19 Aug Featured: Paul Senyol
Paul Senyol is a visual artist based in Cape Town. Although drawing and painting since his early high school years, he never pursued formal training, which lends to his sense of creative freedom. As a result, Senyol’s work strays from traditional notions of painting as he explores genres and styles, and melds mediums.
You grew up in Welgemoed. Could you paint us a (verbal) picture of the place?
Great place to grow up, my parents’ place is right up on the side of the Tygerberg hill, overlooking out towards Stellenbosch and the mountains that I enjoy so much. Leafy green, wide open spaces, our property borders onto the nature reserve, which is beautiful. Lots of teenage antics involving skateboarding, pop-punk music, and general tomfoolery.
You’ve said that the freedom of skateboarding and punk rock music became a key influence in your early drawings sketches and paintings. What’s changed since then?
Well, I am not as involved in those ‘scenes’ as I was when I was 16. At the age of 16 I was totally absorbed by music and skateboarding, into so many bands, as well as graphics on boards and album covers. That is where my interest started to veer towards the art world. My attitude and approach hasn’t changed much. I still enjoy exploring different mediums, a DIY ethic to my work, a tangibility and strong visual dialogue between artist-artwork-viewer. I definitely see how my work has matured over the years. My early drawings were very naive and I didn’t even use brushes for some of my first paintings. Hands, sticks and fingers…haha! My first painting was on an old bed sheet of mine.
What made you decide to pursue a career as an artist?
I had been working so many odd jobs after studying, and got a bit fed up with doing things that didn’t really seem to have much potential to make a living from (not that art is especially lucrative or stable). I eventually ended up just making the choice one day to be an artist, I had always been painting and drawing, but once I made the decision to be a painter, I quit trying to make a living via any other avenues. Right now I am grateful to my family who have always supported me, and that I am able to do something for a living that I enjoy and find fulfillment in.
Tell us about your journey so far – how did you end up where you are, doing what you do?
I started painting and drawing at the age of 16, after school I studied tourism management at Cape Tech, worked in that industry for a while, then built kiteboards for a summer season, worked in a surf shop, then decided to be a painter. Moved into my parents’ small side garage, which had no natural light, and was bitter cold in winter (and one time it actually flooded). I then moved out of there into a small studio with the guys from Circus Ninja, which was in Harrington Street, Cape Town – we had some great times working together. That was a key time in my career, just establishing my work, doing exhibitions and lots of painting and things on the streets. Warren Lewis and myself did a little creative startup for a year under the name WorldWarWon. From there myself and photographer friend Juan Voges moved to Woodstock. After a few months Justin Southey and myself decided to work together, and soon after that Bruce Mackay joined us. Now we are Senyol, Southey & Mackay studio. A little creative hub in a side street of Woodstock.
What are some of the things you’re currently exploring through your work?
At the moment I am working on an exhibition which will open on 21 September at Salon91 contemporary gallery. It is a 2 person show with my friend Andrzej Urbanski. The title of the exhibition is ‘a vacant passage’, and we are exploring our shared history of displacement, immigration, culture and identity. A big part of this is exploring our family histories, which strangely are interwoven by things like the 2nd world war, and take place across Germany, Poland, Finland and the former Czechoslovakia. It has been really interesting, and even a bit mysterious piecing together a history from newspaper clippings and family photos, as well as letters and diaries. The paintings are influenced by what happens when people are forced to move from their homeland due to various circumstances.
Tell us a bit about your process, and the mediums you work with.
I work predominantly on paper, using mixed mediums, so incorporating everything from pencil, to crayon, to spray paints, to acrylic, so marker pens, etc etc. Texture, shape, line and form, as well as composition are very important to me when creating a work. My process usually starts with the title or a brief concept for a work or series of works. The title is always referenced within the work. I do a lot of drawing and pre sketches before I lay down any paint. This gives me a good idea of what to use in terms of colour, as well as the overall composition of an artwork.
Do you still share a studio with Justin Southey and Bruce Mackay? If so, what’s it like working with them?
Yes, we are still sharing a space, 32 William street, Woodstock. Where we are now has kind of become a reunion of sorts, where Chris from Love&Hate, Juan Votes, and Senyol, Southey & Mackay are all back in the same building, just like we were a few years ago. The great thing about working in close proximity with these guys, is that ideas happen easier and quicker, as well as getting good critical feedback on new work or upcoming projects. Also having a studio right next door to your photographer and framer has too many benefits to list!
How important do you think it is for an artist to be part of a creative community?
I think it is quite important, although, at the same time, good inspiration and ideas do happen in isolation. I do like quiet places and spaces, and often retreat up the coast for a few days to recharge. When I was on residency with Wesley Van Eeden in Finland, we didn’t have very much exposure to any art scene, besides ourselves… this was good though, as we could concentrate on doing great new work without the pressures normally associated with the art industry. If I can recommend anything to any artist: go on an international residency programme.
There certainly is, as you put it, “a creative freedom that flows through my collection of work.” Do you ever find this difficult to maintain?
To some degree it is difficult, especially if I am working toward a specific deadline. And, with every new work I am trying to better myself and my technique, so trying new things is sometimes intimidating, but at the same time very freeing. Whenever I step back from a finished piece, I want to be able to say it was better than the piece I created before. Right now I would say I have about a 1 in 3 hit ratio. I feel that creative freedom is always present in my work as I am self taught, and don’t feel constrained toward or by any art movement as such.
Why do you make art?
I make art because I enjoy seeing beautiful things, and my work is in some way my interpretation toward the beauty that I see daily. Art has become so much more than a hobby I had in high school.
What are you currently working on, and what are your plans going forward?
I am currently working on new works for ‘a vacant passage’ which opens with Andrzej Urbanski on September 21st at Salon91 contemporary gallery. After that I have a few more group shows and art fairs lined up towards the end of the year. I would like to be doing at least a few months a year at a residency overseas. I have one residency lined up for a few weeks in Germany in 2014, but hopefully I can string a few together over the same time, and come back refreshed and with a bunch of new works.