There are some new faces joining the portrait of Elvis on the wall of Patagonia’s favorite pizza restaurant. Paula Wittner, an artist whose imagination overflows with faces and stories, thought that a particular painting of hers would be appropriate in a restaurant where the message, “we love cash,” is painted on the front wall. The title of Paula’s painting is “Pay in Advance.”

“The Artist”

Paula’s studio is near Velvet Elvis and she is friendly with Cecilia San Miguel, the restaurant’s owner. The two have talked from time to time about Paula hanging her work in the restaurant, but Paula doesn’t like distractions, and putting a collection of her work together and hanging it felt, for a long time, like a distraction. However, one evening in early January Paula was having dinner at the restaurant with visiting family and somehow “Pay in Advance” was trundled out of the studio and into the restaurant and now it’s on the wall.

Paula was born in Washington D.C. and was inspired to draw by her family and frequent visits to the National Gallery of Art. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design and spent her senior year in Rome where the painters of the Italian Renaissance left a deep impression. She majored in photography—mostly, she says, because those teachers were more relaxed than the ones who taught painting.

Detail from “Cold Water Swimmers”

However, when she moved to the southwest after graduation, she found her true vocation and has been creating paintings that are informed by memories of her childhood and Renaissance art.

Visiting Paula’s studio is like stepping in to an Alice in Wonderland experience. Suddenly you are surrounded by people who seem slightly strange and also very interesting. They are everywhere, peering down at you, looking up, looking sideways, looking into your soul. Like the the Wonderland characters, they are often surreal and seem to beckon you to come closer.

You can see Paula’s work online at PaulaWittner.painter on Facebook. Velvet Elvis is open Thursday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.