Growing up during the 1960s and 70s in an industrially-pioneered and landscaped Birmingham, Paul Horton remains steadfastly and resolutely proud of his working class heritage in the heartlands of the Black Country. After attending the Bournville School of Art to study painting and drawing, and on leaving Horton opted to forge a career in the printing industry, before having a rethink and instead choosing to tread the path of a professional artist as recently as 1997.
Exploring his creativity predominantly through the medium of pastels, Horton does like to dabble with other materials when the mood and subject matter take him, including oils, and considers himself to be a figurative artist first and foremost. Horton’s work is routinely described as ‘reflective of the ordinary’, however is championed by various parties as being quirky, symbolistic and retaining a highly humourous edge, bordering on parody at all times. Never po-faced and taking his work overly seriously, nevertheless there’s always a strong backbone of resilience, optimism and dedication to hard work found just beneath the surface of Horton’s most celebrated works. There’s no doubting that there’s a depth of wit in a good cross-section of his pieces, much of which proffers an almost child-like quality in terms of presentation style too; with shades of ‘The Snowman’ animator, Raymond Briggs’ illustrative style to our mind.
It’s to an even more towering name though, that Horton’s work is admirably compared to, and one that doubtless he’d appreciate being mentioned in the same breath as, on account of similar working class roots forming the backdrop to their collective works. Despite displaying deliciously inviting, gregariously coloured tones and shades in his studies, that said Horton is referred to in certain quarters as the ‘Modern Day Lowry’ – a massive accolade in itself. But then, Horton is also better known for his other, moodier and atmospherically-layered landscapes, whilst he’s also been the artist behind some classic nude studies too.
Although having recollections of starting painting at a young age, Horton cannot pinpoint a particular trigger mechanism, yet remembers being fascinated by the works of Pre-Raphaelite artists from roughly the age of ten. Those witness spoke of clearly being able to see the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites in Horton’s early, figurative style paintings. It wasn’t just the Pre-Raphaelite movement that had captured a young Horton’s imagination though, as he reels off names like Degas, Chagall and De Lempicka when going on to discuss how his distinctive painting are informed by the adaption of expressive colours and bold compositions, characterized by the aforementioned inspirations.
Whilst on the subject of inspiration, and surprisingly Horton goes to great lengths to explain how a large part of the original inspiration for his work and first tentative steps taken in his new arena were derived from puppet theatre. And how latterly he’s repaid his debt of gratitude to this by way of collaborating with Craig Denston – one of the UK’s leading puppeteers/designers – to give 3-dimensional birth to his painted characters, of whom make appearances in both galleries and exhibitions where Horton’s work is taking centre stage, under the banner of his ‘Homes and Hearts’ tour.
It wasn’t just puppet theatre that left a lasting impression on a young Horton either, as theatre visits in general, along with illustrative pieces per se and story books in particular all ended up in Horton’s subconscious, to be drawn upon when involved in the creative process years later. The artist also believes his characters to be underpinned with a narrative element, insisting that people interpret his art characters to many differing ends. A point in question being Horton’s Victorian Man. Is he looked upon as a magician, maybe? Or perhaps an adventurer in the mould of Phileas Fogg? Or could he be Jack the Ripper, to but a more sinister bent on people’s perceptions of a character. Horton buys into this theory, and revels in what he calls his character’s identities remaining closely guarded secrets; reflected in titles such as, ‘Man of Mystery’, to keep people guessing.
When pressed on his favourite character found in his art, Horton admits a deep fondness and recall with the tramp, who the artist concludes is not based on any one specific person used as a muse, yet suggests that there’s a touch of the Charlie Chaplin about him to his mind. Residing in a modern world, Horton expressed an intention to derive a character who is full of optimism and hope, rather than sporting an air of negativity and remorse, yet harks back to his fundamental belief that the art of interpretation is as much as art as the laying down of paints itself.
The Journeyman was noted as being Horton’s first foray into positioning a character within a street scene, which in turn resulted in a new artistic direction for the artist, thereafter seeing future subject matter focusing on street life, and portraying the everyday through nostalgic, industrial snapshots. Horton speaks of there being a definite spirit and poignancy in these works, all of which stemmed from The Journeyman in his estimation.
1997 was the year in which Horton took the plunge and turned to art as his sole profession, and something in which he’s subsequently dedicated all of his energies to. A year on, and in 1998 Horton put on a one-man retrospective exhibition entitled; ‘All in a Life’s Work’, which gave the art world a window on everything that Horton had committed to canvas which he said documented his artistic journey thus far. In tandem with this obviously visual showcase of Horton’s finest artistic moments to that juncture, this innovative interaction with the public embraced a live concert by rock star, Steve Harley. Citing listening to Harley’s musical back catalogue (and being inspired by the musician’s creativity and poetry represented in his lyrics) as a major part of his artistic development, Horton wished to fuse these two creative exponents together to really announce his arrival on the contemporary art scene.
A keen poet and short story writer himself, Horton admits that many of his compositions have been inspired by words. His own, or indeed those of Shakespeare for example; on which the whole theme will them be based around. Because ideas and concepts have a habit of running riot in Horton’s mind, he’s left with little choice other than to perpetually sketch out these rudimentary images and to jot down notes to be sought at a later time when bringing the piece together on the canvas. These scribblings may well list costume design, character detail and background scenes. Essentially, nothing will be left to chance.
When not painting for himself, Horton can be found lecturing art to special needs students, something he feels strongly about and a sense that he can give something back to art by teaching it to others.