Paula Quintela is a woman in perpetual transit. Born in Chile, trained in Canada, and now settled in Brisbane, she injects her artistry with the intricacies of her diverse cultural experiences. Quintela weaves the past, present and future together to show that our personal truth is continuously recomposed.

A mixed-media artist, she recently took the Brisbane art scene by storm after winning the prestigious 2018 Clayton Utz Award, an annual competition that supports Queensland based artists. Sitting down with Quintela to discuss her victory, she acknowledges the road to recognition has not been a straightforward one.

Born in Chile to a large, diverse family, Quintela knew upon leaving school that she wanted to be an artist. Her parents, who worked as architects, were always indulging creative pursuits, and instilled her own passion. “I remember my father always painting, drawing or sculpting, and my mother would make beautiful tapestries and ceramics,” Quintela recalls.

She studied fine arts at Universidad de Chile and completed a degree in painting before working as a professional photographer. She then received printmaking tutelage in Montreal and participated in group exhibitions in France, Hong Kong, New York and Australia, where she yielded to the continent’s sumptuous, tropical rainforests. “The way I see the world has a filter coloured by those experiences.”

Quintela embraces the physical and emotional loss that accompanies the migrant experience, to better articulate who she really is. “Now the good part is that, as an artist, the memory of distance helps you to look back and see more clearly who you are. For me, it eliminates the cultural labels that are attached to you from the moment you are born,” Quintela reflects.

She wields her artistry to investigate the connections between people and places, to externalise her ongoing assimilation of ancestral memories with the complexities of each new culture. Subsequently, Quintela experiments with diverse mediums, including installation, sculpture and printmaking, to “suit the concept and the materiality, the result I am trying to achieve”.

The layering of components enables Quintela to foreground the different combinations of earth, air and water as they exist in the world. “From the textures of the Canadian forest … to the starry sky of the Atacama Desert, this is where I draw my inspiration and imagery,” she explains. The artwork she submitted for the 2018 Clayton Utz Award, Yaganes, was produced using aluminium etching, chine-colle and watercolour, hand drawing on paper. Yaganes explores the plight of traditional Chilean land owners by reanimating the visual cues of ritualistic dance and body painting.

As for 2019, Quintela is working towards a solo exhibition, a third iteration of an installation project titled In Transit that was first exhibited in 2016. As for her long-term aspirations? When it comes down to it, she is enamoured by the simple process of creation. “To be honest, I love making art. It is the best feeling in the world to spend time in my studio, with inspiring music and to lose myself in the world.”

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