The wide open doors of Patricia Qualls Contemporary Art Studio invite the visitor to a party of color and light.
I’m interested in Patricia Qualls journey as an artist because I am looking for women who have reinvented themselves when a crossroad appeared in their path. I pause to contemplate the largest piece on the back wall: a splash of vibrant colors frame the composition with a passion about to spill from the edge of the canvas. At the center, the simplicity of white disturbed only by a hectic black line that runs from the bottom up to the middle changing direction, bifurcating into branches, and always coming back, fracture on its way up. Does the black line express the artist journey? I wonder.
I give up my brief attempt at art critique when I find a seat at the enormous table in the middle of the room to feast on grapes, crackers, and local wine.
Patricia Qualls started her professional life in mental health, serving as a psychologist until retirement. Dealing with mental issues day in and day out as part of her career, she needed an outlet to let her emotions flow without disrupting her life. She didn’t have art traditions to rely on, so she focused on color and light. Those elements allow her to express emotions, her respect for individual differences, and the empathy with the pain of her clients.
“I’ve made my most important decisions on hormones,” she says. With a heat wave raging through my body, I perk up to pay attention to what comes next, her punch line. “I married as a teenager,” and “became a painter as I entered menopause,” she finishes. I already love her.
At a time when most baby boomers downsize to accommodate to a more relaxed life style, this woman with long silver hair falling to her shoulders found comfort in painting. She transformed herself from a broker and psychologist into a prolific painter who exhibits several times a year in and outside of the country.
“It took a while to find my voice, but when I sold my first piece, I knew I needed to improve on what I had already achieved. Every piece is unique, and yet the elements are the same, color, light, strong strokes.” Her style has evolved into large minimalist pieces with the essence of her artistic expression: emotions. Her latest work reminds me of Arturo Reveron, the Venezuelan painter from who focused on the light of the Caribbean as the main subject of his work.
Patricia works daily with two other resident artists in her amazing space built for the large-format pieces she favors. Under several-stories high ceilings, bright light cascades from the skylights on the hardwood floors. My steps echo as I stop to admire the art on the walls, and study the organization of the studio, searching for a clue into the mind of this artist. Paints, brushes and other materials are organized neatly on fixed and rotating shelves. Every available space, even the bathroom is used either to exhibit art or storage supplies. A corner houses an office with desk, computer, and printer visible to the visitor. Ample tables temporary hold work-in-progress while the main working area is used as a buffet display for our meeting.
Patricia often experiments with large multimedia pieces, combining discarded objects, writing, color, and construction elements to create representations of the mind. A few feet out of the double doors, and up a flight of stairs, Patricia’s living quarters house the multimedia pieces. School Prayer catches my attention, a collage of notes written by disabled students on how they feel about their various conditions. A reminder of Patricia’s first career, and some of the painful experiences that shaped the work she does today as an artist.
Several months after visiting her studio, I carry with me the memory of Patricia Qualls, a woman who reinvented herself after menopause. She did not begin her artistic journey as a painter, rather by building on the emotions and experiences accumulated during a lifetime of work in mental health. She works daily, improving on her work, capitalizing on what works for her, keeping herself on top of her game by promoting her work both in person and online.