June 2, 1998
by Robin Rice

Paula Mandel: Relationships: Past, Present and Future

   ...Painter Paula Mandel depicts humans in relation to each other and to nature. Plant forms permeate, even invade, her paintings, metaphorically telling us that nature rules, though human concerns may seem dominant. On the other hand Mandel does not paint pure landscape. Though she executes flowers, massed and individually, with particular facility, her work is human-centered. Interiors has a memorable satiric edge. The confrontational female subject is divided vertically and seated in a chair. The "public" half wears a strident blue and green power suit, a watch, long fake nails. She has a blue heavily made-up eye and coifed red hair. Her lolling other private half is lusty and less cosmetic: fat and naked, she has a brown eye and wild uncontrolled white hairs among her dark ones and short functional nails. Even her side of the chair is different, patterned with floral upholstery.

Paula Mandel, "Eminence", oil on linen.

  Cantata reminded me a little of a surreal painting by Mitchell Gilette. In it a slim nude woman looks at three detached heads, each with a different and intense expression resembling the grimaces of opera singers. My favorite of Mandel's paintings in this show is [Eminence,] a large portrait of her mother. She told me that she had originally intended to paint her mother nude, but the painting took a different direction. The seated figure faces us. Her calm, alert face is dignified and warm. The hair is starred with a pearly translucent headdress. A fantastical lacy vegetative motif covers the neck and arms with curling linear patterns, reminiscent of the elaborate lace of an Elizabethan royal portrait. Most of the figure is drapes in dark blue. The matriarch's throne-like chair is entwined with vines and flowers, so that she site in an enchanted twilight bower, an emblem of the most benevolent guise of nature itself.