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Paula Swaydan Grebel: A Timeless Dialogue
June 8 – August 28, 2016

In this exhibition “A Timeless Dialogue,” Plymouth, Wisconsin artist Paula Swaydan Grebel returns to her earliest roots with her love of art history and inspiration from an early mentor, the late John Lincoln.  Lincoln, a former professor at California State University Long Beach, encouraged the study of old masters’ works for their treatment of visual space, composition, depth, interaction of figures, and more.  

Before returning to the masterworks for study, Paula Swaydan Grebel had built up a fine repertoire of plein air landscapes and still life paintings to her credit.  Besides numerous other Best of Show successes before and after, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, Paula’s entry into the 2005 Cedarburg Plein Air Event earned her the Best of Show Award. Swaydan Grebel’s untitled oil painting, shown here, is that 2005 award-winning work.  Its painterly abstraction recalls the work of Fairfield Porter (1907-1975), once cited as an inspiration by Swaydan Grebel.  Paula liked the mid-20th C. artist’s expressive landscapes with exciting value shapes as she also strives to create expressive paintings that communicate on many levels.  


Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 12.5"x20.5"

2005 Plein Air Event Best of Show Winner

Years later, after her B.F.A. degree from California State University Long Beach, Swaydan Grebel went on for further study in painting where she absorbed principles from mentors Ken Kewley and Stuart Shils who were instructors at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Kewley is a colorist who sometimes assembles collages of cut paper shapes. Paula sought more of a painterly approach than Kewley’s hard-edge abstraction, and she found Shils’ abstracted landscapes to be so much more than capturing pretty scenery.  More recent contact with contemporary artist Janice Nowinski also stirred this artist’s interest in returning to historic masterworks for new inspiration.


While Swaydan Grebel had done small studies from masterworks in recent years, this Cedarburg Art Museum exhibition spurred the artist to investigate more thoroughly the way that figures can interact and define space on a two-dimensional painting surface. Historic artists such as Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, Degas, and others provide ample subject matter for Swaydan Grebel as she explores abstractions in acrylic or refines tonality and hues of subjects in oil paint.  Interplay between historic paintings and the artist’s current compositions and explorations create “A Timeless Dialogue.”  This exhibition shows the process of exploration by an artist from earliest sketches, to small studies, to larger finished paintings. The acts of experimentation and exploration are important for this artist as she creates a sense of mystery and intrigue in each work.  

In Swaydan Grebel’s acrylic paintings, the artist pushes and manipulates the color fields into abstracted shapes, spanning a greater leap from the original masterwork. Works in oil, however, require many layers of buildup of tonalities of color to create greater nuances and values as the artist experiments with achieving a greater resemblance to the original masterwork.


As a fine example in oil painting, Swaydan Grebel’s “Shepherdess, After Fragonard,” shown here, is a masterful blending of multiple layers of paint achieved over many months of layering.  Viewers of this exhibition will find the historic work of art from which the artist drew her inspiration reproduced on the gallery labels as a point of reference, so they, too, can make new discoveries and explorations by uncovering earlier works of art.

Paula Swaydan Grebel is represented by the Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee.

Shepherdess, After Fragonard

Oil on Panel, 36"x48"

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