In 2016 the painter Paul Crook was a runner-up in our inaugural Jackson’s Open Art Prize, with ‘Yellow Caravan’. The acrylic painting depicted its namesake in a grey, eerily empty setting. The crisp lines and cool palette emphasised the lack of human presence. By leaving out the assumed holiday maker that might have occupied the mobile home, Paul Crook invites us to contemplate the buildings and homes that we make purely for their structural and aesthetic merits, without sentimentality. They allow us to consider the mark we have made on the landscape. I wanted to get in touch with Paul to find out what has been happening for him since JOAP 2016.
Lisa: Would you describe your paintings as melancholic?
Paul: I like the term melancholic, the way it suggests a more reflective mood that sits in the uncertain area between both sadness and joy. This is the type of beautiful equilibrium that I seek in my paintings.
Lisa: You are known to paint pictures of buildings and escalators – man-made structures, but compositions without any people inhabiting them. What do you think is the impact of that?
Paul: Although the paintings are unpopulated they are still very much about the people who intimately belong to these places. My intention is to encourage the viewer to focus on the urban space as visually dramatic, timeless and transient.
Lisa: Do your paintings criticise or celebrate the structures that they depict?
Paul: During the process of making the paintings, one of my main intentions is to explore and celebrate the potential beauty of the geometric structures found in the urban landscape. I have an ongoing curiosity about this type of subject and its connection to my own history and experience. However, I am critical of how many of these places become neglected and their communities ignored.
Lisa: Tell us about your use of colour – gorgeous candy coloured doors often combine with muted grey skies. It’s often hard to tell what time of day is depicted… how do you select the colours that you work with and what are the ideas behind your choices?
Paul: I use colour intuitively; it’s a process of testing out what works and what doesn’t. Coloured pigments can do some very unexpected things, I attempt to go with it and make decisions based on emerging combinations of coloured surfaces. I am fascinated by placing colours together that are slightly awkward, brash and confrontational.
Lisa: Can you describe the creative journey you took that finally arrived at a compulsion to paint architecture and other man made structures?
Paul: I have worked almost exclusively with painting since I graduated from Art School. My work has evolved and developed as I have explored many aspects of the painting language. Whilst my work has changed over time there are a number of more constant characteristics such as the use of rich, strong colour and dominant structural shapes. The type of architectural subject content offers me many exciting options for furthering my investigation of these issues.
Lisa: How much do your paintings tell us about your thoughts on the human condition?
Paul: By making direct reference to where and how we live our lives I attempt to investigate and comment on the relationship we have with the built urban environment. The paintings depict an honest view of the reality of the spaces we occupy. Also, I like my paintings to acknowledge the human presence within the physical process of making. I choose not to conceal the evidence of the visual decisions and responses involved in constructing a painting.
Lisa: Which single painting are you most proud of and why?
Paul: I am fairly critical of my own paintings and I’m always looking for ways to improve. I wouldn’t like to select a single painting. I feel I am exploring some interesting issues at the moment, hopefully this will be a series of work I will be proud of.
Lisa: What creatives hopes and ambitions do you have for 2018?
Paul: I am always eager to spend more time in the studio. I have plans for some new painting work that explores variety of possibilities and interests. I am planning a programme of future exhibitions up until 2020.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Paul: I am working on a series of smaller paintings that explore the wider potential of some new subject contents. These involve referencing various types of stairways and camping tent structures. Although this work does have a slightly different emphasis, I am still interested in the ridged geometrical construction that underpins my painting.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Paul: I was really pleased to have one of my larger scale paintings ‘Turquoise Tower’ selected as part of the ‘New Light Art Prize 2017. This exhibition tours four UK venues until January 2019.
Header Image: ‘Chalet’ by Paul Crook, Acrylic on canvas, 95cm x 125cm, 2015