by Alison Smith
About two and a half years ago I went to have a chat with Paul Ellis, who had just left his life career as a Head Teacher and had taken early retirement to follow his other passion, painting. He had just given up the 9 to 5 to become a full-time artist and I remember sensing Paul’s nervous excitement as he plunged into a new bohemian world. Back then we spoke at length about the change in routine and the hidden skills needed to be a successful artist, as well as taking a peep at some of his amazing work.
Since we spoke Paul has been very busy exploring and developing his talent, putting his artistic as well as his marketing and organisational skills to good use and has been very busy garnering successful exhibitions and private commissions. Since we met back in February 2013 he has exhibited in The Hague, Margate and this autumn he will achieve one of his stated goals, to have a solo exhibition in Amsterdam at the Amstelkerk from 13th September to 4th October.
I was looking forward to meeting Paul again, to see his new paintings and to find out more about his upcoming exhibition.
Alison: I remember watching a YouTube video of you giving a speech back in 2012 where you say that you don’t yet feel comfortable calling yourself an artist, that you prefer to say “I paint”. 3 years on is there still a part of you which remains a teacher or Headmaster, or are you now 100% artist?
Paul: 100% artist without hesitation. I would now say I’m the artist formerly known as Headmaster.
Alison: Two and a half years on and has the daily routine changed much from when you just started out?
Paul: Enormously. I’m still very disciplined and get up quite early and start to paint, usually listening to Radio 4 until Woman’s Hour comes on and irritates me enough to send me out for a coffee at a local café where other artists gather. I’m a lot more efficient and pro-active than in the beginning and spend a lot of time visiting galleries and looking at other artists’ work, plus a lot of time in the Rijksmuseum examining technique and finding inspiration.
As we are talking about this we are looking at one of the paintings which will be shown at his upcoming exhibition. Entitled ‘Paddling by the Palace’ it depicts the Rijksmuseum on a rather grey day with a curious group of youths who appear to be about to dunk someone in the large paddling pool behind the museum. Paul explained that this group of people were not originally observed in Amsterdam at all but were a group of people he spotted and observed on the beach at Zandvoort. The explanation for what they are doing becomes another story when transposed from the beach setting to the centre of Amsterdam. This is a question for the viewer of the painting to ask themselves. What are these people doing? Is this fun, or aggression? One youth is wearing a hoodie. Does this stereotype suggest aggression? Paul explained that the scene at Zandvoort had an unusual story but he wants his audience to think about it and come up with their own story.
To me that is what makes a Paul Ellis painting distinct and original. There is always a question posed. The setting may be the beach, or the Scottish Highlands, or an Amsterdam street. There will usually be a fabulous sky, great clouds and a richness of colour, but there will also be something else, a stray figure, a lonely beast, a symbolic group of objects or characters, which makes the observer of his paintings ask “why”? What are they doing there? What are they thinking? Why are they looking at me like that?
“I want my paintings to say something about the human condition”
A great example of what he means by this, and my personal favourite of Paul’s newer work, will also appear in his new exhibition. Humorously entitled “Look, Sea Walker” it is a vast sunset seascape of vibrant oranges and yellows and depicts two paddle boarders who appear to be walking on water, one man spotlighted, as if chosen, by the sun. The thin dark stripe of the horizon suggests what? The abyss? The end of the world? The Dark Side? The great expanse of sky and the golden hue of the sunset on the water depicts nature at its most majestic, with man looking small and rather isolated in its vastness.
Many of Paul’s paintings have this theme in common. Other common themes, which will be found in the exhibition, are philosophy; ask him about finding Spinoza on a bridge in Amsterdam, Scotland; from curly horned sheep having a chat on a boggy glen to serene seascapes depicting a ghostly ferry disappearing into the mist, and of course Amsterdam and The Netherlands landscape, all with a twist and a question mark.
I had to ask Paul how he thinks his technique has changed and developed since we last spoke.
Paul: My style has evolved and matured more than changed. I have developed a more thorough technique of underpainting more layers of colours to achieve a more intense and sensory effect. When I was painting “Look, Sea Walker” I had an incredible empathy with how Mark Rothko might have felt as I applied layer after layer of paint to achieve the perfect feeling of sunset sky. It was a very emotional experience applying the paint, more sensory than visual in a way, When that happens it’s a moment of clarity, being able to capture the essence of what it felt like to be there, and translating it into the paint.
Paul: An idea has to grab me in the beginning or it just doesn’t work. I get a snapshot of what I want to achieve but I never know how it will end up. It has to somehow balance. There has to be a harmony in the end result or it doesn’t work. Quite often the end result can be very different from my original idea. I like to push the boundaries and I’m constantly learning and trying new techniques to see what works.
Alison: You seem very content with your new life.
Paul: Finding success as an artist requires more than just artistic talent, you also have to be savvy in business and not afraid to pursue your goals. I’ve learnt a lot in the last few years and feel more comfortable now with what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I’m constantly learning and developing and that is very satisfying. I now understand what I am about and I’m certain that I must carry on. Getting an exhibition in Amsterdam was a major goal of mine and it’s very exciting to have achieved it. That doesn’t mean I can now rest on my laurels and I’m already planning the next 5 years.
It was wonderful chatting to Paul and hearing all about his work and his plans. I will certainly attend the opening on Sunday 13th September at the Amstelkerk and I recommend anyone who can get there to go along and see his work for themselves. The exhibition is on until 4th October, and if you would like Paul to walk you around the exhibition and tell you about his paintings, he is happy to do so. I have to say that it’s worth it as there is a lovely story behind each one. You can contact him via his website to make an appointment. www.paulellis.nl
Exhibition: Paul M Ellis, Solo Exhibition, Paintings UKNL
13th Sept – 4th Oct 2015.
Mon – Fri 09: 00-17:00 Sundays 13:30 -17:00 (Sat Closed)