Top image: Detroit
Hi Paul, when did you first start drawing?
I started drawing when I was really young, like most people. Art was my favourite subject at school, it was a good form of escapism for me. Then when I left school I did an apprenticeship as a graphic artist. I've also been an illustrator and even done some tapestry too - I've been involved in some kind of art throughout my whole career.
How do you start creating a piece? Can you talk me through the process?
The process usually starts off with getting as much reference material as possible and taking as many pictures as possible. I also trawl through a lot of stock image sites. The photos can be really high resolution and that's really useful, although I tend to take a lot of my own photos nowadays. So then I take the reference material and tweak it in Photoshop, highlighting certain parts, adjusting the focus or the depth of field. Then after that the laborious process of gridding up the picture into lots of squares begins. Then I grid the canvas as well and then it’s just a matter of drawing. Around three quarters of the way through the drawing you start to refer less and less to the material and you make your own aesthetic judgments when it comes to the tonality. The most important thing is gathering images that mean something to you and that have captured my imagination.
How long does it take you to finish a piece, seeing as they are so intricate?
I think it tends to take about six weeks to finish a drawing. You’re never working on just one piece, you’re working on a few all at different stages. I tend to work on two or three different drawings and maybe one painting to break up the monotony!
Despite their differences, hyperrealism is intimately linked with photography. Are you inspired by photographers as well the painters and artists listed on your website?
Funny enough, I wouldn’t actually say there are any photographers that inspire me. For me it’s always a means to an end, the photograph is a jumping off point. It’s a little different now, but when I was looking through photographs when I was younger I wouldn’t even have known what the photographers name was. It was more about the photograph saying something to me emotionally. When I was really young, 12 or 13, I stumbled across Francis Bacon, and the power of those image was terrific. Those were the first images that made me want to go and find out who the person was. He’s such a powerful figure in 20th century art in Britain. I wouldn’t put him as a current influence on my website, but he’s on the list of people that got me into art.
Your drawings feature many places, including Detroit and India. Why are there not more of your hometown of Glasgow? What draws you to these places?
The funny thing is the picture Detroit is actually a photo from Canada. I was reading a book about Detroit when I was drawing it, so a lot of the titles of my work tend to reflect something I’m interested in or reading at the time. A lot of the photorealism from the 70s came out of America, so I guess it’s a nod to those sorts of images but it’s also to do with 21st century culture as images now tend to come from Hollywood. I also try and stay clear of being associated with Scotland too much, people see Scotland as just a place of hills, fields, tartan and kilts, and I’ve always found that that a patronizing view. I’m an artist first and foremost, before I’m a Scottish artist. Also, the nature of the medium allows for a freedom. The source material is a photograph which can be from anywhere in the world.
Hyperrealism is somewhat back in vogue, and I would be inclined to contribute a part of this renewed interest to how people are sharing art on the Internet. Do you think this way of sharing will be of growing importance in art, especially when you've experienced a media flurry after you were featured on blogs?
I think the importance of the internet to artists is as important as the invention of oil paint in tin tubes in the early 19th century. I think the internet is incredible for artists, I don’t think my work would have been picked up as much if it wasn’t for the net. Twenty years ago when I was approaching galleries you had to send them your work on slides and it was difficult to get a show if you were just based in Glasgow. Now I can contact people in New York instantly and show them some of my stuff. That’s just incredible. My girlfriend’s a musician, and the internet is having a negative influence on her work, whereas it’s the opposite with the visual image. The fact you’ve even phoned me up – without the internet this interview wouldn’t be happening.
Hyperrealism not only makes people marvel at the skill, but also the intricate nature of reality itself. Has the detail in day-to-day life always fascinated you?
I think it has. When I look at my earlier drawings it’s clear I was always a representational artist. I’ve tried to do various things, I messed around with acrylics and sculpture when I was younger, but it didn’t feel right for me. I was just trying to be trendy or whatever, and as I’ve got older things have got more defined and detailed. In the 70s I gained my background in graphic illustration so I did album covers, then hyperrealism seemed a natural progression. I think people like to pigeonhole artists into being conceptual, impressionist, photorealist, hyperrealist or whatever, but at the end of the day it just comes down to communication. People get bogged down in the technique. I want my art to say something to people, the same as Damien Hirst would. Hyperrealism does seem, as you say, to be in vogue and I think it may be a reaction to conceptual art, to the Turner Prize. I want people to just appreciate things for what they are, no matter what end of the spectrum they’re on. And really, both ends are just trying to accomplish the same thing.
For more of Paul's work and his list of influences, head over to his website.