THE CREATIVE SPARK OF PAULA HALLMAN
What happens to the creative spark when an artist dies?
That’s the question I am contemplating at this time after the sudden and tragic death of Paula Hallman, age 59, an extraordinary artist who created her own fantasy world in both paint and sculpture. (She called her sculptures dolls, but they were way more than that to me and to all her growing numbers of fans.) The woman was prolific.
Paula and her love-for-life-and-beyond, husband Scott, were in Dallas preparing to display her work in the Deep Ellum Art Festival. Scott is always at her side at the art festivals, including a half dozen Red River Revels.
A day after arriving in Dallas, and staying at their son’s home, she died of a pulmonary embolism, which is a blockage of an artery in the lungs. The embolism (like a blood clot from a leg) prevents blood and nourishment from getting to the lungs, damaging them and making it difficult or impossible for them to do their job. Hers was a severe case.
Her death has broken the hearts of all who knew and loved Paula.
Here is some of what I wrote about this artist in this column printed on September 25, 2014.
It’s 2010. Paula Hallman starts painting. A new friend sees her work and tells another friend. Paula quickly gets an exhibit on the walls of a local restaurant. The right person eats at the restaurant. He calls Paula and insists she exhibit her work in the upcoming arts festival. She does. The following year, 2011, she is awarded Best of Show out of all the artists at the festival.
As Paula’s husband, Scott, put it, “That’s the zany movie-script life she leads.”
Of course Paula Hallman did not start her movie-script life there. She began by making dolls. Not your everyday dolls, mind you. Fantasy dolls. Then creative furniture. Later, she moved into building professional & university mascots: Sparty the Spartan for Michigan State, Champ for the Dallas Mavericks, and Rocky for the Denver Nuggets. When the Hallmans moved to Shreveport, they had to start over with friendships, but their home was an empty nest and Paula decided to pick up brush and paint and begin work on canvas.
After an artist sells a painting, it is possible the artist may never see it again, so artists like to have photos made before sales for both a record of the work and possible fine art reproduction sales. After her first Red River Revel, I got a call to photograph her work. When Scott brought in the work and lined the paintings up in the studio, I became a fan at first sight.
The work was professionally produced with attention to detail, but more importantly, the body of work was both distinctive and consistent. It was colorful, fun, and interesting. It was dreamy and you don’t find that often enough in art. And it is evolving—as art should.
As it turns out, the world of Paula’s paintings is indeed a dream world. To be more specific, it is a world between dreams and reality. The artist was influenced by that state of mind just when one is falling asleep, leaving the conscious world and entering the unconscious world of dreams. She says this is where creativity is kept.
The characters that populate this world are almost all women—with unnaturally elongated necks. Call this anatomy feature Paula’s signature. She explains, “With their long necks, they can see into both worlds.”
Paula’s artist statement is, “Life is overflowing with beauty, mystery, and enchantment. Often times, we are too busy or involved in our daily struggles to notice the beauty in our world (or other worlds!) My goal as an artist is to remind us to see the beauty, feel the joy, or maybe just to smile!”
I think she succeeds in the above even though the characters that populate the dream world of her paintings are the ones who are too busy to live in the wonderful moments that surround us. They appear bored. They appear to have no clue that they populate a dreamy world of fantasy where giant fish are modes of transportation and the world’s gatekeepers are moon-men.
I’m smiling now thinking of Paula, now living in that dream world and looking out at us, reminding us to see beauty and feel joy, or maybe she is just enticing us to smile!
So back to the question about what happens to creative sparks. I do not believe they are extinguished. I believe they exist in each piece of work by an artist. The spark jumps—like static electricity is transferred when two people touch—from artwork to each viewer who is lucky enough to “get it.” It does not jump to every viewer, but, when it does, the energy is then transferred into each appreciative and receptive viewer. And the spark remains alive. The new spark then joins with other sparks inside a person and this energy can gather and increase to become a true fire of creativity.
In this fire, the spark may or may not be recognizable any more, but it has become part of the larger fire that sets off other new sparks that can emanate from both the artist and their work.
The sparks can be of any size. You cannot see these sparks but they exist. They exist in music, in paintings, in sculpture, in choreography, in design, in architecture, in the work of actors, and in the words of poets and writers. You cannot stop the sparks if the energy wants to make the jump.
Oh, come on. You’ve all felt it at one point or another. When you feel this creative spark jump into you, it feels good. No. It feels great.
I felt all kinds of sparks when I first saw Paula’s work. They are in me now gathering with the sparks from so many other creative sources. I feel the fire burning.
Thank you, Paula, for your unique energy and for sharing your big creative sparks! In my mind’s eye now, your hair has been transformed into red and pink poppies with little blue flowers in between, and you are riding lazily on a gigantic floating goldfish!
Ride ‘em, Girl!