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Pauline Houston McCall is a multimedia artist, vocalist, and activist based in Philadelphia. She earned a BFA in Printmaking from Moore College of Art and now paints, draws, sculpts, and creates murals often about the rise and fall of the human spirit. She is also the lead vocalist, co-songwriter, and co-creator of Soul music venture MOKA and co-founder of SPIRITUAL THUNDER and REGGAE THUNDER. She is the founder and director of nationally acclaimed women’s artist collective “WOMEN HOLLER,” which premiered an exhibition “Intimate Exposures” at the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia and was featured on CBS 3’s “EYE ON PHILADELPHIA.” – Emma Rose
Pauline has also taught multi-disciplinary arts at Perkins Center for the Arts and Appel Farm Arts Camp, led collaborative community projects, and has been involved in musical performances and artist residencies in schools local to Philadelphia. When I sat down with her over Zoom, she positively radiated with the joy and confidence she derives from making art. She has a wonderful flair for storytelling, and naturally landed a few themes; she cares about believing in yourself: she envisioned where she wanted to be and worked toward it; perseverance: she was rudely rejected by a gallerist, which fueled her to make the supportive community, “Women Holler”; and resilience: she wants to achieve extra through the challenge of the pandemic. Altogether, she advocates the type of independence she describes as, “You don’t have to be in the know. You make your own ‘know.”
What has your journey been like in creating a business out of your art?
I began to manifest, I began to say things out loud, even before I got my big breakthrough commission at 30 Hudson Yards in New York City. My gallery is called Galleria Paulina, and I named my gallery before I even had a physical space. I began to sell from Galleria Paulina, so people were like, “We want to come see your gallery!” Really, I was always making work from my emotions, from how I felt about the world. It wasn’t like, “I want to sell my work! I must be a famous artist!” I want women and girls, and people of color, to understand you have to begin to live your dream already, as if it’s already happening.
Do you depend on your art business for income?
For money, I do a lot of independent teaching. My husband and I go from school to school with music and art programs. That way, we’re able to make a beautiful, meaningful, sustainable living and live the way we want to live. If we want to sit on our steps and paint or play guitar, sipping wine, that’s exactly what we do.
Did it come naturally, selling your art?
I always knew that I could sell. Here’s a real quick story from when I was probably 21. I was selling jeans at this store, and a big group of men in the Navy came in looking to buy jeans. I talked them into getting these kinds of jeans for going out to a club, if that was their style, or these other kinds of jeans for other occasions, and I ended up selling, my manager said, $10,000 worth of jeans. I was like, “Oh, dang! I don’t want to go down in history for that.” I knew at that point that I could probably sell salt to a slug! So it felt very natural to sell my own work. In galleries with my work, I like offering wine and cheese and curating the room so that some pieces are on an “impact” wall. That way, when some people walk up, they’re like, “Oh my god, that’s my piece.” Some artists would rather have a gallerist or curator set all that up, but I love it. Maybe it’s because I’m an extrovert!
Speaking of extroversion, do you ever find yourself needing a community, specifically other women artists?
You have opened a can of worms! In the mid-2000s, I woke up one morning, and I was like, “I have to find a gallery to represent me.” I went in with my slides at the time, and the gallery owner literally yelled at me! I was feeling so good, so bold and brave, that I decided to make my own support network. I started an all-women artists’ collective called “Women Holler.” At the time it started, the youngest [member] was 21, the oldest was 70. It was every nationality. And we’d just support each other, offering to watch the kids to give someone time to paint, and showing all of our work together. The collective gets active and quiet naturally over the years, as people get busy with their own lives, but then we’ll say, “Women Holler. Let’s go!” Right now, we’re just finishing working on designs for a mural. My whole ethos has been: “Be the answer to the question that you keep having!”
Has the pandemic affected much of what you or the group does?
Absolutely. Not in a bad way. In fact, in a good way. I decided, “Oh, the world’s going to go haywire and I’m going to do something extraordinary.” Growing up, my Dad always taught us to do the opposite; you know, turn the other cheek if someone was being mean. I didn’t have any patience for that back then but now, I totally believe it. With the pandemic being a huge challenge, I just dared myself to dream bigger, to do more!
If anything, I believe that trying or ridiculous times (like we’re going through right now) should be the crux of the most emotional, most beautiful work that you can possibly create. I say to my artist friends, “I dare you during these times, I dare you to go into your studio, into your soul, into your writing, and just do everything you always wanted to do.” You can spend the time stressing out, watching the news, being on social media or you can just create. During the pandemic I got so much work done, to the point where now I’m in between gallery and studio spaces, upgrading!
Any final advice to other artists?
I think the moral of my story, and a lot of artists’ stories, is that we need to stop looking to curators and people who have galleries that are already set up and think of them as “in the know,” and we’re not. We need to make our own “know” and be in it! We have to believe that we have the tools to do it. There’s no reason why we can’t dream for ourselves and find a collective, find other women who want to do what we want to do. We can sit and dream together. If the world tells us we can’t dream, we have to dream anyway — and then we have to find other dreamers around us.
Conversations with Emma Rose. Written by Emma Rose. Edited by Eugenia Macias.