We chat to the American artist about how he gets to know his subjects and how he developed his style through experimentation.
Based out of Northwest Ohio, near the city of Toledo, the artist Paul Verdell paints and draws a variety of people with plenty of personality. Like most artists, he has drawn since he was little, but didn’t make a real go of the medium until he was in his mid 20s. That was when he decided to go back to school, enrolled in Bowling Green State University, and took a painting class when the first semester came around. “It only took that one class to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he says.
With time, and by “constantly making bad drawings”, Paul eventually developed his unique artistic style. His mark-making technique is assertive, created with force and powerful energy. Paul’s work may seem as if it has a loss of control imbued within the lines, but his artworks are also vividly representative of the person or object he’s depicting; it’s a delicate balance that he’s mastered without purposely pushing his style in a certain direction.
He started to use oil pastels as a way to add detail to oil paintings. Then, with time, he realised how much colour and expressiveness the textured medium adds to the canvas, and started experimenting with it on its own. Some days, he paints all day, from eight in the morning to five or six at night. He’s pretty private about his process, but also doesn’t overcomplicate it, saying: “It’s just getting up, going to the studio, choosing the colours, and working.”
Paul works from photographs or from life, but it’s no surprise that he prefers working from life. There is a couch in his studio where his subjects come to sit, with artist and sitter sometimes talking more than making the artwork. “The paintings feel better to me when I work that way,” Paul says. “The work feels better to me the more I know the person.” In this way, he’s got to know a lot of different people, people whose personalities soak through the white page.
He recalls a particularly memorable piece, a four-foot work titled Soft Pink. It features a friend of Paul’s, and was one of the only works he showed as part of his undergrad degree show. Interestingly, he took photos of her for reference, which he then worked from. It was one of his first large oil-pastel artworks, one of the reasons it is so meaningful to him, marking a new era in his creative development which now sees him use sweeping gestural linear expressions across the canvas.
The artist isn’t trying to make a statement with his work. In his words, “I’m just here to paint” and “the viewer can take whatever they want to take out of it.” Providing a glimpse into the subject’s inner thoughts, not to mention Paul’s too, the work is a subtle insight into the people Paul has got to know through the process of painting them. His focus now is on the work he is exhibiting in a group show, Rising, at False Cast Gallery in San Diego. Looking ahead, he also has a solo show on the horizon at Detroit’s Louis Buhl & Co., where he’ll show a body of work titled Still Life.