When Paula Lantz retired from a successful career in healthcare, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. She liked to visit art museums, so she wanted to become a docent. She was accepted into the training program at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and was soon leading tours, a volunteer activity that she continues to enjoy today.
What she hadn’t thought about or planned for was a growing desire to feel for herself the artist’s experience she told people about on her tours. She began to wonder, what is it like to create art? To paint? To work with clay? She had so much fun as a docent, maybe it would also be fun to take an art class. The Art League, housed in the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA, provided the answers to her questions with its wide range of adult education art classes. The Art League offers classes and workshops ranging from beginning to advanced instruction in more than a dozen media.
Explore and Experiment
She started taking beginner classes and experimented. “It was so much fun. I took classes in watercolor. I took classes in acrylic. I took classes in clay. I took classes in monotype,” she says. “I thought I had just fallen into the briar patch out of total luck when I did this. It wasn’t something I had thought about doing before. It came from my work as a docent.” Eventually, she decided to concentrate on painting, primarily in acrylic. She also was successful in entering the Art League’s monthly juried show, which encouraged her to continue.
With more study and more practice, she began to develop a personal style. Lantz’s abstract paintings are known for their vivid colors and vibrant energy. “At a certain point, the natural, innate spark of artistic creativity that was in me started appearing in my work,” Lantz says. “I had to deal with what was coming out of me—a wild approach to color and painting. I took all of those drawing classes, but my figures are not perfect. I like them that way. Where does style come from? We gain some knowledge, we practice, we experience some growth, and one day it appears.”
And an artist’s style is likely to evolve and change over time. The artist may be doing work that wins accolades but find that it is no longer personally satisfying. “There is something in the spirit of the gift we are given that we can lift up our brush and transform our art into something totally different as we continue painting,” Lantz says.
That is what happened with Portraits Only, Lantz’s May 2019 show at Touchstone Gallery. “There was this automatic shift somewhere inside me, and all of a sudden I was painting the works that are in my current show. I painted like a fiend.” While Portraits Only builds on her previous work with bold colors and figures, she has abandoned the large format—often 30” x 40” or larger—of previous series for smaller, more intimate portraits described as “friends and not friends.” The portraits are 24” x 18” or smaller, a size that allows Lantz to concentrate on the head. “The paintings are simple on the surface, as most of my paintings are, but they have meaning to me, and I hope that if you stand in front of one of them you will say, ‘Oh, this is an interesting painting.’” If there are two people in a painting, her focus is on the interaction between them. When there is only one, as with the portraits, she is trying to express the psychic depth and spirituality of her subject. “Even though my work is abstract, I am thinking of the spirituality of ordinary people made extraordinary.”
The show also includes a few 10”x 10” pieces from a new series that Lantz has recently started as well as a couple of larger pieces she had previously done. They are not exactly portraits but include figures in a universe of collage, chaos and the unknown. Her next project is to continue this exploration of calmness amidst chaos.
Inspired by the Community of Artists
Lantz has been a member of Touchstone Gallery since 2008. “Touchstone has given me a circle of artist friends who give me enough compliments and enough encouragement for me to go on painting,” she says. Her work as a volunteer on the Gallery’s hanging committee is beneficial as well. “The show changes every month, so I get to see different things in the way the other artists paint and to observe their evolution and growth.”
She also maintains a studio with the Columbia Pike Artist Studios, a group of about 30 artists working in Arlington, Virginia. As with Touchstone, the interaction with other artists stimulates her creative impulses. “I see the results at Touchstone, and I see the effort on works in progress at the Columbia studio,” she says. “I am inspired by both.”
Lanz is also inspired by artists who continue to create throughout their lives. “Look at the older people in the world today who are in their 80s and 90s and painting incredible works of art,” she says. “I save articles from magazines and newspapers to inspire me.” Fueled with that inspiration, she plans to continue painting figures and life for a long time.