For Pauli Zmolek, reality can be captured in any one of a thousand ways. Zmolek is a visual polyglot: she can create work in oil, watercolor, charcoal, pastel, and pen – and that’s just her most recent work. She brings a specific knowledge to her use of each medium. Her watercolor pieces are pensive and airy. Her oil paintings are dense and detailed. Her pastel work favors heightened texture over pure realism. One important thing is that while Zmolek adapts her style according to her medium, she never restricts her subject matter. She is capable of thinking about one topic in many different ways.
As widespread as her taste for subjects is, Zmolek’s imagery nonetheless has some key elements that tie her body of work together. Her portraits are strikingly rendered, with great attention paid to the delicate planes of the face and an overwhelming interest in the subject’s inner thoughts. Figures often appear against an undistinguished or perfectly white background to emphasize their isolation from external elements. Her still lifes are alternately meticulously rendered examples of realism or artistically curious explorations of a single element – texture, color, or tone. Both kinds of still life are thought out and finished with care. Finally, Zmolek’s landscapes are dreamy, impressionistic renderings that manage to specify a place but be suspended in time. They are gauzy, inviting, and altogether complete depictions of locations that seem real.
Born in Iowa, Pauli current lives on Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay. During her years of service as the first woman to be named head decorative artist for the US Capitol Building, she created the blue panels which adorn the ground floor of the Senate Chamber and restored original artwork at the Library of Congress.