Where the wind blows
Celina Paul takes time to reflect with her latest exhibit
Spend time, without distractions, wandering from piece to piece in local artist Celina Paul’s art exhibition currently hanging on the walls of the Upper Crust Bakery. Linger at each painting or linocut, and you will find yourself drawn quietly and subtly into Paul’s world of whimsical, breeze-blown trees; rowboats on roiling waves; and wispy, wavy, yet strong figures.
Women? Trees? Strands of seaweed? At times, the figures look as if they could be all three at once, standing more often than not in groups of three. And throw in the occasional elephant: Like Paul’s other subjects, its power is represented with a delicate hand on the canvas.
Paul’s acrylic paintings—the majority created in warm oranges and reds, and/or watery blues and greens—have a unique ability to provoke the imagination using a minimum of line and color variety.
A green-toned painting titled “Journey” pictures a little boat, its passengers three curly-headed plant-like creatures, afloat beneath a green sun. A larger, black-framed, acrylic-on-canvasboard painting, done in oranges and blue, is in effect a portrait of a group of swaying, tree-like beings whose tops recall the heads of crayfish.
Paul does have one “Not For Sale” painting—an acrylic-on-paper piece painted in blue featuring three silver beings representing Paul and her brother and sister being blown in the same direction by a mysterious wind (most of Paul’s work has this wind blowing from left to right).
“My work is about reflection,” says the blonde-haired, blue-gray-eyed Paul, who, like her artwork, possesses a graceful strength. “It’s about getting your bearings before moving on to the next part of your life.”
Her relief linocuts (very similar to woodcuts)—striking in black on white—are equally powerful and full of wonder in their own minimalist way. “Sisters” depicts two figures riding in a small boat beneath a black sun. A small, untitled, postcard-sized linocut of a tiny boat beached near a tinier tent looks like the people have deserted the area, but the three trees in the picture have Paul’s signature anthropomorphic look to them. One wonders what it would be like to be ashore in this exotic little environment.
The 30-year-old Paul, who has one more semester to go at Chico State before receiving her B.A. in painting and printmaking (with a minor in environmental studies), explains that her work is also about “exposing beauty for what it is, which is truth, and how valuable honesty is—reaching inside ourselves and expressing and exposing it.” Her “Angel” series is not a group of your standard angels, but rather a group that includes “stunted angels,” with clipped wings.
“A lot of us hide our internal beauty,” Paul explains. “A lot of people walk around with their greatest parts hidden. A lot of us would be interacting on a completely different level if we didn’t have our wings only half unfurled.”
Paul, the niece of the late Joey Areno, a widely known impressionist landscape painter from Santa Barbara, has “done artwork"—everything from painting, drawing ("Even as a little kid, I drew trees") and working with clay—since the age of 5. She recalls that during her childhood in Santa Barbara, Areno—who was the quintessential, life-long, struggling artist living in a small, impoverished shack in an artists’ community—often brought Paul and her siblings artists’ supplies, like watercolor paper.
“He was very poor, so everything [that he brought] was really small, but we cherished it,” Paul recalls.
Areno also took Paul and her siblings out to the fields in the Santa Barbara wine country when he would paint landscapes. Those early years spent with her uncle have stuck with Paul.
“My work is nothing like my uncle’s,” she says, “but he was definitely inspiring because he stuck to it all his life.”