Today Paul Richmond, artist, joins us to talk about his work and I try to find out what makes Paul tick.
Hi Paul. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. I see your book covers everywhere and they are not only lovely but evocative. Why don’t you start by telling us something about your art and about you personally.
My pleasure, thanks for the invitation! I graduated from art school in 2002 with a degree in illustration, but my artwork took a dramatic turn when I came out of the closet shortly thereafter. The landscapes and fantasy scenes I hid behind previously transformed into something more personal when I started using my artwork to explore my newfound sexuality. What began as art therapy quickly became an opportunity to express ideas about an evolving narrative of self-discovery both personal and surprisingly universal.
I honestly couldn’t believe it the first time I displayed my work in a gallery and strangers came up to tell me how much they related to it. Growing up as a gay Midwesterner in a conservative environment, it took me a while to shake that notion that I was completely alone and freakish. Perhaps others out there felt the same way (or still do) and hopefully my artwork can help them realize they’re not alone. Of course there’s nothing wrong with being a little freakish…
I first noticed your work on books for Dreamspinner Press. You have some of the most beautiful covers. The first cover I saw that you had illustrated was Zero at the Bone, a book by Jane Seville and I thought that it was striking and unusual. Recently you covered a number of other books for Dreamspinner including one of my favourites, Dash and Dingo by Sean Kennedy and Catt Ford, as well as The Hired Man, another favourite. You also did the cover illustration for Patient Eyes and Veiled Security. You did some work recently for The Golden Age of Gay Fiction released by MLR Press which was phenomenal. Do you work mainly for North American publishers?
Thank you! My first gay fiction cover was actually at the request of Puerto Rican author Carlos Vázquez Cruz for his novel “Dos centímetros de mar”, for which he licensed my painting Not Just a Closet. I was thrilled to be involved with that project (although I still need to take a Spanish class so I can read the novel for myself!). Not long after that, my friend Jane Seville invited me to brunch and said she was working on a novel for Dreamspinner Press called Zero at the Bone. She asked if I’d be interested in doing the cover and I jumped at the opportunity. Since then, I’ve been a very busy boy and Dreamspinner has been so wonderful to work with. I was also honored to get to do the cover for The Golden Age of Gay Fiction with MLR Press because it gave me such an education about the history of the genre.
So far, my only involvement with a publisher outside of North America was my inclusion in an erotic art anthology earlier this year called Stripped Uncensored, which was published by Bruno Gmünder (in Germany). I hope to continue developing relationships with other publishers though, and find even more ways to contribute to this fabulous literary genre.
I understand that cover illustration is quite a recent career direction for you. What are some of the challenges in this line of work?
I’ve been doing covers steadily for only a few months, but I’ve loved every second of it! I would say the biggest challenge is developing an image that accurately portrays not only the characters and setting, but also the mood and atmosphere intended by the author. My main goal is to represent their work in the best possible way, which can be challenging when I don’t have time to read the novels beforehand. I am provided a synopsis and sometimes even reference photos that resemble the author’s vision of the characters, but ultimately I have to trust my instincts and the picture that forms in my head as I review their materials. So far, it has worked out well and all of the authors have expressed their satisfaction with the images. Who knows? Maybe I’m a gay fiction psychic!
What impresses me about your covers is that they look like actual paintings. How do you get that effect? Obviously you don’t use stock photographs, or if you do, it’s not obvious.
I paint all of my covers by hand using oil paint on masonite panels, so no stock photos for me. I’m too much of a control freak for that – I like to decide on all of the details, from the way the light hits the figure to the color of his underwear waistband (which usually makes an appearance if I can work it in!). I know that artists can digitally manipulate stock photos to create some of these effects (and I’m always impressed when they pull it off), but I’d prefer to create something new rather than try to find elements and make them work. Plus, I don’t want to have to share the credit with a photographer because I’m too much of an attention whore!
I do use photos sometimes as reference, and I usually convince my friends to pose for me with the lure of a Starbucks trip afterwards. There is one reference photo in particular that I would love to share with you but am not allowed (by request of the model) — it’s the photo reference for The Hired Man. Allow me to explain.
