‘A way of feeling connected’: La Jolla painter shows three local outdoor dining scenes

Paula McColl painted this scene of the outdoor dining that sprung up outside Bistrot du Marché.
Paula McColl painted this scene of the outdoor dining that sprung up outside Bistrot du Marché on Girard Avenue in response to pandemic-related restrictions.

As restaurants have taken their tables and chairs outside during the coronavirus pandemic, La Jolla artist Paula McColl has taken to her canvases and brushes to paint them, and showed three such La Jolla works at a one-night exhibition Oct. 13 at Bistro du Marché on Girard Avenue.

McColl, who lives in La Jolla Shores, first painted the outdoor dining program on Avenida de la Playa near her home at the suggestion of friends “to encourage the outdoor dining during the COVID period,” she said.

She then painted diners outside at Bistro du Marché in The Village, followed by a daytime scene of people walking outside Everyday California in The Shores.

When Bistro du Marché owner Sylvie Diot saw the painting of her restaurant, she immediately planned a one-night show, executed in five days.

La Jollan Paula McColl, left, with Bistrot du Marché owner Sylvie Diot and two of the three paintings on exhibit Oct. 13.
La Jollan Paula McColl, left, with Bistrot du Marché owner Sylvie Diot and two of the three paintings on exhibit Oct. 13.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Diot said McColl’s painting was “very genuine. I liked it very much. … I thought it was a good time to bring an exhibit [to the restaurant]. She told me she painted three scenes of people dining out during COVID and I thought it was a good thing that she put these three paintings together in one space.”

“We are confined still,” Diot said. “There are a lot of things that we cannot do, and I thought because it’s a small exhibition it could be a good way still look at art.”

The Bistro du Marché show promoted social distancing and mask-wearing, allowing a few people at a time into the dining room, which Diot said offered people a chance to view art away from screens.

“We’re still in a pandemic,” Diot said, “but if we work it a different way that’s not a threat for people, we can still watch live art and meet the artist.”

McColl said of Diot’s arranging the spontaneous exhibition: “It’s fantastic.”

McColl said painting the La Jolla outdoor scenes is “a way of being close to people. I can’t be close to them, but I can see them, I can paint them petting their dog [or] talking to their friends. I want to go up and hug them, [but] I can’t hug anybody! It’s a way of feeling connected.”

McColl, who holds a bachelor’s degree in art history and studio art from Hunter College in New York, said she has “always painted cityscapes. I’ve always been drawn towards architecture. I like the play of shapes and forms set in nature, and how some architecture is really complementary to nature and other types contrast.”

Paula McColl says she is drawn to paint architecture and cityscapes, like this scene of Avenida de la Playa in The Shores.

“I like to see the different types of light, the shapes that are created by shadows and atmosphere, and how the atmosphere changes the feeling of the building,” she said.

McColl, who grew up in Ohio, has shown her paintings all over the world from New York, Connecticut and Texas to London and Brazil.

McColl was the first American to have a one-woman show in Sao Paulo, Brazil, titled “Duas Cidades, Sao Paulo e Nova York (Two Cities, Sao Paolo and New York)” comparing the two locales. “That was really exciting,” she said.

McColl, who has adult sons in London and Colombia, moved to La Jolla in 2010 after her husband died, having visited the area many times since the 1980s. “It is so beautiful, we all know that,” she said. “Every day, I thank my lucky stars that I live in this beautiful part of the world. I have good friends here, and I have a full and wonderful life.”

McColl, whose last local show was at the UC San Diego Faculty Club in 2015, said she paints from sketches she does at a location or from “lots of pictures” she takes.

“It’s so pleasing to paint people enjoying their lives despite the chaos of the time,” she said of her current series.

McColl is planning paintings of Village eateries such as The Cottage and Sugar & Scribe, and Warwick’s books, and hopes to get in a kayak and photograph the shoreline looking in from the ocean to translate to canvas.

She said her next show will be a larger one showcasing the collection — including the pieces exhibited at Bistro du Marché and the upcoming Village works — at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in March. The one-woman show excites McColl, who said she plans “to have a lot of these street scenes, a reflection of this particular time. ... I love the way this community looks after itself and tries to help others as well.”

For more information on McColl and her paintings, visit