Interview with Artist Paul Richmond
It is our privilege to spend a few moments with visual artist and illustrator Paul Richmond. Paul came to my attention when I saw his amazing work on the theme of exploring masculinity. As the artist describes, the series of all-male portraits range from the toxic to the fragile. His work is aesthetically pleasing, thought-provoking and controversial for too many. He challenges the viewer for understanding.
His work can be found in numerous galleries and museum across the United States. He recently completed two commissions for the actor James Franco, and as an illustrator, he has created over 400 novel covers. Besides being a talented artist, Paul is an activist. He is a co-founder of the You Will Rise Project, an organization that empowers those who have experienced bullying to speak out creatively through art. 
Also, we are very excited to be the first to display a new piece called “Departure” that he has created for his new series entitled “Promiseland.” The series will be shown on Friday, November 2, 2018, at the Elmarie H. Dyke Gallery in the Pacific Grove Art Center. Departure and others samples of his work are shown below.
“Departure” from the series Promiseland
The artwork of Paul Richmond
Would you like to introduce yourself to the readers?
My name’s Paul Richmond. I’m a visual artist and activist living in Monterey, California. I work primarily in oil, and I use painting as a way of exploring and processing the world around me. I love color, texture, telling stories, and discovering the uniqueness of each subject I paint.
When did you realize that art was your calling?
I am fortunate that I figured it out at a young age thanks to a supportive family and wonderful art instructor. At age three all I wanted to do was draw, and by four I was taking weekly oil painting lessons in the studio of artist Linda Regula. From then on, I knew I wanted to be an artist just like her. I’m very grateful for those early experiences because just like learning a language when you’re young, I have a comfort level with mixing paint and pushing it around on a canvas that might have taken much longer to develop had I started later in life.
How do you describe your artistic style?
That’s always a difficult question for me, and it changes over time. But currently, I would say my style is a figurative abstraction. I love painting people, and for a while, I was doing a lot of large portraits. Currently, I’m zooming out and presenting the figure within a larger context, showing them interacting with and being affected by the background spaces they inhabit.
Your work is very moving in the way it presents masculinity. How did you choose this theme?
I enjoy painting all kinds of people, but I do paint a lot of male models because I think it’s only natural for artists to draw from their own experiences. As a gay man who grew up in the midwest, I was always at odds with traditional ideas about masculinity. I was pretty sensitive, I hated sports, I identified with female role models, and I rejected the gender binary even before I knew what that meant. So I like to paint figures who grapple with these same issues and through my work invite viewers to appreciate the complexity within all of us that defies labels and social constructs.
How do you find your inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere. I love looking at work by other artists – especially those whose style is very different from my own. It pushes me to stay open to new ideas and continue growing. I also love listening to artists talk about their journeys and processes, and I’m currently obsessed with The Savvy Painter podcast because Antrese Wood asks all the questions I want to know from some of my favorite painters. As for the subjects of my paintings, that inspiration comes from my own life challenges and observations. Painting is therapy for me, and I work out a lot of internal conflict on canvas. The specifics of the situations may or may not come through to viewers, but I think the emotions do, especially for anyone who has ever experienced something similar.
I feel that your work is awe-inspiring, but in today’s America, do you ever deal with people who are not comfortable with your perspective of masculinity?
Absolutely. I think art should push boundaries and make people uncomfortable sometimes. Just yesterday, someone messaged me on Instagram to say one of my paintings was the most disgusting thing he’d ever seen. Criticism like that does not bother me at all. When I was first starting out, it was a different story. The first time my work was featured on a prominent blog and got tons of comments, I was refreshing hourly and reading every one. It hurt my feelings how cruel people were, but it taught me an important lesson. Unsolicited input from random strangers on the internet is not worth my time. From then on, I made it a policy not to read comments on articles and posts about my work. Rather, I have a few trusted friends I share my work with when it’s complete and I get their feedback because I know them and I respect their opinions. It is so easy to be defeated by criticism, especially in this modern world of instant online “feedback.” I think it’s important for creative people to protect themselves from that because you will never please everyone and in trying to, you risk losing your own voice.
How relevant is art to the world?
It’s vital. Anyone who thinks differently should have to spend a week with all art removed from their life. They’d be naked living in the middle of a desert because art is everywhere and everything. I believe art is especially relevant to our society because artists are the cultural change-makers. They reflect back who we are and challenge us to grow and look at the world in new ways.
Do you have any future projects or ideas that excite you?
I am currently working on a series of twenty paintings for a show called Promiseland that opens November 2 at the Pacific Grove Art Center here in Monterey. It’s a large gallery space and I am really enjoying diving into the story of this collection, which centers around the idea of a promised land and what that means to different people. I’m representing it as an imaginary amusement park or carnival that some figures are heading toward, some traveling through, and some are leaving. It’s all about expectations vs. reality and how we weave the two together to keep ourselves going. Another project I’m excited about is a public art piece I’ll be creating in partnership with the Service Learning Institute. It’s called #Rise2Change and I’m inviting everyone between now and then to post inspiring pictures of signs from protests, demonstrations, and marches throughout history using the hashtag #Rise2Change. I think the powerful messages deserve to be shared and remembered because they can inspire us all, and I’ll be collecting them and incorporating them into a large public mural this November.
We have one last question. Do you have any advice for the next generation of artists?
Never settle for something just to get it done. Make the art you want to make, work hard, and be proud of what you’ve created. Internet fame does not necessarily equal real success. Make something that challenges people (and challenges yourself too). Good art is not always going to solicit easy likes and clicks, and you never need someone else’s approval or validation to be an artist. Take advantage of every opportunity that you can. And most importantly, have fun.
All photographs by courtesy of Paul Richmond