THE CREATIVE STOKE INTERVIEW: we talk to Paine Proffitt, a Newcastle-under-Lyme painter specialising in sports pictures and pictures that successfully weave between many styles.
(All paintings and photographs © copyright Paine Proffitt)
"Short Trip To The Medicine Shop".
CREATIVE STOKE: How and where did you start making art? Was it a success, early on?
Paine Proffitt: I've always been interested in art, and as a kid I always enjoyed drawing and painting. But I didn't start to get serious about it until I was about 17 years old ... then, all of a sudden, art and painting became the only thing I wanted to do. At the time I was finishing high-school in Philadelphia (in the U.S.), and I decided to study illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, where all I did was draw and paint — which was fantastic.
Since art school, I've tried to build up a name as an illustrator which is a slow process ... and in the last two or three years I've done less illustration, to concentrate on my fine art and painting. Which, again, has been a slow beginning process. But I've loved the painting — and things are starting to open up now.
CREATIVE STOKE: Which artists and movements have influenced you? I can see the Belgian woodcut artist Franz Masereel, and Clifford Harper, perhaps bits of the British Vorticists, magic realist painting as interpreted by Magritte in the 1920s, among others, in your work?
Paine Proffitt: The biggest influence on my work has been Chagall, with Picasso a close second. Chagall's beautiful, imaginative story-telling paintings have opened up a whole new way of thinking and looking at a painting for me. His work, as well as Picasso's, has also shown me that I'm "allowed to break the rules a little", and be creative, or surreal, or do what I like in a painting. It's really loosened me up and allowed me to be a lot more free and creative. I also like the narrative aspects of their work ... the fact that there's a story or meaning behind a piece, even if they leave it open and a little mysterious. They also look at ideas, scenes, and people differently, which really appeals to me. There have also been a lot of other artists that have been a big influence, although it might not be that obvious ... artists like Matisse, Modigliani, Basquiat, Fabio Hurtado, Etienne Delessert, and Fred Otnes.
As for art movements and labels, I don't think about it too much. I kinda like what I like and just do what I do, and if it falls into a few categories, then so be it. I can see a bit of surrealism and cubism in my work but I don't think of myself as a surrealist or cubist ... I can see a bit of contemporary naive art in my work but I don't think of myself as an outsider artist since I've been to art school ... the same goes with a lot of other categories. I like the sound of "magic realism" though ... I don't know too much about the movement but the title seems to suit my work.
CREATIVE STOKE: And L.S. Lowry?
Paine Proffitt: L.S. Lowry is a bit of a strange influence. I didn't know too much about his work until late, and although I don't look at a lot of his paintings there seem to be a lot of similarities in our work ... in the town and industrial landscapes at least. I wonder if it's that he captured "the North" or "industrial-district Britain" so well, which I also try to do in some of my paintings, and as a result they're similar ... or that in a roundabout way his paintings have influenced the way I look at the "North" and I can't help but see it through views of his paintings.
CREATIVE STOKE: There's a wonderful new illustrated biography of Lowry, out now in hardback. Why settle in North Staffordshire? And have you noticed a local 'sense-of-place' sneaking into your work?
Paine Proffitt: My wife grew up in North Staffordshire, and we've just naturally settled here after I graduated from art school. I've always loved it here anyway, and feel very at home. I definately feel an influence of the area in my work. In my pieces, the towns, countryside, themes, and local culture are shaped by the local area and its history. Some of the themes and landscapes of my paintings are directly from Stoke-On-Trent and the surrounding area, such as Stoke City and Port Vale football pieces, pieces with mining themes, scenes of working-class life, or putting bottle kilns, local pubs, or industrial scenery into the work.
"On To Rugby Heaven" (50cm x 50cm)
I've noticed in England (and all of the British Isles) that in just about every town or city there's a very strong sense of pride for their area and where they come from, and I feel that as well ... I like being from this area and enjoy putting it directly or indirectly into the paintings.
CREATIVE STOKE: There was an interesting academic study of British crafts some years ago that showed how the same types of crafts (such as metalwork) still has strong regional differences in how the finished work looks. And of course, anyone 'with eyes to see and ears to hear' in the British Isles one can't escape the invisible patina of culture that artists and poets have threaded through the actual landscape.
