that I enjoy taking bad photographs. Bad
photos make great paintings.”
“Being a child of the 50s and 60s, print images, billboards, and advertisements have had a huge impact
on me. I also look at artists like Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Andy Warhol for inspiration. They were engaging with photography and grappling with what it means to be a painter in the face of this new
“They, and to some extent I, engage with what we think is essential about photography and what is
essential to painting and try to construct works that deal with the contradictions and similarities in a
self-conscious way, or even an obvious way. Engaging with photography always makes me ask that big
question, “Why paint?” I keep poking around at different responses I can make to that question.”
“I have this existential crisis all the time: why am I painting when the world is falling apart? I want to
make a contemporary statement but am struggling with how to do that when an aesthetic response
seems inadequate. The other thing I’m challenged by is my slowness and getting bogged down in detail.
I need to loosen up and work faster! I’m ditching my usual references and incorporating more
abstraction to help along in this process, but it feels risky.”
“When I moved back to Spring Green from Australia, I had a rough re-entry into the art world.” Paula
explains that it took her a while to find galleries and fellow artists who embraced her work. Eventually
she branched out to different parts of Wisconsin, and she joined WVA; both have really helped her find
a supportive community.
“I am just celebrating being made a professional member of WVA and that my studio is featured in two
art tours this year. For all of 2022 and 2023, I’m on the map of the Driftless Region Scenic Art Loop, and
I’m in the 2022 Fall Art Tour in Mineral Point, Dodgeville, Spring Green, and Baraboo.”
You can visit Paula’s website and learn more about her upcoming exhibitions at Paula C. Schiller Gallery
and Studio (paulacschiller.com)
WVA’s new monthly blog feature, Artists Inspiring Artists, is intended to connect our visual arts
community by sharing members’ personal stories of artistic evolution, creative processes, struggles, and
celebrations. Each month, blogger Mara Dučkens will highlight a different artist. Have you got a story to
share? Please reach out to Mara at email@example.com to be featured.