Updated: Sep 2, 2022
By Elizabeth Gracen:
I'm not a Twitter person. We post daily for @flapperpress, but it is not my favorite social media platform. However, every once in a while I'll find something that truly catches my eye, and most of the time I realize that I don't have any idea how an account is even in my feed. So, when the captivating thumbnail images of the paintings of Paul Reid appeared, I immediately did the deep dive to find out more about the art and the artist.
Paul Reid has been drawing since the days of his youth in Perth, Scotland. A great lover of comics, video games, and cinema, his early ambition was to create and illustrate comic books. Although his love for comics never left him, his education in Fine Art, Drawing, and Painting at the Art College of Dundee, Scotland, and the many honors subsequently awarded him for his work early in his career set him on an illustrious road of fine art painting paved by the European Old Masters who came before.
With mythological subjects rendered with a visceral drama that can only be described as cinematic, Reid's work has been exhibited in international museums and galleries and has garnered the attention of J. K. Rowling and His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales.
I reached out to the artist to learn more about his work, inspirations, and dedication to his artistic passions in a world where traditions and the classics can sometimes fall prey to fashion and trend.
Please meet Paul Reid!
EG: Paul, I mentioned to you before that I have no idea how I found you on my Twitter feed, but your account, @Minotaur_Man, really stands out from the crowd! I can’t tell you how exciting it is to discover your work and read about your career. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey as an artist.
PR: I’ve been working as a full-time professional artist since graduating from Art College in Dundee, Scotland, in 1998. I spent four years studying in the Fine Art Drawing and Painting department, learning as much as I could about oil painting technique and how to compose and construct the large mythological paintings that I was compelled to create despite the objections of many of the tutors at the college. At that time, most of the Art World was obsessed by Conceptual, Installation, and Video Art, and figurative oil paintings were seen as hopelessly out of fashion. Having come from a background of comic art, illustration, etc., only moving into Fine Art whilst at college, I was for the most part uninterested in the work of conceptual artists and was determined to pursue my goal of becoming a competent oil painter. Unfortunately, this meant having to teach myself painting techniques from various 19th and early 20th century art books, as most of my tutors were unwilling or unable to teach much in the way of traditional painting. After graduation, I have been lucky enough to have been offered solo exhibitions in various galleries, both public and private, here in the U.K. over the last 20 years or so.
EG: Your website features three very distinctive categories— Mythologies, Portraits, and Landscapes. It’s all equally impressive in terms of subject, artistry, and sheer drama, but I’d really like to talk about your mythological characters and creatures. What compels you to address this imagery? Does the subject matter hold a deeper meaning for you other than simply depicting classic myths?
PR: When still attending college, one of the things the tutors did for me was to push my work toward narratives that might be more involved than just the portraits and still life that I was doing at the time. A good fit for me seemed to be the Greek myths, which I had known and loved since childhood in books and movies such as those of the special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen—Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans were particular favorites. During this period, I was also studying the paintings of various old masters such as Rubens, Velazquez, and Titian, and the names of ancient Greek authors and their stories would frequently be mentioned in relation to their works. I had no formal schooling in ancient literature, so the likes of Homer, Ovid, and Virgil were new and exciting to me, and I very much enjoyed reading their versions of the myths that, with their heady mix of tragedy and horror, seemed to me to be strikingly relevant to a contemporary audience. As an artist primarily interested in the human figure as subject matter, these stories were perfect for what I needed to develop my art. I think that there are others better qualified than me to look for deeper meanings in these stories, and I tend to pick and choose those that inspire me without overanalysing what they might be about. I find it fascinating when others such as critics or art historians read things into my works that I myself had not considered.
EG: Your work with these myths has an incredible cinematic quality to it, as if we’re dropped into the middle of the scene. How do you decide which moment to depict? Can you share a bit about your process—how you begin a piece and how it evolves?
PR: It’s different for each piece. In some, I’ve tried to depict the pivotal point in the narrative where all the moments before and after can be linked in the mind of the viewer to the action taking place. In a way, trying to capture the essence of the myth in just one scene. In other pieces, the idea has been to find an interesting, new depiction of a myth and make it seem less familiar. My recent oil & digital piece "Theseus and the Minotaur" was inspired by the thought that modern viewers are familiar with extreme aerial camera angles in a way that previous gallery audiences of classical painting wouldn’t have been. Most classical art of the past was viewed as if on a stage, with figures in the foreground and a landscape backdrop. My painting shows the action depicted as if the viewer were floating above, looking down on the sleeping monster and his executioner.
My usual process for constructing these paintings is to begin with very rough thumbnail sketches that are then worked up on paper using life models, photography, etc. and with background added afterwards. The figures are usually the most important element of the action, although in recent years I have increasingly experimented with more involved background elements.
