The paintings may show the whole world or part of a country (often the US) and they can bring to life something very specific – global flight paths for example, or the ZIP codes used in the US postal system. But they are always maps, and her interest in cartography goes back to when she was little. Her father was a civil engineer who designed a device to correct how the curvature of the earth affects aerial photographs.
“He was obsessed with accuracy, but he knew there was absolutely no such thing as accuracy,” Paula laughs. “He showed me a picture of where we lived in Maryland and the driveway looked wrong. That’s what I learned as a kid. I heard words like ‘distortion’ and to me that meant maps were lying.”
She describes the creative licence she takes as “abstract expressionist information” and we the viewers are complicit in what messages we choose to take away from them. Having said that, her exhibition of US maps last year ended up ringing a lot of the alarm bells that the experts missed when ruling out a Trump victory. Her voice hardens as we discuss the election results and she reels off statistics about the electoral college and gerrymandering and how some voters count more than others.
“Wyoming has 650,000 people and two senators and New York has 19.7 million people and they have two senators. What does that say to you about democracy?”
When she was making her paintings of the US, she was aware that the country was organised irrationally. “I saw that at the time. I had an acute sense of what was going on with the population,” she says.