Paul Riley’s work is all about brushwork and colour. No, hang on before you give me that pitying look that says, “yes, that’s painting for you”, because you haven’t seen this, his first DVD, and I have. I was trying to find a way into the book that accompanies it and it was seeing Paul in action that gave it to me.
To begin with the colour: the film starts, as they so often do, with an introduction to materials. Yes, I know, all artists do it and, yes, they all uses brushes and paints and paper or canvas, yadda yadda. But this is different, because Paul explains in just a few minutes how mixing works, why some colours sparkle when you put them together and some don’t (it’s all down to the hue). He has an instinctive understanding that he is also able to explain, though you may want to rewind and take notes next time.
Now, about this brushwork. The thing I noticed, time and again, was that Paul doesn’t paint what’s there, but what he sees, which isn’t quite the same thing. Although, in the final demonstration, he spends quite a lot of time on studies of the flowers of a camellia bush, exact, agonisingly precise detail is not important to him. The point is to capture the spirit of a group of flowers (he hardly ever paints individual specimens) and that’s where the “magic” of the title comes in. So, in spite of the studies, he doesn’t obsess over shape, shading and hue. The result is far more impressionistic. All this comes to the fore in the first of the outside demonstrations, white cherry blossom painted from under the tree, “a white picture on white paper”, as he puts it, going on to explain, “in order to paint light, you’ve got to paint where it’s not”. The whole thing thus becomes an exercise in shadows and negative shapes. Paul is too unassuming to call it a masterclass, but it is.
Overall, the film builds nicely. It starts with the introduction to materials, which also gives us a chance to make the acquaintance of Paul himself. He has, he says, been painting watercolours for fifty years and it’s amazing that this is his first DVD. He has been teaching and writing, though, and the experience of that shines through. The commentary is always thoughtful and engaging and I found it utterly compulsive. Apart from anything else, there are the pearls of wisdom and insight that pop out all the time, my favourite being, “Even Jackson Pollock was a Pointillist of a kind”, during a spell of spattering – and he’s right, isn’t he?
This has been made to accompany the book of the same title and I’d strongly recommend them as a combined purchase. The book gives you that stop-motion breakdown that you can take at your own pace, but you also need the DVD to get Paul’s personality and way of working, especially the fluid quality of his brushwork. “I enjoyed that”, he says at the end, clearly having done so, “and I hope you did.” Well, he’s got my vote.
Click the picture to view on Amazon