Paine Proffitt: Yes, I think that where you are can't help but influence an artist's work or mindset a little. Britain, for a supposed "small island", has so many different landscapes, towns, and people, that it seems that every ten miles you go the people change, the accents change, and the attitudes change. As a result, your particular town and area shapes who you are and how you feel. That can easily translate into your artwork, whether you're conscious of it or not.
"Pride of The Potteries", 70 x 70cm.
CREATIVE STOKE: Most people think of sport and art as only very loosely linked. Mostly as 'linked' since government support for them tend to come out of the same funding stream in the UK, and the two are now being made to compete for the cash in the run-up to the Olympics 2012. What is it about sport that makes it a suitable subject for art?
Paine Proffitt: There's so much emotion, and passion, and beauty in sport that I feel it lends itself to the canvas very well. With painting, you can try to convey those feelings, whether it's excitement, despair, elation, love, or devotion ... and there's that emotional connection that both art and sport hold. Not all sports work well on the canvas, but I've found that the English sports especially football and rugby (even cricket) work perfectly. There is a beauty and grace, and an art, to these sports ... that, and the emotional connection linked to sport, make it a nice match. Also, visually, football and rugby are good subjects in that they make beautiful images, with their narrative and emotional possibilities, grace and movement, the variety of poses and actions, and the identities and colours of the sport.
"Father and Sons". 46 x 55cm.
CREATIVE STOKE: What benefits do you get from having your work on display in a prominent nationally important venue?
Paine Proffitt: Having an exhibition at the Museum of Rugby in Twickenham, or at any gallery for that matter, is an honour. It's always wonderful to get a chance to show your work. In terms of the Museum of Rugby show, I get to show my paintings to an audience that already knows and loves the sport, so as an audience they're very receptive, and I've really enjoyed showing my work to them. But just to show your work to the public in any capacity is fantastic.
Practically, the exhbition has allowed me to present my work to other galleries and audiences that probably wouldn't look at my work or give me a chance otherwise ... it doesn't "seal a deal" or anything like that in terms of getting an exhibition but it does sometimes open a door and galleries are willing to look at the work. Whereas before it was very difficult to get people to look at my work or see the possibilities or even get past the thought "it's just sport". In the art world, there is a strong dependence on your C.V., past shows, and being established ... it seems like gallery directors need a "seal of approval" and if you've exhibited in other places then you must be okay. It seems like very few of them will take a chance on talent unless someone else already has, which can be very frustrating ... in that respect, the Museum of Rugby show has been a good listing and a big name on my C.V., so I can try to use it so other galleries will look at my work.
"3 Moons Over Paris" 90x90cm.
I've also tried to use the rugby exhibition to introduce myself to other sports museums and teams, and propose an exhibition that suits them. I've been very fortunate that I'm working on a series of football paintings for an exhibition at the National Football Museum in Preston for next year ... I think the rugby show was very influential in helping me get that opportunity.
CREATIVE STOKE: Sounds like you'll be the ideal choice for a "sports art from the Midlands" show for the cultural fringe of the Olympics in 2012!
Paine Proffitt: I'd certainly welcome the offer!
CREATIVE STOKE: Could you describe your studio / working space?
My studio is quite small ... about the size of a small bedroom. There's enough room for a table, a few canvases, and reference books and magazines. I could use a little more room, especially as I'd like to work on some bigger canvases, but I'm happy in my little space.
"Night of Roses"
CREATIVE STOKE: Who do you sell work to, how often, and why do they buy? What do they do with it? What do they get from it?
Paine Proffitt: My work is usually sold through a couple of galleries that I work with. So, I'm not entirely sure of who's actually buying the pieces. I know a few clients are sports fans ... they see a piece with their team and there's a personal connection to the painting, which is great. I like knowing that a painting is going to a loving home with someone who gets an emotional reaction to the artwork. I also know that a few pieces have been bought as gifts ... I assume for someone who loves and supports a certain team. I've also done specially commissioned paintings that a sports team has wanted to give as a unique "thank you" gift for people who have helped the club.