EG: Your landscapes conjure a sublime emotion—a real mix of beauty and terror. The trees are magnificent, the detail and depth of study transforms them into real characters. I’m a tree hugger from way back and spend as much time as I can walking in the California gardens with old California Live Oaks, so I’m captivated by your trees. What is your attraction to them? Are the drawings simply studies for larger pieces, or is there something else going on?
PR: My landscape and tree studies are for the most part preparation and practice for my larger oil paintings. I was always an awkward landscape artist and had to work hard to improve and develop so that I could be more secure in using nature as a backdrop to the mythical stories. The weather here in Scotland is so changeable that it makes sitting outdoors to sketch landscape a bit of an ordeal, especially for an artist like myself who is more at home working in a studio environment. One of the reasons for being drawn to trees with interesting roots, knobbly branches, and bags of character is that they seem to me to be the closest things in landscape to the human figure and can thus be modeled using light and shade in a very similar manner.
EG: I notice that there are a few paintings that depict female goddesses and characters on your website, but you appear to deal primarily with male subjects. Is there a particular reason you focus on the masculine?
PR: There are a few different reasons for depicting mostly males. It’s easier to find male models for these paintings. I’ve always been interested in musculature and anatomy, which is usually more defined in males, and also there are now certain taboos about the male gaze, etc. (see John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, a book we had rammed down our throats at Art College) that I would rather not get tangled up in! I have recently painted female characters, especially in commissioned work where the client asked for it (Persephone, Calypso). Also, Medusa the Gorgon.
EG: You’ve talked about your youth and how comic books, computer games, and movies inspired your early art. Your plan was to become a comic book artist and illustrator until you attended college and shifted gears into fine art. Do you still enjoy comic books and the blockbuster creations of Marvel that are brought to the big screen? Do you find anything “artful” about these comic books brought to life?
PR: I still very much enjoy comic books and also most of the movies inspired by them. I was recently lucky enough to be commissioned by comics/movies/Netflix guru Mark Millar, who was the man behind the Avengers revival for Marvel in the early noughties and the basis for the recent Avengers movies. He wanted a large oil painting of "Hercules and the Augean Stables" for his new home in the south of Scotland. It was absolutely fascinating for me to talk comics with one of the true giants of the industry! He was very pleased with the finished painting.
EG: You are recognized primarily for your work as a figurative artist inspired by the “old masters.” How would you describe your work, and what do you hope people will come away with from viewing it?
PR: I would describe my work as some kind of Classical Realism, inspired primarily by art of the Baroque period but with a more modern sensibility, painted by an artist who has read too many comic books, watched too many movies, and played too many computer games. All of these things can hopefully add something new and exciting to the ancient myths when viewed by a contemporary audience.
EG: There is one story in your biography that really stands out. Early in your career you traveled to Jordan and Turkey as the Official Tour Artist for His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. What was that experience like, and what kind of art did you create from the tour?
PR: My time as official tour artist to HRH Prince of Wales was very exciting and something of an eye opener! Flying around in military helicopters and planes, visiting ancient sites such as Wadi Rum and Petra, traveling in motorcades with police escort through the city of Toronto, and having a timetable of events minute by minute were just some of the highlights of the tours. The job of the tour artist was to follow the prince and record using sketches and photography interesting moments from the trip. I was then expected to spend time in the studio producing larger works based on the sketches for inclusion in the Royal Collection. I produced mainly landscape pieces inspired by the ancient city of Petra from the first tour of Jordan and Turkey, and from the second tour of Canada I produced a series of military portraits and figures from the many ceremonial events we attended.
EG: COVID has impacted every enterprise across the board in every country. Museums and galleries have suffered tremendously and have had to shift gears on how exhibitions are scheduled and how the public can have access to art. As an artist, how has the pandemic affected your work and your hopes to have that work seen? What are your plans going forward as an artist in this ever-changing world?
PR: I’ve actually managed to do quite well in the COVID pandemic. Despite having a big solo exhibition planned for 2022 cancelled and bearing the brunt of the childcare issues presented by the first U.K. lockdown, sales have been very good recently from traditional galleries. Alongside this, I’ve had the aforementioned Mark Millar commission and an increased interest in my work from social media and the internet. Another change in my practice happened back in March of this year when I discovered the world of NFTs and the new market this has opened for digital art sales. I had already been experimenting with mixing traditional and digital techniques to produce new work for a couple of years but had no real way of showing or indeed selling these creations, which mostly lived on my computer hard drive. The world of NFTS has opened up new possibilities in the online art world and is something that I will pursue further in the future along with my already well-established gallery career.