On Friday 12th April BasementArtsProject will be opening a new exhibition entitled Mellifluous Arcana by artist Paul Walsh. 2019 is the year of the year of the Yorkshire Sculpture International, and in considering the implications of a programme that involves Leeds Art Gallery, the Henry Moore Institute, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Hepworth Wakefield and a host of high profile international artists, I thought it important to look at where international scenes and profiles have their roots.
As an organisation that has staged exhibitions in many cities across the UK ,as well as in Sweden and Jamestown NY; USA, it may seem perverse, in a year that has an International Festival with which we will be involving ourselves, to find ourselves looking at work being produced so close to home. Across the year BasementArtsProject has commissioned a number of projects that involves. many artists with international profiles, and a number that I believe will do at some point in the near future. The one thing that they all have in common is the area of Beeston, South Leeds, with many actually residing here or, if not, then living near and having strong connections with it.
So in advance of the Preview of the next exhibition to be opening at BasementArtsProject here is an interview with the artist Paul Walsh. We hope you can make it on the evening of Friday 12th April between 7:30pm and 9:30pm
Would you be able to tell me a little bit about your life and what led you towards studying art?
I had a career in information science, I was a senior professional in a company that had put men into space. It was a dream job, but I didn’t make anything, there was no product, nothing to show after a day of work, my creativity felt stunted.
For years I talked about going to art school, it had once been a dream, a long time ago. Two decades into my career I had made several applications for the Metropolitan University that I completed but never sent. One day I touched a piece of sculpture, I felt its form, I ran my hands around it and it had presence, in that moment I understood why I wanted to create. That was 10 years ago, the moment I finally made the commitment to exploring creative expression. The next morning I borrowed the kids colour pencils and drew an apple, it was the best apple I have ever drawn. I have been doing it everyday since.
Having spent two decades in a job which, presumably, had you fairly restricted to a daily routine: Get up, Go To Work, Come Home, that type of thing; how did you take to the freedom of life as an art student?
There was a period before Art school, after leaving the Corporate structure, where I had a need to disconnect from the world of technology, its dark server rooms, the admin, a phone that constantly rang and get outdoors in touch with nature, to understand experientially through knowing by doing. Driven by a desire to form shape with wood, I studied Environmental Conservation where I undertook NVQs, and chainsaw training, at Plumpton college. At the time I focused on projects in the ancient woodlands around Hastings, restoration of habitats, building (bodging) structures, bridges, shelters. The hard part was going back into a building after the freedom of the outside space. This transition to the confined space of an art school studio eventually fed my 'space and parameter' based practice.
So in reality it was the environmental conservation that released you from the routine of a daily job and the art school that brought you back inside again. What then made you decide that Art School was the place to go after that? And can you expand on how your time spent in conservation influenced the path that you would take at art college.
I would say it was the desire to create which led me to the forest. But my techne was lacking. I knew I wanted to make, I was drawn to sculpture and good with my hands. Going off grid gave me the space to practice. The realisation (nirvana literally means to leave the forest) that I wasn't limited to one medium opened up, for me, a bigger world. I was making things and they were beautiful, however they didn't mean anything. I had skills but no vocabulary and recognised I was doing the work of an artisan not an artist.
So you arrive at art college, how do you find the transition between the outdoor world of conservation, which is often associated with balancing human influence on the environment, and the world of art which is about human production?
Shoshin (初心) is a word from Zen meaning "beginner's mind." It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would. The process of creation that I observed in nature was occurring and being reflected by the creative practice I was developing. it wasn't an easy process, and the transition to the physicality of a building in the centre of a city, next to a motorway, was hard and at times I wanted to quit. Locked to a canvas on an easel in a studio, I saw working within defined parameters as a burden. And I longed for freedom. It wasn't until about the middle of the course, which coincided with the arrival of the British Art show in Leeds, that I began using parameters as a device and speaking through a group of works rather than individual "pieces ". I discovered curation through limitation by repetition through practice, and in the confines of space I found infinity.
Within your practice what techniques do you use that allow you to define the parameters of your work, be it individual pieces or as a whole to define the general direction that your practice is going in?
I use numbers, 3,6 & 9 are my favourites to use together, everything I make in some form or another contains these three numbers, everything is connected, the trick is to see it. Tesla said that the numbers 3,6 & 9 hold the key to the universe. I also work with distance, proxemics and inter-corporeality, space and time.
On the floor of your studio is a series of markings, which I believe are to do with your interest in the martial arts. Does this then relate to the subject of proxemics in the creation of work?
Yes. Simply put. These marks (yáo) are a text, hexagrams in I ching, the book of change. Which as a visual reference, within the demarcated space of (wu chi) a circle for the performance of gesture, represent conditions. Each position, presents both a scenario and response through different forces, such as yielding or maintaining, some are active others passive. The pathways between the points in the circle are the relationships between those corresponding energetic forces. A practice called Baqua, circle walking. So these lines and circles, are the energetic relationships they define, proliferate my creative expression.
Without saying too much about how you hope that people will approach the work when the show opens, is there then a sense that your own position and perspective that is achieved when making the work is then passed on to the viewer? I’m thinking about our conversation about placing works, and how it seemed far more specific than just finding repeating colours or patterns, although that does still come into it.
Your exhibition space, I consider, is the perfect location to see my work. Some placements have been made for aesthetic advantage, using the sensibilities of the space as a frame. Drawing reference to our discussion, the notion Roland Barthes posited asks us to adopt a more text oriented approach which focuses on the interaction of the reader, not the writer, which he calls the death of the author. These artefacts individually, if considered as pages, each contain a text in a vocabulary that mirrors the ecology of it's reader. These texts share a common language, which makes references within itself. Like words that are repeated on a page. However these texts are inert. They once contained action but that has since passed, they are records of moments of time, artefacts of archive. Curated within this space as a book, it marks the place between the city and the forest, into which I invite the reader. My intention is not to influence. It's important that they have their own experience, not mine.
So the actions of these works have become inert, once the paint and other materials are on the surface and it has all dried and set. It then needs the activation of the viewer, and they bring to it whatever they want based on the language of the painting. In the time that you have been working these things out you have had a new practice emerge as part of these systems, which people will be able to gain more of an understanding of at the Lunchtime Conversation. Would you be able to tell us a bit about how performance has entered the language of your art practice?
Taking performance as methodology, my work investigated ‘physis’, the Greek word for movement and the root of poesis, a cognate of poetry. My interest in the idea of poiesis as a mode of disclosure (a-letheia) of being which means to make, made me consider creating work that reflected the human experience by exposing the ecologies and ontologies of the spaces we occupy.
I am not interested in capturing or documenting the fleeting moment of the performance experience, through the encounter of the activity, the witnessing of performance at the time of happening is a key consideration, and crucial to the planning of the event.
This was an embodiment of process into form, which by adopting a poetic frame created parameters to drive the investigation. Where ideas of transition, bodies moving through space, interaction across surface, between architectures, and a reflection of environment and reinterpretation of it’s visual texture, which I consider as a mapping, lead my practice. The creation of an object for viewing postmortem, as a souvenir documents the moment where action was occurring.
Paul Walsh’s exhibition opens on Friday 12th April at 7:30pm. For further information about opening times of the exhibition and other events click on the link below