Paul Housley

Paul Housley In Dialogue with Steven Cox

Steven CoxI feel that it would be appropriate to open our dialogue by discussing your relationship to art history and artists such as Picassso and Velasquez. It is evident that these specific artists have influenced you, considering that your self-portraits are often in the guise of other artists.

Can you tell me about your reasoning behind morphing yourself with these artists, and perhaps specifically discuss your work Portrait As Picasso’s Self Portrait, 2011?

Paul Housley: A lot of my work has art historical references, they provide me with a number of entry points into making work, producing motifs and helping me understand my relationship with art. I always like to acknowledge my debt to past masters and on one level the work acts as a homage to them. I think it is impossible to make work without engaging with work from the past. Painting in particular is a complex interwoven language that morphs between genres, styles and time lines. Engaging with the past helps me learn and move within this language.

Picasso is a constant for me. He is a big beast of an artist and can be very problematic in terms of influence and referencing. Many artists simply wont touch him and I totally understand, but that is what is appealing to me, I want to climb into the belly of the "Beast" and come out the other side.

SC: Do you feel there are any particular issues within painting, of which Picasso explored, that are still present within painting?

PH: What makes painting still vital and exciting is the constant struggle to somehow capture the human experience in the manipulation and arrangement of simple base materials. Someone like Picasso faced those problems head on and it is the energy and honesty of his engagement that makes him always relevant. 

SC: Other than Picasso, the work of Philip Guston is influential to you. For instance, works such as Brush Bucket (2013), Painters Tools (2013) and more recently Fat Neck (2016), all hint at Guston. What is it about Guston that appeals to you?

PH: Guston, like Picasso, is one of those artists who deal with the human condition head on. His work is so direct and clear. It’s complex and sophisticated whilst possessing a real gut instinct. He is very much "there" on the canvas, all his fears, desires and faults laid bare. If you are interested in paint and what it is to be alive you have to look at Guston.

SC: Your paintings span multiple genres: abstraction, still life, landscape, the nude and self-portrait. You are not bound by any one of these. Do you feel conscious of the historical weight connected to these genres when creating a new work?

PH: I am interested in all aspects of painting and all genres. Traditional genres have a fascination for me tied up with the weight and complexity of their histories. In some ways the "subject" matter is the least important aspect of making the work, it is to some extent just something to hang the paint on. I tend to go for simple universal motifs, even possibly banal, putting emphasis on the material reality of the work rather than the image. I often talk of blending genres, referring to the "portrait of the object"

SC: Continuing on from the last question, is there a specific genre that you feel most drawn to?

PH: To some extent all the work has an element of "Self portrait". The work can be seen as one long continuous pursuit to understand oneself and what it is to be alive and how best to spend your time and what makes most "sense". If your work has any power you should able to say these things in a bowl of fruit just as much as the use of the human figure.

SC: When viewing your work, the textural surface of the canvas fascinates me. I can see that there are thick and irregular structures beneath the surface image. With this in mind, it leads me to understanding that you either re-paint the same image over and over again, or each canvas is regularly re-used for different works. This suggests to me that your works are somewhat temporal. Are you precious of your works? How do you evaluate a works value?

PH: I often rework my paintings; many have numerous paintings underneath and show the scars and traits of their creation. A work usually evolves over a period of time with numerous revisions mostly, which are intuitive. I am not precious with my work in terms that I am prepared to "destroy" what could be a perfectly good piece of work in the attempt to get to a "better" one. My work means everything to me but it is impossible for me to "Value" it. 

SC: I am curious about your daily studio routine and the planning that goes into your paintings. Do you have a regular working routine whilst being in your studio? Are you there daily?

PH: Like most artists I work long hours and view the solitude of the studio a blessing. I work most days and have habits and routines that evolve from the studio practice. The studio can be seen as a state of mind as much as a physical space. I tend to work on numerous things at once, a sort of controlled chaos. I rarely plan things; I get momentum and ideas from shifting between things.

SC: In your studio, how many paintings are you working on at any one time?

PH: I tend to work on a lot of paintings at once. My studio is pretty chaotic. However I am starting to think this is getting counter productive, so I am aiming to become a bit more organised and focus on fewer works at a time.

SC: Can you tell me about your recent exhibition Mini Bar at Farbvision Berlin?

PH: The show at Farbvision in Berlin came about when Paul Mcdevitt asked me if I would like to do something there. The space is in what used to be an old butcher shop, and retains some of its original features and in particular its atmospheric green and white tiles. The work I made for the show was in some ways influenced by the space. I produced light bright paintings with acrylic and spray paint which felt more right for the space than my heavier oil work.

SC: I find that the title of your exhibition owns a double meaning, for attendees to exhibition openings generally expect a bar of free drinks available to them whilst viewing the work on view.  Is the title ‘Mini Bar’ a joke directed to this custom?

PH: The title "Mini Bar" just popped into my head. I guess I was thinking of travel and staying in a hotel. I just liked the sound of it and it somehow resonated with doing the show in Berlin.

SCYour newest works appear to incorporate spray paint, which I believe has only recently become incorporated into your canvas works. A speedy sleight of hand is required when using this material for the paint naturally flows fast under the cans pressure. What attracted you to begin using this material, and do you feel that spray paint offers new a materialistic territory for yourself to explore? Has this material also been challenging in any way due to the small scale of your works?

PH: The use of spray paint in my work is not a totally new thing for me. I am always looking for new forms of expression and actively seek to sometimes disrupt my working practice in order to shake things up or open new possibilities. I like the directness of spray paint; it has a certain "Dumbness'" that appeals to me. At the moment I am enjoying using an array of paints at once. 

SC: Dumbness in painting is something that you have mentioned before in past talks/interviews though has generally been mentioned when referring to paintings that depict objects that are somewhat banal or disposable. Do you find paintings that contain such objects as being ‘dumb’ because you have in a way elevated the objects significance by eternalizing them in paint?

PH: The word "dumb" to me as several connotations in relation to painting. Paint and canvas are "dumb" base materials; inert in themselves they need to be activated by the will and intelligence of the artist. For me there is something very special about this equation, its where the alchemy lies.

SC: Furthermore, you have often mentioned that your work embraces or highlights the ridiculousness of being an artist. Do you consider the role of the artist as being a little absurd?

PH: As an artist I choose to embrace a certain "romantic" vision in how to navigate the world.

There are many contradictions involved in being an artist. On one level it seems a rather selfish act, wrapped up in an enormous leap of faith into the void of ones own ego. It is both noble and ridiculous at once.

SC: In regards to social media platforms, Instagram appears to serve as an ideal way for yourself to showcase your regular output of works. What are your feeling about Instagram?

PH: I find Instagram very useful. It’s a good way to discover new artists and to let people know what’s going on in your studio. Its a lot more organic and informal than a traditional website, and acts more like a visual diary. I take a lot of screen grabs from it of anything I find interesting or that may be useful for my work.

SC: Can you tell me of any other future exhibitions and projects that you have lined up?

PH: The next shows I am involved in are group shows all based in London. "Costermongering" at the Belmacz space in Mayfair (August, 2016), a three-person show at Narrative Projects in Fitzrovia (September 2016) and a show at the Sid Motion gallery in Kings Cross (August).

Paul Housley

Images courtesy of Paul Housley, Belmacz Gallery and Farbvision Berlin.