Paul White is an Australian fine artist based in Melbourne. His works are instantly recognisable by their decaying yet peaceful subject matter. He has won many notable art awards including the Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship in 2001. He was also awarded the 2010 Metro Art Award and in recent years has been a finalist in awards such as the Fleurieu Art Prize, the Hazelhurst Art Prize, the Paul Guest Drawing prize, the Hobart City Art Prize and National Works on Paper to name a few. We were lucky enough to release a limited edition fine art print with him recently and caught up with him to chat about his work, his subject matter, his creative process and his recent solo show.
Firstly, give us a brief rundown of how you became a fine artist. Was it a conscious decision or something that evolved over time?
As far back as I can remember I have always been driven to make things, so it was not a conscious decision just a path I was on. From high school I went straight to art school and have been exhibiting since.
Can you tell us a bit about the piece 'Echo Park Falcon' (left)?
I had for some time been photographing, among other things, vans adorned with graffiti - mostly delivery vans, but also camper vans. Wherever I was I would see them and it became like a thrill of the chase. I would photograph them mainly to use as the reference for drawings. ‘Echo Park Falcon’ was taken on Sunset Blvd in Echo Park, Los Angeles. I was excited to capture this vehicle, as it is a nice old classic Ford van with the two-tone brown stripes, modified by the scrawls of quick tags.
What is it about the wrecked and abandoned cars and landscapes that you find fascinating?
I have always been fascinated with wrecking yards. As a kid I would go with my dad to get parts for his old Holden. I am intrigued by the quietness and the stillness in such a location full of once active and cared for machines of necessity that now lay dormant and abandoned, slowly picked apart and returning to the earth. These yards are like records of history, of moments in time, as well as symbolic of progress, obsolescence and how mass production continually evolves and recreates the new.
Have you always been passionate about cars, planes and mechanics in general?
Growing up in the suburbs of Sydney, along with art I was always interested in cars, from Hot Wheels toy cars as a kid to hotted up cars as a teenager and beyond. In my youth there were also solid phases of BMX and skateboarding, so I was always interested in modes of transport, or things to drive and ride. All of these things were ways of traversing within and beyond the suburbs. Planes are the ultimate extension of this, allowing global movement.
Some of your abandoned illustrations contain graffiti tags. Are they purely aesthetic or do you have ties to graffiti culture?
When I very first became aware of graffiti, both in the flesh along the railways of Sydney and in a historical sense through books such as ‘Subway Art’, I found it exciting and like an artform I had not seen before. I remember finding a notebook of someone’s tags in the bush near my house and it was like this code that required unlocking, a way of manipulating letters and colour. This was in the early 90’s and I was still at school and had a very minor dabble in working with spray cans, but nothing serious. My reference to it in recent drawings is an extension of my imagery of neglected and abandoned objects, which often inevitably end up being hit with tags and such.
What was your first car and have you drawn it?
My first car was a 1976 Torana 6 cylinder and although I did strip this car down for parts I have not yet drawn it, although I do have photographs of it. This car was replaced by a 1974 SLR5000 Torana, which I still own and have had for around 14 years now.
A lot of your subjects are SUVs, vans or muscle cars. Would it be fair to say your illustrations have an American flavour to them?
Yes, this comes in part from living in Los Angeles for several years. Also simply a lot of my interests in car, music, film and pop/takeaway culture in general has its origins in the USA. Much of my imagery comes from my time living in California or on subsequent trips to the west coast and surrounding deserts. As the birthplace for many of these interests, I find it is the greatest and richest source for the concepts and imagery that I am drawn to and work with.
What aspects do you look for in choosing a potential subject?
Primarily something that catches my eye and excites me. I am constantly drawn back to imagery that shows the passing of time, in aged and decaying objects rich with imagined stories, history and memory.
Do you frequent car wreckers with a camera or do you work from some other method?
Yes all my drawings are based on photographs I have taken apart from some recent works that are based on images from family photo albums. I feel a personal connection to the image is important. I often seek out locations where I know I will find interesting imagery. In 2011 I undertook a research trip throughout California and Arizona that included pre-planned visits to plane boneyards, car and other various wrecking yards, demolition derbies and epic desert landscapes. Along with these planned shoots I also capture constantly on the fly, made easier these days with phones that contain cameras. I have a huge database of images now to pick from and it’s continually expanding.
Take us through your creative process.
