After reading an article on the Huffington Post’s site which commented on Paul’s paintings, Corey likened the concept of Paul’s recent series of paintings entitled “War Paint,” where he challenges conventions around masculinity and the male form by challenging the stereotypes of gay men.
The struggles Paul’s figures face in “War Paint” jump off the canvas through the use of pigment and what I would call extreme texture. This style creates dynamic images on the canvas that draw the viewer into learning more about the figures and what challenges they are facing.
We were able to connect with Paul regarding his most recent work and how he has developed as an artist over time. We are pleased to introduce you to this artist who has a lot to say and share through his art and his community involvement.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from, what’s your background, what got you interested in art?
I grew up in Grove City, Ohio, which is a small suburb south of Columbus. My parents recognized my artistic interest when, at age three, I routinely churned out over two hundred drawings a day on scrap paper from my mom’s office. Even though neither of them were artistically inclined, they had the foresight to convince a local artist named Linda Regula to give me lessons. Before my fourth birthday, I was producing oil paintings of my favorite fairy tale characters on canvas in her studio. This opened the door to a world of creative possibilities that grabbed hold of my imagination and never let go.
Can you remember one of the first things you produced as an artist? What makes it memorable?
Linda’s class was perfect for me because she focused as much on the creative aspects of art-making as the technical. I might have lost interest quickly if she had insisted I paint from boring still life setups. Instead, she nurtured my inner storyteller while teaching me about the tools I needed in order to relay my narratives on canvas. One of the most memorable paintings from my childhood was a piece I made at age twelve old called “The Piece That Doesn’t Fit.” I was being bullied at school pretty severely and felt like an outcast. I depicted my classmates as stick-figures on a large puzzle with one missing piece. At the bottom of the canvas in a black void, a realistic self-portrait floated inside a disconnected puzzle piece that clearly wouldn’t fit in its allotted space. I still remember how important it was for me to vent those feelings, and the clarity and confidence that came from that self-expression.
From where do you draw inspiration for your art?
Storytelling is still at the center of my work. I often delve into personal narrative, political themes, and social commentary. Sometimes I use humor, as in the Cheesecake Boys series, to make a statement; in this case, questioning gender expectations by portraying male models in traditional pin-up girl poses. I’ve stirred up controversy by advocating for various political causes through paintings such as “Noah’s Gay Wedding Cruise” (dealing with marriage equality) and “I Won’t Tell If You Won’t” (addressing the US military’s now-repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy). Regardless of subject, my inspiration almost always stems from something personal. When I came out of the closet shortly after graduating from art school, painting was my refuge. I created countless works that helped me navigate that complicated process without ever intending to share them publicly. Thankfully, a friend encouraged me to submit them to a local juried show. Much to my surprise, I discovered that even something incredibly personal can be meaningful to others too.
How did your “war paint” series come about?
I was searching for subject matter that would lend itself to a more expressive approach, one in which I could apply thick, impasto layers of pigment with a palette knife instead of the tiny, detail brushes I had been using. I needed a theme that would stir up a similarly raw emotional response. Rooted in the idea of body painting, War Paint is all about the struggle to create a sense of identity. I portray models coating their faces and bodies with paint as an outward symbol of their inner struggles. The colors and application are meant to be indicative of an emotional or psychological state.
In Huffington Post’s August 18, 2014 article, you are quoted as saying the “war paint” series “challenge[s] conventions around masculinity and the male form.” How are your paintings doing that?
Growing up, I grappled with the perceived expectation that men are meant to keep their feelings buried and that this was somehow the ideal form of masculine strength. Now, I recognize that strength comes in many shades. The War Paint models, while creating a symbolic armor from the hues of their innermost struggles, challenge the traditional male archetype through the bravest of acts – simply being themselves.
What has been the reception for the “War Paint” series?
The first War paint exhibit took place this past August in Provincetown and featured the initial paintings in the series. It was well-received – most of the paintings sold and the exhibit had some great reviews. But that was just a starting point. I’m excited to expand upon the series and push the concept in unexpected directions.
What other message(s) do you want to portray through your art and what does it take to actually get your pieces to do that?
The most important thing to me is being genuine. I never want to be an artist who produces what I think people will buy – I’ve seen too many people take that approach and lose their own voice. I hope to be able to look back over the body of work I create in my lifetime and see that each piece represents who and where I was at that time. Therefore, it’s important for me to continue working with people – galleries, curators, collectors – who support my vision and my ongoing artistic development rather than those who seek to shoehorn me into some kind of marketable mold.
We understand you have volunteered with LGBTQ youth organizations. What do you consider the most pressing issue(s) within the LGBTQ community? How are you working to address them through your art or community involvement?
There are a lot of causes that are important, but empowering LGBT youth – and young people of every orientation, for that matter – is what speaks to me the most. It’s also where I think I can make the biggest impact. I was fortunate to have a mentor like Linda guide me through my formative years. When I reflect on the bullying I endured for being gay (even though I didn’t know what that meant at the time), I realize that art was my salvation. It was what kept me from becoming a teen suicide statistic myself. That’s why Linda and I began the You Will Rise Project three and a half years ago. It’s a program designed to give young people who are being bullied a space to express themselves creatively in an uncensored, supportive environment. We publish work from all over the world on our website http://youwillriseproject.com as well as host numerous workshops and exhibitions, make public art installations, and run social media projects that engage diverse audiences. And we’ve seen some incredible results so far!
On a personal note, how has the married life been? And what advice would you give to someone seeking to get married?
It’s wonderful! I’ve been with my husband Dennis for nine years but we just tied the knot a year and a half ago. We balance each other out in so many ways. Since marriage equality hasn’t reached our state yet, we participated in an initiative hosted by Marriage Evolved that took twenty five LGBT couples on a bus to Washington DC to get married in front of the Supreme Court building. My advice to others who are interested in getting married would be make it meaningful and memorable. The day will come and go so fast and all the fussy details will become a blur. I never dreamed my wedding day would be spent mostly on a bus, or that we would be standing among forty-eight other people all saying our vows in unison. But I’ll never forget the guards who came down to tell us after the ceremony that they were so moved they decided to allow each couple individually inside the Supreme Court building so that we could walk out the door and down the steps together. It was how we were officially presented as spouse and spouse, and I can remember every moment of that experience so clearly.
What’s the best advice you ever had about how to be more creative?
When I was getting ready to enter art school, Linda told me that I should expect an intense workload designed to weed people out – including a lot of technical, overly specific assignments that wouldn’t appeal to me on a creative level. Her advice was to never just do the assignment to get by, but always find a way to put my own spin on it while still meeting all of the requirements. I took her advice to heart and it has helped me in many ways. I learned that being creative isn’t always something that just happens without effort. Sometimes you have to reach for it and fight the temptation to take an easier path.
How do you see your art developing over the next several years?
War Paint is going to evolve in many ways. I’ll be bringing in diverse models – varying in age, race, and gender expression. The canvas size is going to increase so I have a bigger framework to tell their stories. And I want to incorporate more thematic elements, symbols, and background imagery, as well as variations on what comprises the actual “war paint” itself. Wherever my artistic journey leads, I hope I continue getting lost in the process and having as much fun as I did when I first stepped into Linda’s studio thirty years ago.