âIf it stays still, it's okay. Not like traffic, horses, children or other animals. What it has is itself and the thoughts of the artist. Still Life can be put together or discovered in your own house but it is overtly a part of the painter's thinking and being.¨
Knight Webb Gallery is pleased to show the strange and beautiful series of forgotten, still life paintings by Paul Gildea, publicly exhibited for the first time in 30 years. Painted in a Brixton squat in the early 1980s, the paintings maintain a meticulous and remarkably fresh vision.
Paul refers to losing himself in painting and then losing himself in drink and drugs afterwards. He painted through the day until the light changed, and to offset his devotion to detail, he spent the evenings getting 'hammered' on drink and drugs. Some of the paintings took nine months to complete, with every detail being measured. In 1989, Paul could no longer bear to look at the paintings which reminded him of his self destructive years. The paintings were banished to be stored in a garage.
Paul attended Camberwell School of Art and Hornsey School of Art in the 1970's, where he mainly painted his girlfriend nude before facing feminist objection. He then took up painting pots and vessels as a metaphor for the nude. He explains that he did not want to copy the world around him, and the pots were painted without close observation. Painted at a distance they became an invention as much as an observation. Showing these paintings at the Serpentine Gallery in 1982, he was proclaimed a new Giorgio Morandi.
Following an all night party and still under the influence of LSD, Paul travelled to France with a few friends. It was on this winter morning, riding through the suburbs, that he saw the world and its everyday objects in a new and enchanted light. He immediately started painting the everyday and impoverished elements of his world in intense detail and devotion.
The still life paintings are made of everyday objects balanced precariously in highly unlikely and surreal compositions. He measured each part with a rule bar, leaving the measured marks visible. His painting style is often compared to that of the Slade School of Art under the guidance of Euan Uglow.
Some images are of jeans twisted together and propped up on thin pieces of wood. Forks are simply suspended one upon the other in a delicate highly original configuration. Potatoes dangle over a pile of washing. Paul explains that the idea of painting twisted jeans is derived from a renaissance tradition, where painting drapery was the standard training for apprentice artists, a skill he was determined to master. Perhaps the precarious props and twists were also his way of proving that he was more than just a still life painter; demonstrating that he was an artist with a volatile and rebellious nature.
The various planks of wood, twisted jeans, bicycle wheels, potatoes or broken light bulbs are the simple objects one would find in a Brixton squat. Paul's choice of objects is highly surprising and sometimes comical. He collected many of the 'the rough props in his world' off the street.
Although the paintings had an obvious beauty and technical brilliance, they were not a great success for Paul at the time. This was the era of Punk in London, and perhaps these still life paintings seemed slightly irrelevant at the time of their production. It is the inability of people to see over the fence of fashion which so often prevents them from looking art in the face. The paintings were, however, included in the Whitechapel Open and the Summer Show at the Royal Academy.
Paul has moved on to painting portraits and people, including many paintings of his own family. He has taught at the same art school, Kensington and Chelsea College for 30 years.