Sep 14, 2011

PROFILE | Paul Wright | Intimately Abstract

Paul Wright, Whirlwind, oil on board, 30cm x 21cm, 2010

Paul Wright is an up and coming figurative painter hailing from Leicester, England. Working primarily with oil paint on a number of different surfaces, Wright paints in a largely expressive style and often employs the use of bright, bold colors. Wright makes a conscious effort to "capture a vitality beyond the establishment of a mere ‘likeness’ to the subject" in his paintings, as quoted from his biography, thus lending his abstract style to uniquely represent figurative content, when traditionally it would call for a more photorealistic rendering of the model.

Wright's work tends to be proportioned on a large, if not intimidating scale. In a workshop with Coventry University photography students, he explains that the size of the canvas is almost freeing, and leaves him with ample room to use his entire body as a tool in the creation of his work. 

In recent years, Wright's style has taken a noticeable shift in appearance. Citing influences from both Lucien Freud and Frank Auerbach, he has developed from a more realistic approach in handling his figures to an incredibly abstracted, yet detailed, representation. He has explained this process as a system of creating a figure on the canvas, immediately destroying it afterward, and putting it back together. This process allows for Wright to inject a certain energy into his paintings that invokes feelings of interest and intimacy with his viewers. In an interview with the Campden Gallery, Wright states that:
“I like to apply as much paint as possible and then move it around, opening up options and discovering things that are new and surprising, but always leaving a reference point, be it an eye or another pivotal element from where I can find a way back into the picture and bring back the structure of the subject.”
Rather than simply painting a visual likeness of a model, Wright strives to capture the essence of his subject's being. His style shift has greatly aided him in his effort to paint beyond the surface of his figurative content.

Paul Wright, The Broken Television, oil on canvas, 100cm x 90cm, 2010

The Broken Television is an excellent example of Wright's use of bright, bold, warm colors to create a specific atmosphere. The warm reflection of light on the skin of the figures in the painting invokes a sense of contentment and comfort. This use of color helps the viewer feel a very definite connection to the figures in the piece, despite the fact that they are not all that realistically rendered, and specific details indicating their identity are not supplied. Though the figures are not rendered as abstractly as Wright's more recent works, they still show a definite lack of photorealism in favor of expressive strokes used to convey a certain aspect of character in his models.

Paul Wright, Cain and Abel 2, oil on board, 32cm x 26cm, 2010

Cain and Abel 2 is a very telling example of Wright's more recent process and style in his work. Forsaking his usual color palette of warm colors, Wright instead employs pale tones contrasting with cold grays and blacks to create a color palette that reflects the ominous nature of his model. Working largely within the "personal space" of the model, Wright invites the viewer to get up and close to the figure in what seems to be a private and brooding moment. Though much of the detail involved with the identity of the model has been omitted in this piece, the viewer is instead able to pull an emotional identity from the piece through Wright's textured strokes and the figure's piercing gaze.

Paul Wright's process and style largely set him apart from his contemporaries in the field of figure painting. Through careful development, Wright has employed a style of painting that not only touches the viewer and invites them into an intimate moment, but also paints a picture that resonates beyond the surface image of the work.

-Brittany Ham


  1. Something about Wright's technique that just draws me into staring at where all the amazing colors somehow come together. Being a painting major myself, my mind doesn't allow me to paint like this. So therefore I can have more respect for Wright who can create such amazing work.

    -Devin Glenn