Painting of the Month Club – September

Between the Lines by Paula Martiesian


Dreamlike, psychotropic, phantasmic – these are words critics have used to describe some of my paintings. The words are a mystery to me, as I’ve never set out to make anything decidedly otherworldly.

Stepping back to take a more objective look, even I could see the paintings looked softer, blurrier, and more suggestive than I imagined. In fact, they looked quite dreamlike. How did this happen?

It was an innocent progression. Frustrated by the limitations of brushes and palette knives, I had started to use rags and paper towels to rub color into the pores of the linen canvas. When you deal in subtle color shifts s as I do, it’s all about creating depth anyway you can. If I rubbed a darker color into the linen and then a lighter color on top of that, I could create a suggestion of depth.

First I cut up stacks of old clothes and sheets to use as rags, but I went through my supply pretty quickly. Then I settled on paper towels, specifically the cheaper Stop & Shop brand that seem to have no weird chemical additives.   I couldn’t use virgin paper towels. I am, after all a native New Englander, an honorary Yankee. I started mining used paper towels. Blotting lettuce? Save that paper towel. Cleaning the mirror? Save that towel. Even my husband now sets aside paper towels for me, all cut up in neat little squares.

These innocent looking little pieces of paper towels have changed the look of my paintings, softening the edges and blurring distinct lines. Now how I experience the world without my glasses is how people see my paintings.


Painting of the Month Club – August

diana's tree Diana’s Tree by Paula Martiesian

For years I walked by the dogwood unmindful of its beauty, but one afternoon last October I stopped for a closer look. The tree bark was etched with wrinkles, the leaves small and fanned out in concentrated pinks and reds. Its branches looked a bit like a jester or a male ballet dancer with arms open wide.

Sometimes inspiration hits in the most mundane of places. One day, for no apparent reason, a scene you have seen hundreds of times before looks completely different.

Perhaps the autumn sun cast a particularly vivid shadow altering my perception of the dogwood dramatically. Maybe an early morning rainstorm seeped deep into the crevices of the tree bark creating an inky map. But I think nostalgia and regret played a part. The tree sat in the front yard of a friend of mine who was preparing to move out of state.

This is the moment of recognition, my “aha” moment.”   It is the instant when I see a painting whole in my mind before I even stretch a canvas. For me, it is the moment when a painting is born.

Painting of the Month Club – July




The Space Between by Paula Martiesian

PM_The_Space_Between 2nd

It was just a fence, a 16-year-old ruin from Home Depot put up to keep my dogs in. Time had remade the once honey-colored stockade into a moth-like rainbow of gray pickets so thin you could almost see through them. But beauty is everywhere, even in rotting spruce. An autumn downpour transformed those uninteresting grays into a lovely pastel fairyland waiting to be painted.


I am a slow worker. Sometimes I paint the same area over and over again hundreds of times just to get the right color in the right place. This painting was no exception. I worked on it for months before I asked photographer Erik Gould to document it for my website. Presumably I was finished, but a few hours after he left, I was repainting an area that still troubled me.


Later I put the painting in the storage racks, unsure if I could make it better and unwilling to give it anymore of my time. There it stayed until one day I took it out along with some other paintings to show a potential client.  After he left I stared at it, debating whether I dared try to make it better. Then I picked out a paint brush and started in.

Painting of the Month Club – June


PM_Looking_for Light_03 copy

My garden is an urban oasis, a wilderness where greenery grows as it pleases. Plants regularly migrate to spots of their own choosing, tree limbs tilt horizontally across pathways and weeds are happy neighbors to hot house flowers.

This spring, I lost one of my favorite horizontal tree limbs. This dear evergreen friend had patiently modeled for several of my paintings, but now it was covered with lichen and home to a tribe of carpenter ants.   It didn’t have a single living pine needle on it. I sketched it one last time, stretched a canvas and blocked out the painting. Then I gathered up my resolve, found my bow saws and marched into the garden. Several times I made for it, and each time I turned back. Finally I started a cut on a small branch. Then another and in a few minutes the limb itself lay on the ground.

For years I had coddled this tree limb, propping it up with wooden staves and brushing off the snow in winter. It was a living archway into my fern gardens and a perfect frame to nature that I used over and over again in my paintings. The final painting, still unfinished, depicts the needles with halos of rusty pink, a bittersweet reminder of an old friend. The above painting, Looking for Light, shows my pine friend in better times.

Paula Martiesian

This summer my paintings will be included in three group exhibitions; please come see them in person!

June 17 through July 12

Summer Group Show

Charlestown Gallery

Reception June 25 5:30 to 8 pm


July 5 through August 3

#My Gallery Night!

URI Feinstein Providence Campus Gallery

Gallery Night Reception July 21 5-9 pm

Special Gallery Night Birthday Celebration Tuesday August 2 from 5 to 7 pm


July 22 through September 4

Contemporary Women Artists

Bristol Art Museum

Opening reception: Friday July 22 6:30 to 8:30 pm


And as always, visit with Cathy Bert at the Bert Gallery  in Providence to see more of my paintings.

Paula: The Branch That Never Falls


The above painting, The Branch That Never Falls, is of a scene outside my bedroom window.  The branch in question has been threatening to take out some lovely young oak leaf hydrangeas I planted a couple of summers ago.  It sways above them through wind, rain and snow, and although it has been dead for some years now, the branch refuses to come down.

