“Betty White and a Fine Wine”: A conversation with noted artist Paula Kloczkowski Luberda”

Paula Kloczkowski Luberda is an artist local to Naperville who will be featured prominently in The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions, the upcoming exhibit at The Schoenherr Gallery, North Central College, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville February 9th through April 4th 2015. I was fortunate enough to visit with the artist at home and learn what inspires her to make such insightful artwork.

Paula has been interested in art from a very young age. She recalls sitting on the curb of her neighborhood as a child making sculptures from the mud. Paula believes people are born with an artistic inclination but also believes her skill may come from her artist father who passed away early in her life. Paula did not begin her formal education in the arts until later in life when she attended the College of Dupage where she earned her associates in Advertising, Design, & Illustration along with classes in painting and sculpture. In that artistic environment, Paula discovered, “all the things I thought and felt had words for them”. She continued adding to her artistic vocabulary, gaining her Fine Art degree in 2001 from the University of St. Francis, all the while being a working mother.

After seeing the collection of work in Paula’s home, one gets the impression that she does not like to pigeonhole her-self into one particular medium. She has worked in oil paint, multimedia, drawing, clay, and stoneware. She has mastered the patina technique and is currently working in sculpture. Paula describes sculpture as something that is “intuitive”, whereas painting is something “cerebral”. Paula’s intuition is evident in her sculptural work, specifically the works in The Breaking Criminal Traditions exhibit that depict different concepts of power and control in varying relationships. The pieces in this series convey an emotional reaction and immediate connection to power struggles and some of life’s most overwhelming situations. These pieces also have a beautiful fluidity in the figures and a relatable androgyny that makes them in essence, everyone. One can see the influence of celebrated sculptor, Constantin Brancusi. When discussing Brancusi’s, “Bird in Flight” Paula excitedly notes, “To abstract something to its simplest form, its essence, that’s difficult”. The essence of Paula’s work is intense and thoughtful in her ambiguous forms that relate to both personal experiences and the status of the world as a whole, while still remaining elegant and mysterious.

Paula draws her inspiration from personal life experiences, current events, and the nature of people in general. She soaks in all forms of education whether it be film, popular media, or personal encounters. She is inspired by the great artists that challenged convention such as Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Giacometti, and Magritte.  Paula also draws inspiration from materials, when discussing her range of mediums, Paula recounts driving home from a trip to Wisconsin with her family, seeing these beautiful pieces of driftwood, and forcing her family to fit them in the car and bring them home. According to Paula, you never know, “something clicks and you wind up making something out of it”. After saving that driftwood for three years, one of those pieces became “Freedom” a powerful sculpture displayed in the inaugural Breaking Criminal Traditions show. It is a statement to the world saying, “screw you I’m going to be me.” Paula explains.

While much of her work holds a personal message for Paula and the public, these pieces can be used to exemplify the current struggle for worldwide human rights, especially for women. One of the original meetings of the Breaking Criminal Traditions team and its artists occurred in Paula’s home, but when asked if she sees herself as an activist Paula said both “yes and no”.  Paula states that she admires people like Malala Yousafzai for her bravery, and admits she does not understand what motivates her to keep going and risking her life. Paula hopes that her work can make a quiet statement and show the public a view of the world that differs from their own. Paula’s work, however, is not quiet when it comes down to her message that, “in essence we are all the same, human”, we need to remember that, and see it in one another instead of focusing on our differences or attempting to gain power over others.

To that point Paula believes that many of the world’s issues stems from struggles for power. Paula does not blame these conflicts on religion, or cultural values, but specifically as a power struggle between men and women who use barbaric practices and try to disguise it as culture. Paula sees her work as a, “statement about the world” and she likes to show people, “something you don’t see”. In our conversation she used the example of a doorknob and the different ways it could be viewed, which for me, was an allusion to “Alice in Wonderland”. To that Paula responded, “I relate to her”; Paula like Alice has a unique point of view of a topsy-turvy world and uses her art to make sense of it to herself and the public and expose people to things that they may not know exist.

Paula like the rest of the Breaking Criminal Traditions team thinks awareness is the most important value for society today. We all need to be aware of what is happening in the world. According to Paula we also need to be aware of how lucky we are to have the rights we do, and to help those who are limited by societal or cultural rules. Paula also humbly believes that her art is not the type that is appreciated by high end art collectors, “I don’t make art to shock. . . I just want to say things I think are important” Paula declares. She passionately believes there are general values we need to instill in our society in order to help others, and that sometimes those values are pushed aside due to our own fear and need for security. There is so much information at our finger tips, Paula adds, that we need to remember not to preach prejudice or discrimination, a lesson Paula learned from her mother. “It is the mothers of the world who suffer”, Paula states, whether it is because their children are getting bullied on the playground; whether a mother is attending the funeral of her son, a victim of gun violence; or the fact that mothers are the people responsible for holding their daughters down during circumcision in order to marry them off to a better life. When considering these values and behaviors, it is important, Paula says, that “we are exposed to things beyond our world” which puts life into a larger perspective.

Paula creates art because she has something to say. She uses it to express her discontent with societal practices and to satisfy her urge to create, “I can’t imagine not creating, it feeds my soul, and I can’t not make it”. Paula believes everyone should create something. She knows that the creative process can be a benefit to every aspect of the classroom and of life, that the skills are transferable and the sense of accomplishment is immeasurable. Paula maintains that she is not in this to make a fortune or become famous. She understands that not everyone will appreciate her work. In the past, she has overheard gallery patrons say “oh, I could’ve done that” and her thoughts were “so why didn’t you?” This reaction encompasses the spirit of Paula, a tenacious woman with a determined attitude, who creates beautiful pieces both for herself and the world. We should all embrace this spirit especially when it comes to human rights issues. The passive thought is not enough to change the world. We should not be saying, “I could’ve done this and that to help that situation. Instead, we really need to conquer the fear that keeps us from taking action.

Early in our conversation Paula and I discussed the loneliness of society in regards to one of her works. The conversation quickly turned to the elderly, how they are treated disrespectfully in society and not revered as the keepers of the world’s wisdom. Paula mentioned Betty White who is treasured today for her humor, vivacity, and her adorable way of saying whatever is on her mind. The star is not only a cultural phenomenon but an institution. “I want to be Betty White!” Paula declares, and she is well on her way. Paula creates a powerful conversation with her unique view of the world beautifully expressed through her work and her many mediums. Paula is outspoken in her words and her art, she is determined to discuss what bothers her, and to engage others in this conversation. In her infinite wisdom Paula claims, “Art is like wine.” People begin by drinking the sweet wines that are easy to savor but not complex. With more exposure, taste builds and people are ready to imbibe in something with more substance and grit which they eventually learn to appreciate. Paula’s works, like fine wine, stands the tests of time. Her pieces were relevant when she created them, relevant now, and will remain relevant in the future. They will continue to impress us just like Betty White or the rarest of vintages.

Sydney Pacha – Writer/Producer

To learn more about Paula and her work visit The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions exhibit on display at North Central College’s Schoenherr gallery until April 4th 2015. Join us on February 27th for Paula’s artist talk, and stay up to date with Breaking Criminal Traditions by visiting the upcoming events page.

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