Paul Smith – sculptor

IMG_2806Two of the people I most admire in the world and have had the pleasure of meeting are the good friends Sister Wendy Beckett and Delia Smith.

With one I share being a fan of a certain football team and with the other a love for the work of sculptor Paul Smith.

To have Sister Wendy Beckett as a fan of your art is a compliment indeed and Paul certainly appreciates the honour – he has given her comments pride of place on his website. “This is magical work, pure, humorous and strong,” says the art critic of his bold semi-abstract style sculptures.

However Paul readily admits that because his work is just as she describes it’s not to everyone’s taste.

“It is a bit like Marmite and while most people love it some really don’t like it at all. But having said that I am happy to say that it is doing well at the moment,” he said as we sat down to talk.

He is doing so well in fact that his work can be seen in galleries from as far north as Aberdeen and the Lake District to Cambridge and Surrey in the south. His work was at the Chelsea Flower Show, the Hay Festival  and he will be staging a solo show at Cambridge Contemporary Art Gallery this month.

Fairytales and fables are central to his creations and he enjoys playing with the conventions of the stories often turning them upside down and twisting them.

In his world Red Riding Hood has grown up to be a confident femme fatale who has wooed the wolf and Goldilocks has best-friended the bears.

“I am interested in our perception of the animal kingdom told through fairytale and fable, art books and film rather than realistic depiction. I use children’s stories to explore themes such as love, trust and jealousy,” he explained.

“The images I make are dream-like and contemplative they are designed to create a feeling of a reality where peaceful co-existence is possible between us and nature.”

His work is sensual and amusing with sweeping curves and simplified details. When I look at them I am always amazed such tiny eyes can be so expressive.

Paul has been a full time artist since 1998 – soon after he moved to the Peak District from Manchester.

He was born in Northampton studied at Leicester and St Albans and spent a good part of his previous working life as a nursery officer for the social services.

It was this job that helped nurture his love of children’s folktales.

“I loved working with the children. We did art to feed their imaginations but I was also telling them stories and I developed a liking for the stories and characters and the simplicity of the shapes in the illustrations,” he said.

He says that other influences on his style have been Angela Carter who wrote several short stories and novels on the theme of fairytales and the Polish-born sculptor Elie Nadelman whose work in the early 20th century was influenced by American folk art.

Paul’s work is solidly rooted in the figurative tradition and as well as the fairytales he is also fascinated by historical figures and heroes – especially couples such as Robin Hood and Maid Marion, or film stars such as Marilyn Monroe.

“The big giants of history and legend who don’t fade and will always burn bright interest me,” he said.

Maybe in the future we can therefore look forward to seeing some of these characters recreated with a Paul Smith twist.

Go to Paul’s website for more details about his work.