Portraits with a story Attached

Generally I keep Friday’s open for local issues, appointments and opportunities to meet with interesting and creative people. This was one of my goals for 2011; to spend more time doing the things I love the most. Fridays have become my reading, writing, painting and meeting day and my diary pages are reflecting that, so far, I am on track.

Last Friday I pencilled in a coffee date with Paul Stillwell a portrait artist who works out of his home studio in Poole Dorset. A mutual friend Bob Chivers, an architect and artist living in Hampshire, had introduced me to Paul’s work. At 10am promptly I rang the doorbell to Paul’s apartment and was rewarded by the buzz of the security lock and the gate swinging open. A warm handshake and a smile greeted me at the door to the apartment and soon the kettle was boiling and tea was being poured.

Paul is a quietly spoken man with a gentle spirit and a soft manner. He is laid back as you would generally expect from a creative mind but with a sharp twinkle in his eye and a good sense of humour. It was not too long before we were talking about his work, his life and the adventures that the love he has for his work has embarked him on.

The walls of his studio apartment are hung with what Paul calls his “best pieces”, portraits of celebrities, each signed by the celb and a few with a short message. I was immediately struck by the relationship Paul has with each portrait and the way he enjoys reliving the experience of painting the piece and the associated journey to get it signed.

Paul related a number of stories about the obstacles he encounters getting within range of a celb and the of the smoke and mirror tactics he has had to employ to connect with the person. To say that he has the tenacity of a British Bulldog is an understatement, travelling great distances, standing around for hours, dealing with the celebrity security cordons and over protective publicists are only a few of the hurdles he had to clear.

Paul’s rewards for his tenacity and commitment have however paid off and on the walls hang the signed portraits of Robert De Nero, Al Pacino, Jennifer Lopez, Johnny Depp, to name a few and I believe, his greatest achievement, the Dali Lama. These are more than simply signed portraits, they are milestones, milestones which are an important part of Paul’s personal journey, not only as an artist but also as someone exploring the spiritual nature and relationship between an artist and a subject.

I view and engage with a great many artists and their work but have always had a special regard for portrait artists. Having attempted portrait painting on several occasions myself and having downed my brushes in unfulfilled frustration, I was able to really appreciate Paul’s work. The one great quality of his work, which was immediately obvious to me, is Paul’s ability to capture “the attitude” of his subjects. Paul spoke of how the portrait of Robert De Nero defied his attempts to capture Mr De Nero’s subtle and almost secretive nature. After much effort Paul had one of those “eureka moments” when suddenly, after a few small brush strokes to the subtle curve in the subjects mouth, there before his eyes, emerged the depth he needed to capture the spirit of the man.

Our visit could have lasted much longer but I had already taken up two hours of Paul’s day. We had covered so many topics in our time together; painting, people and the nature of our journeys as artists. We had touched on the practical, the material and the spiritual. We had spoken about the demands that creativity makes on our lives and the price we willingly pay to honour the call to expression. We spoke about the commercial value of Paul’s work and his road to recognition as a popular artist. We discussed successful marketing and the compromises an artist has to consider in the quest for commercial retail status. Paul currently exhibits his work in galleries and has held a few small exhibitions that have produced a number of commissions.

As we shook hands and I departed from Paul, his studio apartment and the company of his portraits, I couldn’t help feeling like I had got to know all three in a rather profound and special way.  I intend to keep a close eye on Paul and his work and look forward to another inspiring Friday’s visit to this gifted young man and his inspiring work and ongoing story.



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