I've also had quite a few fiances/fiancees buying both sports and nonsports paintings for their loved ones for a wedding gift, which is a huge honour to be thought of on such an occassion. I've done a few romantic and wedding paintings, which naturally go with the theme, but there's also been sports paintings given as wedding gifts which is a little different.
And I know a few nonsports paintings have sold as well ... they're more narrative and surreal so I can only guess that the client found something in the painting that they connect with. So, it's been a little all over the place in terms of who likes or buys the work, but I like to think at all of them saw something or connected emotionally with something in the paintings, which is wonderful.
"Changing the stars".
CREATIVE STOKE: With movements such as lowbrow, and the new constructed photography, a tidal-wave of young artists are rapidly erasing the division between illustration and art and many other old divisions beside. Do you still bump up against those old assumptions, though, about what is 'just' illustration and what is 'proper gallery art'?
Paine Proffitt: I think there is still a little distance and dare I say still "snobbery" between the fine art gallery world and the illustration world. A lot of people in the fine art world still feel "illustrators" are beneath them. But like you suggest, I think there's a blurring of the lines and people in both worlds are starting to see the potential and use of the other. Illustrators who take a more creative and artistic approach to illustration make their work a lot more visually exciting, and fine artists who put a narrative aspect to their work can make their work more interesting and involving. I think the "illustration world" in the U.S. has been getting a lot more "artistic" and more like "fine art" in the last 5 to 10 years, which has made for some interesting and excellent work. I also think that the "proper gallery" art world has also gotten a bit more narrative and story-telling which is nice, but still maybe it's not exactly "illustrative". I think there is still a line that seperates the two, though a blurred one, and a few fine artists or illustrators can tip-toe over the line and thrive and function in the others' world, but can't go too deeply into the others' territory.
A lot would have to do with style. I think we know when we look at a painting whether it would work as an illustration ... and when we look at an illustration whether it would work on a wall. The funtion of the artwork or what part of the illustration market they work in also makes a difference ... usually illustration comes down to an image helping to tell a story or trying to sell us something, whether a product or an idea. But like I say, some artists and artworks jump the boundaries ... some "illustration" posters or advertisements, especially artistic Polish theatre posters or 1920's and 30's art deco advertisement posters for example, would look fantastic on a living room wall. And some "fine art" paintings would work very well — and do — on a book cover or a wine label.
I will say that not all styles or uses are applicable though ... and only a few artist or illustrators can make it work. Certain advertising, children's, medical, diagram, or corporate illustration won't work for galleries, and certain painting styles (abstract expressionism, colour field paintings, etc.) probably won't work in illustration. Let's face it, Harry Potter's illustrations work for the book covers but people probably don't want them on their living room wall ... and a Jackson Pollock may work in a museum but it won't work for a Harry Potter bookcover. I think it's one of those things that people know what works for what when they see it, though it's bound to be contentious and I'm sure people will have arguments about it.
But uses and definitions of "illustration" and "fine art" are getting broader, and there doesn't have to be constraints. Picasso and Chagall did illustrated books and told stories with their paintings, but their work is still beautiful fine art which functions in both worlds.
"The Coming Winter"
CREATIVE STOKE: What are your plans for the future?
Paine Proffitt: At the moment I'm working on a series of football paintings for an exhibition for the National Football Museum, which I'm having a great time working on! The exhibition doesn't have a set date yet, but will be either later this year or early next year. I'm also working on paintings to present to a new gallery, opening in Newcastle-Under-Lyme later this spring/summer. I'm trying to work with a few more sports teams with either exhibitions or as outlets to sell paintings. I'm also thinking of trying to find a Wales gallery or venue to display a series of Welsh Rugby paintings, knowing the Welsh passion for the game.
I'd also like to be more involved and active with the local art scene ... although I've lived in the Stoke-On-Trent area for a while now, I'm still very new to its art scene. And of course, I'm always trying to look for any new galleries, museums, or new opportunities to show my work. Fingers crossed!
"Life For Queen and Country"
CREATIVE STOKE: Paine Proffitt, thank you.
Previous Creative Stoke front-page interviews:
The Frink School of Sculpture...
DAZED & Benny Browne...
Rachel Lines of FRONTLINE Dance...