Paul has spent many years challenging his own pre-conceived ideas about the world around him as he aims to view his surroundings with ‘fresh eyes’ to create new work. Paul has been hugely influenced and moved by the ancient artwork in the prehistoric caves of Dordogne, so much so, it began a whole new series of work about his experiences there. Here we catch up with Paul in his studio in Worthing, where he works from his memory and sketches from Dordogne, producing vivid and compelling pieces of art.
Do you have positive/negative memories of art when you were at school?
I was very lucky at Secondary school as the art teacher, Cyril Shackleford, was a real artist who kept an oil painting on the go in the art room. He encouraged my interest, got me into his adult education class at the age of 13 and there I started oil painting and was hooked on a lifetime journey. I owe him so much.
What would your school report have said about your art?
I mostly found school boring though I was good at maths and came first or second each year in art.
Did you go on to further education in art or are you self-taught?
Though I got O and A levels I did not do well in the art exams and drifted for a few years running my grandad’s farm, being a bus conductor etc. At 20 I could do a passable Shepherd elephant but I knew there was more to art than that. I eventually went to art college as a mature student doing Foundation then Environmental Art and Design at Bournemouth and Poole college of art. This covered sculpture, ceramics, printmaking and painting though I have since 13 been a painter at heart.
What or who has inspired you over the years?
I have been inspired by many artworks that bring fresh insights and meaning to me. Some are beautiful and some difficult to like and they include; Michelangelo’s Pieta in Firenze, Picasso’s Demoiselles D’Avignon , Matisse Dance paintings – there are many but more recently the work of Marino Marini seen in his museum in Firenze, especially his sculptures of horses and riders based on his experiences of World War 2 of riders going out to listen for the allied bombers. These have inspired me to develop a range of mono-prints relating to the story of Apollo and his sun chariot.
What Artists do you admire?
Rembrandt for his drawing, Van Gogh for his intensity of vision, Derain for his bold colour sense, Rothko for his luminous enveloping environments, Rauschenberg for his fearless experimentation and the artist(s) who, 30,000 years ago, drew the three lions descending a slope in Chauvet cave – a line drawing to die for!
What is your favourite piece of work (yours and someone else)?
The great ceiling in Rouffignac cave in the Dordogne was drawn about 14000 years ago by our ancestors. It is a kilometre into the cave and covered in small to life sized drawings of horses, woolly mammoths, rhino’s and mountain goats a jumble of images like the night sky. I cry every time I see it because time collapses. I have a direct link with the artists who thought and drew like me now. Wonderful – then there is Cap Blanc a 10 metre frieze of life sized horses carved into the cliff face and visible, when made, to the passing herds!
What has been the highlight of your artistic career so far? What are you proud to have achieved?
My art is always at the foothills of yet another mountain and anything else is pointless. Each highlight is just another foothill!
I am proud however of setting up a serious art pathway for learners in the local Adult Education Centre and then helping to write and set off the Fine art degree in Northbrook which has enabled many adults to get a degree in the last 20 years. Also, getting my PhD in learning and teaching in the field of fine art.
What have you sacrificed for your art?
Less companionship than other interests have. Art is a lonely occupation – it is a conversation within your own head and with the work in progress and all else is a distraction.
What’s the best bit of advice that has been given to you?
There has been much over a long life but in art, I was lucky to meet the sculptor Elisabeth Frink when I was at art college. A few of us visited her home and studio and she came and did a crit of my work. She was a powerfully intense person and I was a bit scared as I had been working on horses as a theme (for which she is famous). She liked both my sculpture and painting and asked why the over-the-top colour on the life sized shires? I said two fingers to the course politics and she looked at me with her piercing blue eyes and said that I should in effect just do what I felt right art wise and follow my star and do my own thing.
I have taken that advice throughout my art life. I do art for me. It is my journey. If others like it fine, if not, it may dent my ego, but in the scheme of my artistic and personal development it does not actually matter.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist/craftsperson?
Follow your own star and not fashion. If you are a real ‘fine artist’ and seeker it is the only way. Personal integrity is all.
How do you start a piece of work?
Work may arise from many years of research, as with my pre-historic art inspired pieces, or it may arise from noticing the colours of a rusty can in grass. I may start with lots of studies and drawings or sometimes just get a canvas and go for it with oil bars and paint. It varies so much.
When is it finished?
It is finished when it stops screaming at me to fix it, or I can think of nothing else to do with it. Some can take years to solve and others happen in a few hours or days. I have no formula. Each piece makes its own demands and I just do my best to solve the visual puzzle which has presented itself.
Do you have a mantra, quote or line from a song that best sums up what your art means to you?
No. It is just what I have to do. It is just core to my being, who I am and have always been in a line back to the pre-historic artists 30.000 years ago.
Does music help with your creativity? If so what would you choose to listen to whilst working on a piece?
When really concentrating or if things are going badly I find silence best but otherwise I play mainly classical music Beethoven and Mozart quartets as favourite or Bach masses and violin music – favourites tend to change.
What is your favourite medium to work with/in?
Oil paint. I love its smell, colours, texture, malleability and it suits my way of working. I use brushes less than I used to as skills acquired over time can lead to repetitive results. At present I mostly use stiff card cut into a variety of shapes and sizes to apply paint and scratch into wet surfaces. When paint dries on the card it creates lumpy textures and interesting marks when laying on fresh paint. Rags, sticks, fingers, if it works use it.
Do you have a lucky or favourite something that you use that has been with you forever?
I do not have a favourite brush or anything like that but I still have and use the easel I bought at 14 years old!
Are you living your dream through your art or do you have one – what do you strive for?
Art is who I am. I see and explore the world through that strange prism and manifest my meaning making in visual forms. I can ask for no more than being able to continue for as long as possible.
Is there anything you avoid with your art?
To be swayed by fashion or false praise. Also I have learnt to avoid exposing new ideas to people until they are firm enough to withstand criticism. Early ideas before they coalesce are fragile and can be easily destroyed by thoughtless comments. To explore new ideas one has to expose ones fragility and to delve into chaos and that is safest done alone.
Thank you so very much Paul, what a real pleasure to chat and take images whilst you work, inspirational!
To find out more about Paul and his work visit the link below to his website.
Paul will be exhibiting his work as part of WAOH 2017