I should start off by saying I’m no professional photographer, and the studio/props are basically my living room and whatever random stuff happens to be on hand. In the case of Jan Iving’s fabulous novel, the cover called for an old-fashioned copper tub and a sponge (neither of which happened to be in my living room at the time, sadly). My friends Brian and Tony helped me improvise, and as a result, I have the most hilarious photo of Brian lying on the couch with his arm propped on the imaginary tub while Tony sponged him with a stuffed hedgehog-shaped dog toy! I can’t imagine why, but Brian asked me to keep that one on the DL. Maybe someday…
Do you find this type of work creatively satisfying or would you prefer to be doing other types of illustrations? What are your short and long term goals as an artist?
I find this work incredibly satisfying. I don’t see a distinction between fine art and illustration, because I draw from my own experiences and interpretations regardless. That’s one of the things I love about the pop surrealism/lowbrow movement – the way it blurs the labels of fine and commercial art. A great illustration can hang in a gallery, and a great oil painting can illustrate a book – so what’s the difference?
I have a million goals, but my biggest is just to continue making art and sharing it with people. I trust that everything else will fall into place the way it should. I would love to get more involved in gay fiction and even other literary genres. I just finished illustrating my first children’s book as a matter of fact. I’m also busily preparing for a solo exhibition in Chicago this June at the Halsted Gallery. The show is called Gay Day at Paulyworld, and I’m using carnival imagery as a backdrop to continue the personal narrative you see in my other work. Just ask my partner — sometimes my life can be quite a wild ride!
I love your Cheesecake Boys as well as your more serious paintings. Why don’t you talk about the different types of paintings that you do and why?
I enjoy those Cheesecake Boys too – who doesn’t love a fellow that can’t keep his pants on? The inspiration for the series comes from those classic pin-up girls of the forties and fifties – you know the ones, whose skirts were constantly getting caught on loose nails and fence-posts, or whose underwear would just inadvertently drop to the ground mid-stride (elastic must not have been very good in those days!). I thought that if girls had such a hard time keeping it together, surely men faced similar obstacles from time to time. It’s fun coming up with different pin-up scenarios for my Cheesecake Boys – towels getting snagged in doorways, loose pants dropping to the ground, dogs with an appetite for designer duds. Some of my Cheesecake Boys have even been licensed for greeting cards and novel covers now, including Dreamspinner’s Advent series “Mistletoe Madness.”
My other work focuses on exploring personal narrative and issues that affect the LGBTQ community. I enjoy drawing elements from pop culture too and twisting them around in my own way. First and foremost though, with all of my art I try to be a good storyteller.
I do accept commissions as long as the patron is willing to allow me some creative license with the concept. I’ve done commissioned portraits and figurative works in oil, and I’m always interested in helping clients develop their concept into something that will make an impressive work of art. Collaboration is great fun for me, which could be why I also really enjoy doing the novel covers too.
Your book Ins and Outs which I will probably review by the time this interview airs, has recently been published. What was the inspiration for the book and what would the reader find between the covers?
I decided to make a book because I wanted to present my paintings in a format that would highlight their storytelling qualities in relationship to one another. I arranged them in chronological order by the period of my life represented, forming a continuous narrative about my wacky adventures growing up as a repressed gay boy in the heart of the Midwest. Accompanying each piece is a written description that explains its inspiration.
My amazingly talented and wonderful friend Melissa Forman wrote the foreword, and the book concludes with an interview by blogger Cat Johnson. There are fifty paintings featured, including all of my Cheesecake Boys and recent novel covers. I’m so thrilled that I’ve been fortunate to create enough work to fill my first book! It was a great opportunity to reflect on my artistic experiences to date.
Ins & Outs is available to preview and order here:
Creatively what is the one thing you most love to do?