As mentioned I am constantly taking photographs that form the imagery that I work from. One body of work morphs into the next, but usually I conceptualise an angle or theme and from that I form a collection of imagery to make up a cohesive body of work. I usually have a few works ahead planned and eventually edit down to 15 - 20 works or so per show, but I always work on just one piece at a time.
I sketch out the images roughly on paper, and then it is a slow process of colour pencil work, shading small sections at a time layer upon layer to create depth and ultimately the image. I am interested in seeing how far I can push my abilities to create compelling pictures both technically and conceptually. I work on a large sloped table and use the laptop screen with the original photograph as my reference to work from. With hi res images I am able to blow up the original image to get every degree of detail possible in the drawing. I present the images in the empty or negative space of the paper, and so to keep the background clean I keep most of the surface covered whilst I am drawing, so it is always exciting to reveal the work once finished. Presenting the image in negative space also allows the concise and thorough investigation of the image.
I watched an amazing time-lapse of you drawing a wrecked Firebird over 30 hours. How long does a typical illustration take you to complete?
That is one of the smaller or quickest pieces. The works take considerable time and patience, the bigger works can take up to 200 hours, which is quite a marathon and can be challenging at times. Another time lapse will go up on my vimeo page, www.vimeo.com/paulwhiteart in the coming weeks
Tell us about your studio space.
I work in a room in the house I occupy with my wife and 2 daughters.
I like having a studio at home so I can pop in and chip away at any time. The space is relatively compact but is well ordered with a massive table I have constructed which can accommodate large works, is on wheels and can go flat or angled for drawing and can hold my laptop and other peripherals. Other essentials are a good drafting chair, light and stereo.
You have a solo show, 'Time Travels', opening later this month at MiCK in Sydney. Can you tell us a bit about it?
This body of work continues my interest in obsolete and abandoned machinery and combines it with more of a focus on the landscape and in the operation of these machines within the landscape. For the first time I have incorporated figures or a human presence into the works. Along with images I have taken, including those of stripped down machinery and desert landscapes; I have used images from childhood photo albums, which capture my parents and other family members around the time I was born, on motorbikes in the outback of Australia. My interest in these images was sparked by the 2011 research trip I took through California and Arizona, gathering the wrecked plane imagery. Here I was the lone figure traversing the landscape on the peripheries, the emptiness of the vast desert like the outback providing a backdrop to the manmade objects and activity. I am interested in exploring mobility through space and time by working with images from particular moments. This becomes a way of representing a personal navigation through time. In a similar way to the vehicles breaking down over time, particular moments become faded and transform with memory.
You currently live in Melbourne. Does living in such a creative city influence your work?
I grew up in Sydney, then lived in Los Angeles then moved to Melbourne. I guess all of these places had an influence on me, particularly California, as it is such an epicenter for the themes and images that I work with. I like working over the Melbourne winter as it is easy to stay inside and I think that is in part why there are so many interesting creative things happening in Melbourne.
Melbourne is also very user friendly.
What is your opinion on the Australian art scene in general?
As always there are a lot of artists out there doing great things. People are searching for new and savvy ways to distribute information, which is radically shifting with our obsession with social media. The challenge for the artist is to create viable and considered practices which can also catch and make impact on the viewers fleeting attention; increasingly difficult in such a fast paced and financially challenging environment.
What is your art collection like?
I naturally know other artists so am lucky to have been able to do some nice trades with some great artists over the years including works by Australian and American artists. My collection of works by my daughters aged 5 and 2 is ever increasing as well.
How did you first hear about Stupid Krap?
Some artists I knew had done prints with Stupid Krap and I was aware of other interesting artists that had also done prints.
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring artists?
Keep at it, work hard and follow your dreams. It is an extremely hard road and requires a great deal of dedication, a lot of luck and being in the right moment.
What else can we expect to see from you in the near future?
There is plenty happening in October and November. Along with the Stupid Krap print I will be presenting at the Semi Permanent conference in Melbourne on October 26. I have a solo show opening on October 31st at MiCK Gallery in Paddington Sydney that I have been working on and has been my primary focus since late last year. I am also involved in several group exhibitions and art prizes. I currently have a piece in ‘Welcome Welcome’ at Strange Neighbour in Melbourne on until Oct 26, as well as a piece in the Hutchins Art Prize in Tasmania, which I received the Special Commendation or Runners Up award for, showing until October 27. I have a piece in the Fleurieu Art prize in South Australia running from 26th of October to the 25th of November as well as several pieces in ‘Modern Ruin’ at Newport Substation in Melbourne running from November 21 to December 15.