The art world has been accused of taking itself too seriously, so it is refreshing to discover an artist whose work has a tongue-in-cheek approach. Nicholas Toovey meets Paul Cox, an award-winning sculptor whose work is based around play.
Paul was born in Sussex and lived in Partridge Green throughout his childhood. He recalls being painfully shy whilst attending Steyning Grammar School, but it was here that he was encouraged to explore art. Loving the hands-on approach he says “art was the only thing I excelled in”, perhaps the freedom of this subject acted as escapism for the young dyslexic student. With the support of his encouraging parents, Paul then fell onto an artistic path, relieved and pleased that there was a route he could explore. He attended a foundation course at Northbrook College before attending the Winchester School of Art leaving with a BA (hons) first class degree in Fine Art Sculpture. People soon started to talk about his work and through his art he had the voice to communicate without actually saying a word. With every new skill, material mastered or method of working came more enthusiasm and self-belief. A postgraduate MA followed at the Royal Academy Schools. Attributable to the great tutors and the knowledge and confidence they imbued upon him, Paul embraced his new visual vocabulary and was excited by it.
Having left the county for his education, Paul returned and settled in Newhaven and states “if you have ever lived near the Sussex coast something always brings you back to the area”. Here, his double garage is his studio and the front and back garden become an ever changing exhibition space. For Paul his sculpture is part of him and therefore it is not unusual to have it surrounding him, passers-by who gather around his front garden however, are obviously not quite as used to it. Does Sussex inspire him? Definitely, he loves the landscape, particularly the Downs, the fields with ploughed tracks forming natural patterns, the richness of colour, particularly in spring with the lime greens contrasting with the blue skies. He loves it all, including the more industrial side of Brighton which has a magical reflected light from the sea. Paul is a part-time tutor at Northbrook College where he teaches full-time foundation students and runs an evening course in sculpture techniques. Becoming a teacher proved to himself that his childhood inhibitions of speaking in public are pretty much a distant memory.
Paul works in a very visual way, “I collect my everyday experiences in notebooks in the form of drawings, notes and scraps of paper. I believe it is important to ‘play’, physical or intellectual play is involved in anything that is created. With an open mind to materials and a persistent investigative attitude anything is possible. I like to be surprised; many great things have come from mistakes and accidents”. Always wanting to see a sculpture in three-dimensions he makes small models which he can later scale-up. Using cardboard, bubble wrap and paper, Paul creates the moulds for his final vision, turning ephemeral material into valuable works of art. From such small beginnings works such as ‘City Cuts’ have begun, the finished version reaching over 2 meters high and weighing literally a tonne. His largest work to date was ‘Ahoy’ a 6.5 meter high bulbous ‘toy’ boat perched on a table beside a chair, this 6 tonne sculpture has travelled across land to its new home in the Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Yerevan, Armenia.
Paul’s sculpture and drawings generally have underlying humour portrayed in varying degrees of subtlety. Even those that may seem serious might have been made in a quirky way or have a twist of sorts. One of his main stimuli for creating is this injection of humour – it makes him smile to bring visions from his own world into ours. His offbeat approach is a considered contradiction to some other art that leaves him cold, mainly due to its dry and sometimes uninviting facade. Paul has produced corporate commissions since leaving the RA Schools, but recently he has been asked to produce commissions for private individuals. ‘Colours of Shade’ was a sculpture for one such project and he enjoyed the challenges of working to a “down-to-earth” realistic budget yet still creating a sculpture that fulfilled the collectors requirements.
Art should provoke emotions and enrich our lives. Paul offers sculpture with an undeniable boyish charm that is infectious to the onlooker. It is virtually impossible not to smile at, or interact with, his idiosyncratic style. Paul’s sculpture thrives on a sense of play, but his work should not be disregarded as a novelty. He is a dedicated artist who consciously chooses not to take himself too seriously, providing a breath of fresh air to the contemporary art market.
For more visit www.paul-cox.co.uk
Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in March 2012.