My favorite part of the creative process is right at the beginning of a new project when I’m developing the idea. I’ve called friends in the middle of the night to talk through a concept because I just HAVE to tell someone. I had a wonderful mentor named Linda Regula when I was growing up, who not only helped me develop technical art skills but also nurtured my creativity. In fact, my parents’ house is still filled with gigantic oil paintings of Disney princesses from this time period! Linda had a fascinating story of her own, from an impoverished and difficult childhood to a near-fatal accident as an adult that inspired her to begin painting. She used her work to process her own journey, and she inspired me to do the same. Even today, when I’m in front of my easel getting ready to start a new painting, I still feel like that four year old kid standing in her studio completely in awe of the possibilities.
I’m currently preparing for the Gay Day at Paulyworld show in June and one of the pieces I’m developing for it is called Broken Neverland. It was inspired by a childhood trip to Disney World during which I had the experience of riding on the Peter Pan ride when it had to be shut down because of a technical malfunction. One minute, we were cruising along over Neverland without a care in the world, and the next, there were sparks flying and workers helping us climb down from our carts on tall ladders. In the painting, I’m using this inspiration to symbolize the struggle of clinging to youth. A man in a tattered Peter Pan suit is shown falling from the sky, while a man-made Neverland backdrop behind him starts to unravel.
I’m also really excited to be collaborating with Del Shores, the writer/director of one of my favorite movies, “Sordid Lives,” for another piece in the show. It wouldn’t be Paulyworld without some Cheesecake Boys, so I’m doing a series called Pin-Up Playhouse in which each room contains some humorous pants-dropping shenanigans. Del has been gracious enough to help me with one of the panels, which will show him filming a rather sexy scene from Sordid Lives but accidentally stealing the show himself when gravity takes hold of his pants. I can’t wait to unveil this one!
I also have a number of novel covers in the works, including a humorous illustration for Dreamspinner’s upcoming anthology Midsummer’s Nightmare: Things That Go Bump in the Night. You can probably imagine how my brain interpreted that concept! And I’m really excited to be included in an upcoming book release 100 Artists of the Male Figure by Eric Gibbons which will be released next year by Schiffer Publishing.
One of the things I really admire about you is that you are quite open about your sexuality and have been for some time. I read a lot of YA books, most of which are coming-out stories, and I think that you would be a great role model for these teenagers. How did you develop the confidence to live your life the way you wanted at a relatively young age? What advice would you offer to a gay teenager just finding his way based on your experience when you were growing up?
Just last week, I received an e-mail from someone who said he was inspired to come out of the closet after seeing one of my paintings. That just blew me away! Those are the kinds of things I never dreamed would happen when I first started this series, especially since at that time I was still somewhat closeted myself. I’ve done volunteer work with a local LGBTQ youth center, and I was so impressed by the teenagers I met there. To see teenagers who are that self-aware, especially considering some of the incredible obstacles they had to face as a result, gives me great hope for our future.
My advice to young people grappling with their sexuality is that they should never feel bad about who they are, even if the people in their lives don’t understand or accept them. That’s much easier said than done, of course, especially for those who happen to live in small towns or communities where being gay isn’t yet accepted. But no matter where you live or how isolated you may feel, you are truly not alone. My hope is that we can all one day feel empowered to be proud of who we are, regardless of our sexual orientation, and not have to hide our true selves from anyone. After all, prejudice is really just fear and ignorance rearing its ugly head, and as people learn that we’re not a threat to their churches, their children, or the sanctity of their marriages, I believe the tide will continue to turn. I hope my artwork and the way I live my life can play a small part in that progress.
PAUL RICHMOND UNPLUGGED
Usually I have the hot tub guys pay a lot of attention to my guests but I don’t know how you would feel about 6 or 8 guys touching you all over. <g> Is it okay if they bring out the massage oils and towels? You can leave your tighty whiteys on for the time being – no getting naked right away. What kind of website do you think this is? On second thought maybe you shouldn’t answer that. <g>
One question: are bright pink briefs with cartoon monkeys on them an acceptable alternative to tighty whiteys? Otherwise, I’m in trouble today…. (You can always go commando if they don’t like pink, Paul. <g>)
I have a couple more questions before I let you go. If the guys get too familiar just take off your underwear and flash them. 😀
I’ll keep that in mind — good thing this interview isn’t televised!
