“Losing Yourself to your Thoughts” a Q&A with Paul Brown
We caught up with Rise Art abstract artist Paul Brown and talked about all things abstract art. The illustrator-turned-abstract-artist revealed to us how some of his biggest setbacks in life have led the way for moments of pure artistic inspiration and how “sometimes the smallest thing can set fireworks off”. From his greatest influences, to the catharsis that creating offers, Paul took us on a journey through his art and “the open-ended story of abstraction”.
Inside Unseen by Paul Brown
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you made your way to abstract art?
Originally from the North of England I’ve been settled in London for about 30 years now. I did a degree in Graphic Design up at Liverpool Polytechnic and moved down after that for a post-graduate illustration course at Central St Martins in Covent Garden. I had a career as an illustrator until a post cancer treatment brain infection caused some lasting damage and I found that I couldn’t cope with the demands that deadlines and working to a client brief made on my newly compromised thought process.
I’d always kept sketchbooks and enjoyed just playing with mark making, composition and colour with no conscious plan in mind, and shifted my focus to creating abstract images that doubled as a form of therapy for me in coping with the lasting legacy of my medical history and the impact it has had on my life.
Contact by Paul Brown
You’ve talked about the cathartic nature of abstract art. Do you find the process itself cathartic or is it more to do with the final result?
It’s more the process I think, just losing yourself to your thoughts and not having a plan as such, the work just evolves with choices that are made being influenced by mood, what’s already laid down and a wealth of life experience that serves to guide any visual decisions at a more intuitive level. It can be a way of externalising issues that could otherwise linger and grow to be more distracting than they deserve to be.
It’s only when I step back and see that work in progress or a completed image that I become more aware of it being a visual representation of my state of mind and that’s sometimes quite enlightening.
Hope I by Paul Brown
Talk us through your process of creating work.
I start by deciding on the size and proportions of the image, with working digitally I have the freedom to alter this at a later stage but it’s good to set this as a basic space to work within. It’s then a case of diving in and making initial marks, choosing colours and gradually layering things up and playing within that picture space. It’s very intuitive, a case of reacting to and building upon whatever’s in front of me and taking time to have some distance from the work then coming back to it with fresh eyes.
As each picture progresses I might transfer the work from my iPad over to Photoshop on the Mac to add scanned in marks and textures and check or adjust the colours. It’s basically back and forth between the two, swapping layers around and changing their opacity to see what shows through from beneath and building things slowly until they reach a conclusion.
I work from home so have found that the iPad allows me to still have a direct physical input in that I’m drawing or painting on the screen with immediate visual feedback but without having to find space to store equipment and canvases and cleaning up afterwards! When I feel an image is finished I check the colours are ok to reproduce in print, then I make any adjustments and then upload it.
Twist by Paul Brown
How do you go about choosing a colour palette for your work?
It’s not something I really do to be honest, I just make a start and the colour choices are made as each piece develops. I’ll admit to having built up a palette of colours I’ve liked from previous pictures that I can access easily whilst working, but I just tend to go with the flow and let the work dictate its needs. The colour choices I make are wholly dependent upon the colours already laid down so there isn’t a lot of direct repetition between works.
Your work combines boundless energy and movement with a clear sense of balance. What do you want people to experience when looking at your work?
It’s important that there’s no intended meaning to my work, no right or wrong interpretation. I like to think that the viewer brings their own life experience, memories and personality to bear when looking at each picture. If the work triggers a response, a feeling or recollection of an experience then that’s a personal individual thing.
I love the open-ended story of abstraction, there’s a constant re-reading each time you engage with an image that offers up endless possibilities for the viewer’s relationship with the work. I love it when I visit galleries and just standing there, taking in things gives me goosebumps.
Gone by Paul brown
Who/what are your greatest artistic influences?
It’s hard to say really, there seems to be a lot stemming from the 50’s and 60’s in terms of art and design that I’m drawn to. Colour is a big attraction too and also textural painting, seeing the layers of paint and brushstrokes as evidence of the hand that created the work. Painters like Ivon Hitchens, John Piper and more recently R.B. Kitaj and Howard Hodgkin and sculptural forms by Henry Moore and Anthony Caro all deserve a mention.
There’s photography, architecture and cinema that are all raising their hands and shouting “Me Sir!” as I’m thinking about influences. So much that you might see out and about, just being aware of life going on around you is important, soaking up sights, sounds and smells as you go about daily life. Sometimes the smallest thing can set fireworks off if you’re just aware of your surroundings.
Cure by Paul Brown
The titles of your work are intriguing and in themselves quite abstract. How do you go about naming your work?
It can be hard to have to name a picture, especially when it’s an abstract image and you don’t want to tie it to any explicit meaning through the title you give it. I tend to wait until I’m happy a piece is finished and put it to one side but keep coming back to look at it, take it in and wait for a triggered response from my brain. Each picture is influenced by whatever is going on around and inside me whilst working on it.
Taking a step back to soak up the layers, compositional elements and interaction of colour as a whole can suddenly pop a word or phrase into my mind. Once I’ve got that I’ll give it some time to see if the name fits and if it feels right it stays.
Turn Around by Paul Brown
How have you found working during quarantine?
As I mentioned earlier, I have a brain injury from years back so the time during quarantine has been trying to say the least. I have been adding to pieces sporadically as there are a number of pictures in progress so it’s handy to dip into them when the time is right. But there are also a lot of things on hold at the moment due to the Covid-19 situation, so hopefully when the threat recedes, I’ll be able to get back into things again.