[This interview was adapted from the original one conducted by Brian Sherwin, writer and art critic, in 2008. It is included here in response to more recent requests for information on inspirations and influences on the art. ~June 2012] Go to Interview Part 2
Brian Sherwin: Paul, you completed a Bachelor of Education in Visual Arts at Melbourne University under David Thomas, Claire Day, John Neeson and Godwin Bradbeer. Can you discuss your academic years and the influence said instructors had on you?
PR: I was fortunate enough to learn from several respected Australian artists, but I am most indebted to these lecturers for their ability to challenge preconceptions about art making. But the encounter with David Thomas was personal too because I had thought of abandoning my course at one stage because when I tried imagining it, I couldn’t see myself devoted to art teaching. I wanted my focus to be on making it. The school had none of the ‘prestige’ of the other art colleges, and even a hint of condescension from those who should have known better. But was there some appeal to staying on, and years later still be painting and exhibiting professionally, long after the art school lights and prejudices had faded? Damn right, there was.
As for key art school influences I would have to single out Godwin Bradbeer as having had the most impact on my student years and beyond. I wasn’t officially enrolled in his life drawing sessions but I went anyway, compelled by his intensity and generosity as an artist and teacher. It was rare to come across someone whose enthusiasm and skills for both were on par.
After university I also attended some of Godwin’s workshops. These often fused the physical act of drawing with the challenge to question your work philosophically, peeling back layers to consider the motivations behind your mark and decision-making; how you constructed, reconsidered and employed various resources to retrieve an image from a point of perceived failure or loss. For me, the pearl was in learning to stare that sense of creative loss and failure head on, in the hope of emerging from the other side with something worth showing (and hopefully moving) another person.
Godwin has a wonderfully liberal and intelligent manner with which to break open a dialogue around image-making. As a consequence I began to sense possibilities in studying the human figure which I hadn’t yet grasped technically or rationally during art school days. Bradbeer helped many of us consider the human subject as a broader historical project; as an endeavour to which so many had contributed, and to which we could continue to do so. This was a sense of culture and history, and of it’s continuity, I hadn’t known before.
Other artist of course were leaving huge impression on my imagination during and post art school; Some of the Modernists I had started to regard more closely; Tapíes, Bacon, Freud, Auerbach, Bacon, Kitaj, Hockney, De Kooning, and too many contemporaries to mention here.
BS: You have exhibited in several Australian galleries, including, Red Gallery, Jenny Port Gallery, ACSA, and Lindberg Galleries. What can you tell us about the art scene in Australia… specifically in Melbourne?
PR: Melbourne continues to be a significant cultural hub in the Asia-Pacific region and I am proud to be living in it. It enables artists, represented or not, to network and be exposed to global currents and emerging or experimental practices. Events like the Melbourne Art Fair help to breakdown insecurities or perceptions of cultural isolation down under, and of course the opportunity to build relationships with an international collector base. It’s an ongoing dialogue and process across the art network. And now with the aid of online communities, artists can show-case their work to a broader domestic and international audience, with a speed and on a scale previously unavailable to them.
My longest standing commercial relationship has been with Lindberg Galleries. Its director, David Moulday, has a genuine connection with the artists he represents. David has worked hard to build solid business relationships too, which is no mean feat in a market that has had some galleries savaged by uncertain economic climates, at home and abroad. I met David when he casually strolled into an opening of mine back in 2006, where his interest was matched by his doggedness to pursue a commercial/creative opportunity.
Being a comparatively small art market, our galleries have to manage relationships with collectors carefully. I am glad to have a gallery mediating the commercial side of things for me, as my preferred approach is to focus on the output. I know some artists have moved away from this model or choose to resist it entirely, but art sales is not something I care devote my energy to. I hear artists whining at times about gallery commissions, but I think that’s crazy and it smacks of naivety – if they had insight into the nature and scale of commercial risk and commitment required to keep any shop operational they might reconsider that position. Some won’t, but that’s ok.
The art scene here also probably suffers from the ills of any cultural network overshadowed by the predominance of sport and alcohol in this country. Talk of elite sport is welcomed, but any chatter about promoting standards or elite cultural events is met with fewer nods of agreement, even in a city as culturally diverse as Melbourne, which is a shame. It makes it all the more challenging to survive as an artist without an inheritance, a pimp, or a trade to supplement your art practice. So yes it can be cliquey, aggressive and unfair but it creates a tension that has perhaps always fuelled creative pursuit and resilience. A spirit to rail against convention and constraint – and I think artists in this country are just as prepared to do that as their international counterparts. I’ll be looking out for signs of it too at the 2012 Melbourne Art Fair coming up in August.
BS: Your portraits and figures seem to have a level of psychology about them… as if you are exploring the human condition with your process. Can you discuss your works and the motive behind them?
PR: My motive for beginning any work is intrigue. Intrigue about the human form, how it might be observed, remembered or imagined over time. Intrigue about how the form and subject will develop and transform on the canvas, sometimes by will and sometimes by the materials used to make them. This change is integral not just to the work but to my experience and understanding of our human condition. I am both fascinated and wary of its unpredictable nature. My conviction is that painting can continue to be a powerful response to the vagaries of human experience.
When engaged by the human figure as subject, there are various mental, physical and emotional conditions which need to be considered. But I also feel my painting is informed by an inclination to explore human frailty no less than ‘beauty’ (there, I said it), and of that wonderful contrast between the vulnerable, living subject and the certainty of an idealised one. I try to remain responsive to this when making a new work. I believe the drawings and paintings are ambiguous and suggestive enough for their different states (be they psychological, emotional, and physical) to be perceived over time. It’s why the works can elicit such varied responses from people.
Go to Interview Part 2
Brian Sherwin is an American art critic, writer, and blogger. Sherwin is a founding Management Team member of the artist social networking site myartspace, where he also served as Senior Editor for six years. As Senior Editor for myartspace.com Sherwin established an extensive interview series with emerging and established visual artists. Sherwin currently writes for FineArtViews.