I read about your attendance at the Tammy Faye Memorial party at her manager’s home and found it totally unbelievable. Would you like to tell the readers who frequent this site the short version of this incredible story?
When Tammy Faye passed away a few years ago, we lost someone really special. She was a much-needed ally for the gay community among her less-than-tolerant religious peers, and or course her unabashedly over-the-top fashion sense is something to be admired. I was preparing a solo show at the time, and I decided to create a new painting called Remembering Tammy Faye in her honor. At the opening, it was even unveiled by a Tammy Faye drag queen. I think Tammy would have been proud! Joe Spotts, Tammy Faye’s manager, got wind of the festivities and invited my partner and me to join him at his home in Palm Springs for Tammy’s private memorial celebration.
I convinced my friend Melissa and her partner to come along too, so the four of us trekked across country (with painting in tow) to celebrate the life of the glamorous televangelist. And we were in some pretty incredible company too: Larry King, Ron Jeremy, Cloris Leachman, and many more all turned out for the wonderful event. It was touching and entirely fitting to see such a diverse gathering. I presented my painting to the group, and it was auctioned to raise money for a memorial being erected in the Palm Springs desert.
I’m honestly not sure where my Oprah dream began, especially since I’ve probably only seen one or two episodes of her show in my entire life. For some reason, I got it in my head early on that I need to be a guest on the Oprah show, and so my friends and I are always trying to concoct new schemes to make it happen. I thought I had it in the bag a few years ago when she put out a call for “Cher’s biggest fan.” At the time, I had a gigantic mural of Cher in my apartment, a Cher doll, and pants with Cher’s face painted on them. We filmed a video submission and I waited anxiously for the Oprah call. Looking back now, I suspect that I may have come across as being ever so slightly insane, and thus, no invitation. I’m still hopeful though. But you’re right, there’s definitely a deadline now…
Which male celebrity would you most like to paint naked? Why?
I’m going to go with Del Shores since that’s actually happening soon and I’m still in shock at how willing he is to participate in my crazy scheme! Of course he’ll be in his skivvies, not completely naked. Still, it’s going to be awfully cute!
Does Cher know how much you love her?
I think Cher might know how much I love her in the way Jesus knows that Christians love him. Just kidding — I wouldn’t really compare Cher to Jesus. After all, she has resurrected far more times than he did. Ok, to answer your question seriously, I don’t think so. However, like the Oprah dream, it’s only a matter of time!
I loved your Batmobama and Robiden pictures. I think they are hilarious. I understand that they really put you on the map. Can we look forward to more political satire in art from you in the future? Who’s next?
My recent painting Noah’s Gay Wedding Cruise took stabs at a few of our most vocal political opponents, including Larry Craig shown with his pants around his ankles and clinging to a toilet in the rising flood waters. I think there will be a few guest appearances from the political realm in my Gay Day at Paulyworld show, but I don’t want to name any names just yet.
What can I get for Christmas from your etsy store?
How about one of everything? Or, if you want to be more selective, there’s plenty to choose from. (Imagine me saying the following in my best Joan Rivers voice) There are faaaaaa-bulous limited-edition giclee prints, original paintings, Cheesecake Boy greeting cards, T-shirts, my new book, and so much more available at www.paulypants.etsy.com.
Also, if you really like to keep your finger on the pulse, sign up for my e-mail newsletter and I’ll let you know when there are new goodies available: http://paulrichmondstudio.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=8cd775c0befcf0c0220edd700&id=5d7096cbf6.
How was that for a sales pitch?
What is the one fun thing about yourself that you have never told anyone before that you think we would appreciate.
I think I am Mae West reincarnated. I have no proof of this, but I’m especially fond of feathered boas and I find her one-liners immensely inspiring.
Thank you Paul, for indulging me.
Paul’s art book Ins and Outs is available here and there is a $10 discount until December 31 using the following promo codes depending on your location –
Orders from the US and Canada (using US $): GREATGIFT
Orders from UK (using UK £): GREATGIFT2
Orders from EU (using EU €): GREATGIFT3
Orders from AU (using AUD $): GREATGIFT4
Paul Richmond’s Contact Information