Patagonia artist Paula Wittner has figured out how to spin a pandemic into pure gold. A year ago, Wittner was scheduled to have an international opening of recent works in both Arizona and Sonora. Acknowledging an unusual serendipity, the shows were entitled “Both Sides Now” and scheduled to open concurrently at the very contemporary Museo de Arte in Nogales Sonora as well as at La Linea, a new, not-for-profit, cooperative gallery in Nogales Arizona.
After several postponements – due to the pandemic – the gallery on the Arizona side of the border opened on April 15 at La Linea. The Museo del Arte has again postponed the opening until at least April 31.
Twenty-three mixed media pieces, titled “The Pandemic Show,” made by Wittner since March 2020, as well as oils she had painted in the past two to three years, were viewed by a limited number of guests meandering down a deserted Morley Avenue that recent Thursday evening.
Lightly comedic with a touch of gallows humor, Wittner’s work is fine art social commentary. Unlike the now iconic COVID19 blistering flower image of the virus, these paintings document the social mood rather than the medical condition of our time. No doubt because of that expected commentary, plus Wittner’s reputation as a skilled artist, there was a tiny mob scene.
Guests were drawn by the sound of live Bach, performed on by talented Nogales pianist Evan Kory. The piano was a recent gift of Wittner’s husband, Bob Hutchins to La Linea.
Masked patrons gingerly regained their social skills after a year of social distancing and sheltering in place. One foot inside and they were immersed in people, art and music. No wine, cheese, or crackers. Instead, the eyes and ears were fed. Relief and elation filled the room.
Wittner’s lush oils, some previously shown at Museo del Arte. are a deep bath of intelligent observation coupled with a Classical European sensibility. They are gorgeous and wry. At times, transfiguring. One painting of an evocatively beautiful person turning, and looking into us, said Wittner, was the reverse image of someone she had seen in a hospital waiting room. The person was having a seizure and unexpectedly turned to her. Wittner transformed that alarming moment into a state of grace. Most of Wittner’s people are beautiful because she intends them to be.
Further on, in muted tones of gouache with touches of oils, are Wittner’s social cartoons. An out -of- work short order cook, cigarette dangling from lips, wears a comedically short pink and black diner-esque uniform, exposing his toothsome thighs. From his hands hang some useless utensils and overhead hover heavenly visions of a banana split and a hefty slice chocolate frosted yellow cake. It is, as is The Pandemic Show, about both impotence and hope.