Whence comes the inspiration compelling the artist to grab pen or brush and toil until a masterpiece is created? Does the muse dwell within their own brain, or is it perhaps an alien being ‘beaming down’ subconscious messages from high aloft Earth’s orbit?
I first got introduced to Peavy through my friend and colleague Greg Bishop (who has undergraduate studies in Art history and is currently looking how to pursue a PhD in the same field) who stumbled upon her work online and became instantly enthralled with both the imagery as well as with her bizarre claims of being able to travel out of her body, and channel an extraterrestrial entity called ‘Lacamo’ –there’s an entry on Peavy on the book “’A’ is for Adamski” which was published by Bishop and Adam Gorightly in 2018.
“Early in my painting career I found strange forms developing by my brush. I explained to myself that I had gotten on a beam, that I had tuned in on a power vast and wonderful.”
Peavy’s career is quite remarkable even if you choose to strip it bare of the high strangeness surrounding, it like honeysuckle on an old manor. She was born in Colorado to a Swedish immigrant mother who died when Paulina was a young child, and a poor miner father who thought education was wasted on women. Despite this inauspicious start she did manage to attend Oregon State College studying art with Farley Doty McLouth and Marjorie Baltzell. After winning a national competition organized by the Art Students League in New York, she moved to California –by then she was already married– and received a scholarship to study with abstract expressionist painter Hans Hoffman.
Paulina’s husband, an abusive drunkard according to one of her children, abandoned the family and she filed a divorce in 1932. A year later she contracted tuberculosis –life-threatening illnesses and early trauma all seem to be indispensable components of the shamanic life– and had to be sent to a sanatorium to recuperate. Unable to take care of her two young sons, Paulina had been forced to give them away and place them in an orphanage until she could support herself by teaching art classes in Long Beach and reclaim them.
It was by this time that she became involved in the popular spiritualist scene in California, attending seances hosted by medium Ida Ewing. Through Ewing it was that Peavy came in contact with ‘Lacamp’ who became her lifelong guide and it was through his instructions that Peavy moved to New York City in 1942. During all this time she kept working and receiving notice from the merciless world of art gallerists and collectors. One look into her quasi-psychedelic paintings conveys a glimpse of a dream-like realm, inhabited by etheric beings clothed with color and smoky shapes.
In 1958 Paulina was a guest on the show of popular late-night radio host Long John Nebel –a precursor to Art Bell and a myriad podcast wannabes– in which she spontaneously came into trance and began channeling ‘Lacamo’. While doing so, she was wearing one of the intricate masks she confectioned and often wore, because she said it was easier that way for the space entities to enter in possession of her consciousness –again, the use of masks is a common practice among shamans all around the world.
Getting back to the past exhibition, which was curated by Laura Whitcomb (who wrote a biography about Peavy) it had the benefit of also showing some rare UFO books and memorabilia collected by Greg Bishop over the years. Below are some of the photos he captured when he attended the gallery:
Whether one chooses to believe Paulina Peavy’s claims of contact with outer space entities, or you think she was just a delusional person who came up with a harmless fantasy in order to cope with all the trauma in her life, what is undeniable is her incredible talent and her bravery to live life under her own terms. She rightfully belongs within the small circle of female artists like Remedios Varo or Leonora Carrington, who combined their esoteric beliefs with their artistic expression to the point in which you cannot tell when one begins and the other one stops –and even if you could, why would you want to?