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The Slant on Paul Housley
by David Yu

London, May 2011 – Paul Housley’s paintings are an energetic mix of styles and subject matter. The work attests to an artist that consistently reinvents his M.O. in order to reevaluate and challenge himself to be a better painter. I met Paul Housley at the Poppy Sebire Gallery in London, where his solo exhibit, A Maid for Paint, runs from May 27 - July 2. A new and exciting feature within this show will be the incorporation of sculptural work, a move in a new direction for Housely who generally showcases portrait-style paintings.

Throughout Paul’s work there is a definite idea of subtracting, reworking, and editing, which only comes from the knowing hand of experience. There is a certain playfulness and looseness that occurs that brings out ideas of overwriting, layering, influence, and authorship, as when Paul channels the style of Picasso to replicate a work of Velasquez. It’s fascinating to consider for instance, what mark-making techniques one employs in order to create Picasso’s stamp on the painting, or how much of Velazquez is edited out before it is unrecognizable as a starting point. Like the objects Paul brings new life and presence into, his portraits leave viewers with the tension between two elements from two separate art historical roots which vie for our attention.

One phrase that Paul said stuck with me through our entire conversation--he mentioned, 'The work is the thing.' As vague and all-encompassing as this statement is, it also provides a huge 'tell', a revelation into his paintings. Yes, a huge part of his paintings are derived from objects, but a transference happens where the feeling and object-hood of the subject is heightened by Paul's creating portraits of them. Portraiture was a good starting point to our conversation. There is so much to consider when thinking about the ideas of a portrait: the sitter, the history, the symbolism of surroundings, and the style in which one renders all of the above. Paul paints in two veins, one being a reflection of inanimate objects and the other a reflection of art history.

Paul Housley, Naive and Sentimental Music, 2011, 65x 55cm; Courtesy the artist and Poppy Sebire Gallery

David Yu: Can you define and elaborate on your ideas of portraiture? During our conversation you were speaking about creating portraits of inanimate objects within your studio. Traditionally portraits reflect a human presence. How do you translate studies of objects into the realm of portraiture?

Paul Housley: I tend to choose the single figure because I like the direct connection with the solitary figure and the way it focuses the viewer to return the gaze; it is both intimate and universal and in some ways confrontational. I also use the solitary figure as a way of minimizing  narrative. It's a way of channeling the viewer to directly confront the image.My work is derived from several starting points. I gather source materials, images, objects both found and handmade. The work is produced in the studio environment with a mixture of time and attrition.

Paul Housley, Black Hair, Oil on Found Object, 2011, 15 x 12; Courtesy the artist and Poppy Sebire Gallery

DY: The layering of art historic figures is a large part of some of your paintings, whether it be the subject matter within the composition or artists that you imitate. How have you come to choose specific artists to channel or paintings to replicate within your work?  With your series of work in which you create a pastiche of Picasso or Velazquez is there notes of undermining taking place towards these big figures of art history? Is there a sense of, 'Picasso has laid the groundwork, but I can do what Picasso does better'?

PH: You cannot escape being aware of art historical figures especially growing up with an art school education and being influenced by these figures in one way or another. The artists that I choose to study and in some cases directly base work on are first and foremost artists I admire and endeavor to learn from. On one level these works are a simple act of homage; there is no element of irony or pastiche. This particular set of paintings is just the most direct example of me engaging with the art of the past.

DY: One part of your practice involves working from three-dimensional forms in order to create your paintings. You have said that these objects are also sculptures that have survived the chaos of your studio and have been in part created by yourself. For your upcoming show at Poppy Sebire you will be showcasing sculpture for the first time alongside your painting. Why is it important now to reveal this side of your practice?

PH: The use of objects serves several purposes: making the clay models can be seen as a form of drawing, and I always consider the paintings themselves to be objects.  The image is something that sits on the surface and is only the starting point of what I consider to be the work. This method of work gives my practice a circular feel where each component feeds the next and the studio as a whole becomes very much part of the work, a place where the 'objects' are created and live. I have shown objects before but not for some time; it just seems the natural time to bring them out of the studio and into the public arena again.

Paul Housley, Artists Mirror, 2011, 50 x 40 cm;  Courtesy the artist and Poppy Sebire Gallery

DY:Through our conversation I got the impression that you are the type of artist that consistently challenges yourself through self-evaluation. From your previous method of creating work to present day how have you pushed yourself to continue growing as a better painter? What direction are you heading now with your work?

PH:To some extent my method of working is just a long series of corrections, where I am constantly re-avaluating and reacting to what I have just done.  A painting is always in a state of flux and it could be argued that it is never truly finished. I am forever pulling at the threads of a painting to see if it will unravel into something more interesting. This I see as being totally in step with my need to be a better painter. I make the work hoping to somehow surprise myself, searching out those significant breakthroughs which allow the work to develop.

ArtSlant would like to thank Paul Housley and Poppy Sebire Gallery for their assistance in making this interview possible.

-- David Yu

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