November 30, 2015
BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
From a helicopter high over the Drakensberg mountain range in South Africa, where what she drew later magnified 29,000 times to create a 3,400-foot space, to London’s Berkeley Square, where she combined furniture designs with Holly Hunt, to an installation space in the Miami design district, where high school students helped her scatter 900 pounds of autumn leaves, Paula Crown creates three-dimensional wonder.
In her Chicago studio designed by architect Jeanne Gang, a frequent project partner, Paula recently explained where her creativity has taken her.
“I feel I am just where I should be, in my full incarnation of Paula. I feel I am in the right lane,” she said as she finalized her show, Transposition Over Many Miles, for Art Basel in Miami Beach, running December 3 through 6.
“I have realized that in life often the sacred ground is right in front of you. Instead of looking way out yonder for inspiration, you see something, how the light breaks on it. You take this and see where it leads you.”
Students of installation artist Theaster Gates, a frequent collaborator of Paula’s, created the Miami space in a converted muffler shop on Chicago’s South Side. It was used for a New World Symphony concert earlier this year and for a summer solstice party, where guests and later area children were invited to Have a Ball by claiming one of 2,000 colored balls spread throughout the space. For Art Basel in Miami, sculptures of perforated edges of notebook paper will be featured in grand sizes and in a variety of materials in a new exhibit titled PERforations.
“Joyous and spontaneous occasions are offered there,” Paula said. “The space is a great platform to further art, and it is very nourishing for me.”
Wonderful titles are part of it all. In London, the exhibition was called The Paula Crown Affair. Have a Fall invited the Miami community to experience a season not seen there, as high school students from a local design school helped her scatter thousands of real Midwestern oak leaves, with their colors preserved by glycerin. Bearings Down is a video installation showing tiny ball bearings dropping on glass, creating magical patterns.
“I like this one particularly because the large glass piece arrived broken, and we saw that you can work with what’s left, everything is really possible,” she explained.
Early recollections of her parents show that she has been an artist all her life.
“When I was very young, I took a record player needle and scratched it across my father’s favorite Beethoven record to create a design; I imagine he wasn’t too pleased,” she shared. “By the time I was eight or nine, they knew I had to get an art studio.”
As intelligent as she is beautiful, Paula explained how she uses her interest in geometry, fractals and science, and the patterns they can create in her designs.
“I always had a bit of a dichotomy to my brain, I had both a linear as well as a painterly part which usually operate independently,” she said.
Although she took time off for 20 years to concentrate on raising her four children and for corporate and community work related to the Crown family’s worldwide philanthropic efforts, she has spent the past 15 years developing her art.
“I really have to work so hard to protect my practice,” she stated.
“I need my six to eight hours of isolated quiet for thinking and playing.
“I often begin with intimate scales, then I love magnifying them and diving in and pulling out. I will often scan a drawing, rotate it and look at it in different ways. With the availability of 3-D imagery, everything is possible.”
A graduate of the School of the Art Institute in 2012, Paula’s early works include paintings of her own brain from MRIs taken when she suffered from severe migraine headaches.
“I looked at the brain scans and saw them as potential topographies on both a macro and micro level,” she explained.
The paintings of these brain scans, called Inside My Head, often in marvelous colors and angles, lit the torch that created worldwide interest in her work.
Paula is praised for the depth of her collaborative efforts with other Chicago artists.
“When I did the studio wall at Art Expo with Jeanne Gang, I learned so much seeing her special configurations, and I was pleased that she said she saw modernist design differently after she saw my work. Seeing Holly Hunt take my drawings and make them into tables really expanded my horizons,” Paula said. “The more platforms there are for fellow artists to thrive, the better. Look at Leonardo and Michelangelo, they had huge shops and collaborated all the time.”
Paula sits on the board of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, chairing its Education Committee. She works frequently on projects in Aspen, a longtime family home for the Crowns.
“I exhibit in New York at the Marlborough Gallery and attend MOMA meetings, and feel that I have a sense of what’s going on on the West Coast. It has been my pleasure to work with several terrific Chicago artists like Theaster Gates, Scott Reeder, José Lerma — the list goes on. What artists are doing in Chicago is among the best in the country. We sometimes don’t annunciate it to the extent we should.”
What’s next for 2016?
“I am very pleased that museums are looking at my work. I have submitted a proposal to do a public art sculpture in San Francisco and will do a large screen project in Ketchum,” she shared. “The Marlborough Gallery in New York will have an exhibit of my paintings in September, and I have a tentative show in Aspen planned.”