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Paul Winstanley

The British artist makes the ordinary look extraordinary by painting mundane scenarios in his photo realistic style

Paul Winstanley creates photorealistic paintings of the mundane and ordinary, giving us snapshots into everyday life. Delivering simple images of empty spaces like interview/waiting rooms, TV lounges and corridors etc. he still manages to convey something powerful. It’s the absence of chaos and the presence of this silence that becomes intriguing and allows the viewer to fill the painting with their own interpretations. The viewer is aware Winstanley is depicting reality as we’ve seen these sights before, but rarely in the way the artist manages to communicate, the colours are muted and have a blurred haze suggesting an almost dream-like feeling, as though we’re not quite remembering all the details.

Often the spaces he paints are like time capsules, escaping redecoration and echoing structures of the 60s and 70s, but it’s not just the way these places look that conjure a sense of familiarity, rather it’s our feelings towards them as well. Feelings of being static, waiting for something to happen or passing the time are present in a lot of the artist's work. Despite the often bleak surroundings, Winstanley sees his work as hopeful though, whether it’s in terms of seeing the creation of the image itself as a positive act or the fact that these empty spaces can lead on to more promising places, that they're a bit like limbo. Here Winstanley talks about why he feels painting allows him to express himself better than just taking photographs and why he rarely used to include people within his work. 

Dazed Digital: Do you paint from photographs or memory?
Paul Winstanley: 
I work from photographs. It’s one way of having information in the studio about what something looks like particularly when the subject matter is out there in the world and not something you can bring into the studio. I use the photographs in a number of different ways. It’s not just a matter of straight transcription.

DD: Do you feel a painting gives you the freedom to be more expressive than a photograph perhaps would?
Paul Winstanley: 
I usually have a clear idea of what I want to paint right at the beginning and how I want it to be. Initially I find what I’m looking for and take photographs. But the photographs rarely live up to what I have in mind. So there might be a process of subsequent drawing or, nowadays, changes made in Photoshop. I might use two or three photographs to make the image I want.

Then in painting it there is another raft of decisions to consider. I like the paintings to suggest the detail, the reality of the subject, so paint in such a way as to imply that it’s all there. I like the viewer to ‘see’ it, to fill it in for themselves. So the paintings become something very specific, something that the photographs are not, and come to embody all my intentions. They are entirely expressive which the photographs are not.

DD: Did you always want to become an artist?
Paul Winstanley: 
I always painted and regarded it as a language I seemed to understand. Even as a kid I felt I could ‘read’ paintings and intuitively understand the thinking in them. Painting was always important and allowed me to express myself in a subtle, non verbal, way. However the idea that someone could become an artist didn’t really develop until my late teens. But still I didn’t see how you could make a living from it. Yet I never took other kinds of work very seriously and kept choosing to make art and so, in the end, I became an artist!

DD: Your subject matter is fairly ordinary, such as empty interview rooms, lobbies or window landscapes etc. What interests you in the 'everyday'?
Paul Winstanley: 
There are common denominators to all experience, how we live our lives, where we live, what we remember. There are cultural connections between us all. I try and find subject matter at this fundamental level; at a level that sparks recognition. It is the extremely ordinary things in life where these connections can be found. In developing images of these situations the ordinary becomes extraordinary and we see them anew. Everywhere there are beautiful things. Life is amazing.

DD: While there’s an absence of people in much of your work, you do include figures sometimes. Do you feel there’s a different feeling evoked when you include a person in the static landscape?
Paul Winstanley: 
For many years I did not include people in my paintings. I felt the viewer standing in front of the painting would be that protagonist if one were needed. However I have become more interested in the relationship between the viewer and the figure and I now use images of people much more freely. They’re never portraits however but people in the landscape or in a situation doing something simple like watching or talking on a phone or smoking a cigarette; usually something self absorbing to which we have a tangential access. We do not see them fully.

DD: What are you working on now?
Paul Winstanley: 
I have just had a large solo exhibition of new work in New York so right now I am in the post exhibition down period of thinking about new things, making some studies and small scale things on paper. I have work in some group shows touring museums in Europe and America in the near future. My next solo show may be in the UK but this is still under discussion. Watch this space.