Mary Helena recently interviewed artist Paul Fenwick for LMM. Paul is a figurative artist who is active on Facebook as well as in his home town of Salisbury, Wilts, UK.
Do you support yourself by your art?
Emotionally: Isn’t that why we make art in the first place?
Financially: Of course we all would like to have the choice to paint whenever we feel like it. However I also do not want the pressure of paying the bills by making art. I know people who make a good living teaching and working on commissions but they are not able to follow their creative instincts. I have a full time job that I enjoy and it gives me head space and time away from the studio. When I am in the studio I am very productive as a result.
Were you interested in art from your childhood?
The only artistic member of my family was my Nan and she only started painting once she had retired. She tried to explain to me the correct proportions of the face and how to draw it. She now refers to my figurative paintings as “those abstracts”.
As a child I wanted to make comics. I eventually developed a very tight colour pencil technique and drew everything from my food packaging to my Roland Rat money box in fine detail.
When did you realize that you were an artist?
I have always enjoyed the process of making something that didn’t previously exist. If I can’t paint I can write or make music. The process of starting with nothing and coming up with something is addictive and an endless source of entertainment.
What caused you to start creating?
Using my imagination as child and being able to become absorbed in something when I had time to myself. I started by making comic books and at one time wanted to study typography and graphic design.
Have you had any formal art training?
I would like to say I am self-taught. Although I studied on a foundation course and a degree in graphic arts, I would say that little training was involved. I also spent a very short amount of time with the Plymouth artist Robert Lenkiewicz. It was not practical for me to spend much time with him. I also realised that all of his students painted in his style and I did not want to be so heavily influenced by him. I taught myself to paint by looking at paintings and books on artists. I studied Freud quite heavily from books and was quite disappointed by his work in the flesh as they lacked some of the colour I thought they had from looking at printed images. That taught me that a photograph of your work must NEVER be more impressive than the actual work.
Are you currently involved in an art society?
I am part of the steering group for Plain Arts in Salisbury. This group organises events such as the art trail.
How do you motivate yourself – what happens if you go into a slump?
The best way to avoid going into a slump is to avoid the act of making art a chore. When it stops being fun do something else for a while. Time spend away from the studio is very productive.
Could you describe your creative process?
Yes, but do I want to?
Do you work every day?
Only a few days a week and even then no more than 4 to 5 hours in a single day. I would start around 10am for a few hours. Home for lunch and to see the cats then back to the studio unless I have admin / emails or more mundane stuff to sort out.
How long does it take you to complete a work on average?
Normally one or two sessions per painting. A session can be as little as an hour or until the painting is about to be overworked. It is better to start on something new than labour on and completely wring the life out of a painting. Quite often I return to a canvas thinking that I will continue on with it only to realise that I would rather leave it as it is. That is a skill that only an individual can learn for themselves. When is a work finished? Lenkiewicz told me that there is no such thing as “finished”.
What is your favourite medium? Why?
I currently use acrylics after painting with oils for 15+ years. Oils are perfect for traditional portraits as you can have a number of days before the paint is no longer workable. As my work became looser I started to add household paint and charcoal. When you work in a certain way each time your practice can become predictable. When you rely on certain techniques every time you can start to bore yourself. Then it is time to change tack. Changing entirely to acrylics has lifted the colours and increased the speed of each painting. I also use spray paint, household paint, chalks and charcoal.
What is your opinion of digital art or using the computer as a tool?
I use a very simple piece of software to produce digital drawings and find that it’s limited functions serve as a problem to be overcome and promotes invention. Whatever you do it has to have soul.
Do you have any special techniques or tools?
My favourite brushes are all in a terrible state but this means that the marks they make are unconventional. I also use toilet roll /rags to wipe away paint or rub into the canvas. There is a growing pile of paint encrusted sheets of andrex around my painting easel. I use a fresh piece when I need a controlled mark and a crusty piece for something more random.
How (if at all) would you classify your style?
What emotions do you want to provoke in your audience?
The same feeling you get when you walk into a room of Rothko paintings.
Can you describe your studio (orderly/messy etc)?
No artist can work in a room they cannot relax in and it is different for everyone. My space is untidy but everything has its place.
What are you currently working on?
I do not work in projects or a series. My work is one long series.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?
I should do but I don’t.
Who are your most important influences?
Giacometti and Auerbach are key influences for me but I have learnt something from almost every artist I have seen.
What do you do for fun?
What do you think about the online art world?
We are part of a super-connected age and anyone who does not make use of the internet might as well live in a hole in the ground.
Do you ever teach?
Sometimes - and I am in the process of setting up classes.
What advice would you offer beginner artists?
It may take a number of years before you truly think you are getting somewhere. Once you get that feeling though, there is no looking back.