I fought to take it down.  I climbed a ladder and tried to leverage my weight against it.  I jumped and grabbed on to the end of it, running one way and then another.  Certain that predicted hurricane winds would finally do the job, I built an elaborate structure underneath to protect the hydrangeas.  All to no avail.

Finally one day last fall, when the rest of the maple tree had turned a glorious golden yellow, I decided I had the wrong attitude about the branch.  It was, and is, beautiful.  Its bone lavender colors contrast perfectly with the autumn yellows of the leaves.  The shapes and lines the branch makes create a kind of music complete with dance moves choreographed by the wind.

It was not a branch that needed to be taken down.  It was a branch that needed to be painted.

My Dog is an Extrovert – Paula

It’s been a while since I’ve posted last.  Who knew a puppy could disrupt a household so entirely.

Puppy Kai

Puppy Kai

Kai came into our lives in June.  A 4-month old mixed breed pup from the pound, she has taken over our lives and our schedules.  It’s taken her a few weeks to understand that you do not sleep behind someone with a paint brush in her hand or that you never should grab a paint-covered rag.

But the biggest adjustment has been mine to make.  Kai is an extrovert.  She loves other dogs and people.  Every walk is a social opportunity to meet and greet – no pooping or peeing for her until she returns home.   My long formerly contemplative rambles have turned into social occasions.    Kai loves meeting Lila the Corgi puppy, Rusty the mixed breed Chow and Clover the long-haired dachshund.  One afternoon I found myself kneeling on the sidewalk with her puppy friends Jasmine, Betty, Max and Guinness and their people.  It was a regular autumn doggie party!


Paula, I thought it was really interesting that you didn’t want to paint the majestic trees of the West Coast. I think your point goes beyond the desire to paint what we know intimately – the trees in our backyards. There can be a deep respect in letting certain things remain secret. worldwasinthefaceofthelover

I just participated in Bushwick Open Studios this weekend, an event that, in a host of ways, increasingly encourages seeing art as entertainment.

I found myself sometimes willing to talk with the steady stream of visitors about the inspiration for my paintings, but sometimes preferring to let the paintings speak for themselves, not wanting to explicate them away in a sentence or two.

Inspiration – Paula

A few weeks ago I returned from a West Coast vacation.  With my husband and close friends, I hiked the redwood forests, wandered the coastal cliffs and climbed beside waterfalls.  I took tons of photos and made a few (very few) drawings.  I find myself wondering why of all the vast and timeless sights I experienced, my first painting to emerge from the trip is of reflections on water, something I see weekly on my wanderings in India Point Park.

The redwoods were hundreds of feet tall and thousands of years old.  The forest is dense with fallen trees covered with whole ecosystems  – moss, plants, and young trees springing from their ashes.  These amazing layers of life act as a sound baffle, and the forest seemed almost silent.   No one goes in to tidy up.  This is truly the forest primeval.

The forest primeval

The forest primeval

I paint trees, a lot.  But I don’t think I can even attempt to paint these awe-inspiring trees.  I don’t think I want to.

Contradictions – Mollie

Paula’s last post touches on what I think is an irresolvable paradox in art.

In one way, it’s crucial that we artists are paid for our efforts; it’s part of a general sense of self-respect and validates a lifetime of hard work.

But on the other hand, the value we create in art is not only separate from the monetary system, it runs counter to it. Money bears absolutely no intrinsic worth, while what we value in art is built into – is inseparable from – the object itself. Money’s countability is perhaps its most prominent quality, while a moment of aesthetic beauty is open and variable, often subject to contradictory interpretations.

Early ApolloIn fact, I would even venture that part of our power as artists is our alienation (or freedom) from the dominant culture, from capitalism, from the powers that be. The glory of an aesthetic moment is a transcendence of the worldly, the mundane, the everyday.

To be perfectly clear: I am not advocating evading worldly success as an artist. But I think the paradox is a thorny one that cannot be neatly resolved.

This is a painting of my brother, who is a poet and knows all this intuitively.

The Aftermath – Paula

How does an artist determine success?   Sales? Critical acclaim?  Or is it something deeper.

Americans are taught to believe that success is measured in monetary terms.  If finance is the scale by which we measure, my exhibit was not a great success.  I sold a painting during the show and one before the exhibit opened.  A disappointment surely, but much better than not selling.

I received a fair amount of media coverage.  There was a nice mention in the Providence Journal with a photograph of one of my favorite paintings, Summer Shadows.  There was a wonderful quote in the Providence Business News – they called my paintings psychotropic – a word never before used to describe my work.  I also had coverage in the RISD XYZ alumni online news and lots of great feedback from friends and colleagues.

Weeds in Snow at the Bert Gallery

Weeds in Snow at the Bert Gallery

And yet, the aftermath of an exhibit is always a letdown, a depression seeking missile that follows me around for weeks.   Until I come up for air, breathe deeply and realize I am proud of my paintings.  I spent 4 years making those paintings and each and everyone represents a part of me.  I paint for myself, as so many others do.  If I never achieve painting stardom, so be it.

When I am in my studio in front of my paintings, I am both content and challenged, happy and energized.  I work for myself and I work to make both myself and my paintings better.  If at the end of the day, things are indeed better, then I have succeeded.