Front Row Center Newsletter from the Greater Columbus Arts Counsil

Paul Richmond

For this issue, Sally Sugar, our marketing, communications and events intern, interviewed local artist and activist Paul Richmond about his War Paint series, art as a form of coping and self-expression, working with James Franco and dreaming of Dolly Parton.

SS: Your website mentions that you went to Columbus College of Art and Design. Are you originally from Columbus?

PR: I was born and raised here. I’ve always loved Columbus. We have an incredible arts community. I also love being close to family and friends. Geography is much less a factor in an artist’s career these days thanks to the internet and the relative ease of shipping paintings wherever they need to go.

SS: How long have you been making art? When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career as an artist?

PR: I’ve been making art as long as I can remember. As a toddler, I spent most days perched at the dining room table cranking out hundreds of drawings on scrap paper from Mom’s office. I’m grateful that my parents sought the mentorship of a local artist named Linda Regula. She was reluctant to take on such a young student, but after our first session, we formed an instant bond. She began teaching me oil painting in her studio just before my fourth birthday. From that day forward, there has only been one career choice for me.

SS: Who has influenced your work the most?

PR: Linda was definitely my biggest inspiration because outside of her role as my mentor, she taught me through her own example that art can serve a higher purpose than decorating a wall. Her paintings addressed painful memories of poverty, abuse and abandonment from her childhood and became a vehicle for overcoming those experiences. Being exposed to art like this at a young age made me want to approach my own work with a similarly self-reflective mindset, and that has stayed with me through the years.

SS: Your website describes you as an activist as well as an artist. A lot of your art addresses and challenges social constructs around gender and sexuality. What role has your artwork played in your activism and vice versa?

PR: After I graduated from college, I struggled to come to terms with my sexuality. Being raised in a conservative, Catholic household made it difficult to accept that I was gay. During this time, I processed my feelings by painting. I never intended to share the finished pieces with anyone else. In fact, rather ironically, I stacked them in the closet once they were complete. Thanks to a friend who encouraged me to submit my work to the Ohio Art League, I began to slowly bring them out into the world. I realized I could share my ideas and speak out about what was important to me through my paintings. Although I’m not the kind of activist who goes out into a crowd with a bullhorn, I’ve managed to make some strong political and social statements on canvas that have added my voice to the conversation–and ruffled a few feathers along the way.

"Aftermath" by Paul Richmond

“Aftermath” by Paul Richmond

SS: I see that you have a solo War Paint exhibition coming up next year in Indiana. The series features masculine figures with body paint. Could you tell us more about the series and what inspired it?

PR: Yes, I’m currently working on paintings for my War Paint exhibit that opens March 2016 at the Evansville Museum of Art, History and Science. War Paint started as a way to be expressive and try a more symbolic approach to creating narrative. I see each subject in the series as a warrior, and the paint they apply to their faces and bodies represents their psychological state. I began by painting male models because I was interested in breaking down the expectation that men shouldn’t show their emotions because they have to be strong. Those two concepts have always contradicted each other in my mind because some of the strongest people I know are also the most in touch with their emotions. War Paint is about taking those inner struggles, pains and triumphs, and boldly fashioning them into a metaphorical armor. As the series has evolved, I began branching out from my initial idea. I painted my first female War Paint subject recently and I’m currently working on paintings that portray a transgender model and a drag queen. What I’ve come to realize is that everyone struggles to construct their own identity and often must fight against societal expectations in order to be authentic.

SS: Your statement about the series mentions that you use color to suggest the figures’ psychological states. What color or colors are you today?

PR: I’m going to go with pink because I love it and because my friend’s young son was just teased this week by his classmates for sporting pink laces on his tennis shoes. We still live in a society with so many people clinging tightly to the small boxes they’ve drawn around gender roles, and I believe this is harmful to young people who don’t fit perfectly into their assigned spot.

SS: You co-founded the You Will Rise Project with your mentor and friend Linda Regula. Could you tell us more about this anti-bullying initiative?

PR: I experienced a significant amount of bullying myself as a kid, and even though everyone’s experiences are different, I can relate to young people who are going through that today. Linda and I started You Will Rise to give them a voice and encourage everyone who has experienced bullying to channel their experiences into creative works of art. We publish their submissions on our website, conduct workshops, organize exhibitions, and create public art installations around this important theme.

SS: Besides the You Will Rise Project, you volunteer with organizations like the Kaleidoscope Youth Center and encourage art as a form of coping and self expression. What do you think makes art such an effective way to deal with things like bullying or coming to terms with one’s sexual identity?

PR: If I didn’t have a creative outlet during my middle school and high school years–a time when I was bullied repeatedly–I might have become another teen suicide statistic myself. Kids harassed me and called me cruel names because I was more effeminate than they thought boys were supposed to be. I couldn’t tell my parents or teachers about what was happening because I was ashamed of these accusations and scared of what they might imply. Thankfully, I could release those feelings by drawing and painting, and even feel proud about my artistic abilities at a time when I needed that confidence boost. Giving kids a safe space where they can speak out and connect with others has made a significant impact on many young people involved with our project.

SS: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself at 13?

PR: At 13, I was sitting on the fire escape steps during recess, reading and drawing because I didn’t fit in with my classmates. I even did a painting about that at the time called “The Piece That Doesn’t Fit.” I portrayed myself inside a floating puzzle piece that was shaped differently than the space allotted for it. If I could go back and give that boy some advice, I’d tell him that the things he hates about himself will one day be the qualities that help him build a wonderful life for himself and his husband in the future.

SS: You were recently commissioned to paint two portraits of James Franco for his upcoming movie The Long Home, what was that like? Is he even more attractive in person (if that’s possible)?

PR: My friend Kristen Adams is the Production Designer for the film. They wanted a painting of James to hang in the background of one of the main settings for the movie, and she thought my style would be perfect. The caveat was that I only had one week in which to make it. A painting that scale and level of detail would normally take me a month or more, but I agreed to the project and spent a lot of heavily caffeinated time at my studio that week! James was very nice and yes, certainly quite attractive. We were invited to stay and be extras in the scenes they were filming that night. Seeing him and the other actors transform into their characters on camera gave me a whole new appreciation for their talent.

SS: If you could meet and paint a portrait of anyone, who would you choose?

PR: When I was growing up, my favorite celebrity was Dolly Parton. Maybe it’s because I was a closeted boy from the Midwest seeking a little bit of glitz and glamour wherever he could find it. I also think it had to do with how she celebrated and capitalized upon her femininity while I felt ashamed and compelled to try and conceal (unsuccessfully) my effeminate characteristics. I actually did get to meet her when I was 13 years old. I presented her with a drawing I made for her and she surpassed my expectations as a fabulously gracious diva in every way. I would love to paint Dolly again now, this time as a part of my War Paint series, because she’s been expertly coating her face with war paint every day for years!

Sally Sugar is an intern for the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s marketing, communications & events department. She is about to start her senior year at Ohio University in the Honors Tutorial College studying journalism and strategic communication with a specialization in marketing and a social media certificate. This year, Sally plans to complete a professional project creating a campaign for the Buckeye Trail as her senior thesis. When she isn’t working or studying, you can find her hiking, taking photographs, seeking out live music or reading Virginia Woolf.

Season 3 premiers Sept. 2