Paul Fowler’s paintings have an intensity of feeling for the landscape in which Faversham sits – its marshes, tidal creeks, immense skies, the green, draping lushness of late summer hop gardens, the ancient Blean.
Often working in watercolours, ink and gouache, which demand a lightness of touch, Paul’s work reveals the shifting light, water and seasons which make our marshes bleached, soft with the violet haze of sea lavender and the architectural heads of hog fennel under blue skies in summer; and bleak in winter with skeletons of the odd stunted apple or hawthorn hanging on doughtily to the edge of the Creek. Paul says: ‘Working with water-based media is quite a pure way of working. You can’t overwork it or it’s lost.’
Paul likes to work outside, immersing himself in the landscape. He sketches and paints from life, abstracting the effects of changing light. Like this landscape, his paintings are not static but loose, expressive and energetic.
In an artistic era impassioned by the glamour of concept and irony, Paul never lost his feeling for landscape art. He grew up in Hartlepool and when he came to study Fine Art at Canterbury College of Art in 1989, found in Faversham a familiar scene – wildlife and an historic industry both dependent on the creeks and marshes.
For reasons of economics and for the odd reasons we all set off in certain directions, Paul became a chef after leaving art college, painting still in a desultory manner and selling the odd thing, until five years ago when he chucked in the heat of the kitchen and threw himself into painting, without which nothing.
This summer he exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Paul’s painting was red-stickered and sold before the public got a look-in. His work has been seen this year in exhibitions at The Mall Galleries, The New English Art Club, The Royal Society of British Artists and The Royal Watercolour Society.
Yet his connection with Faversham, his muse, is fundamental. Paul’s recent exhibition, Hopfield and Hollowshore, at the Fleur de Lis Gallery, coinciding with the Hop Festival, was inspired by the hop gardens around Boughton-under-Blean where he lives.
An exhibition in April, Drawn to the Edge, was part of the commemoration of the Centenary of the Great Explosion of 1916 when 109 people were killed at the gunpowder works at Uplees. A series of postcard-size drawings in ink, pencil and charcoal was inspired by the estuary landscape, now returned to the wild which had been the site of such man-made violence and carnage.
A bleak atmospheric painting by Paul is the arresting cover of this season’s Faversham Music Club brochure. He is talking with the Oldfields about becoming Artist in Residence at Doddington Place Gardens. Painting the garden throughout the year, he is interested in exploring the formality of the garden against the irresistible seasonal changes.
Two months ago, Paul took a studio at Creek Creative. The move has inspired new directions for his work, not least the view from the window across the industrial architecture of Quay Lane: ‘When you’re a painter, you tend to see things as compositions.’ He is also looking at painting more in oils and maybe larger paintings.
Paul’s paintings have tended to be small, partly because of the practicality of working from home but also because it suits his work. There are influences from the tiny paintings of Samuel Palmer. However, Palmer’s paintings often have a feeling of being interior as though the sky were a ceiling, the stooks of corn, furniture, whereas Paul’s paintings have that sense of wild boundlessness.
The painters who influenced Paul are becoming fashionable again – Paul Nash, John Piper, Stanley Spencer, Graham Sutherland and the St Ives painters – and you trip over Ravilious at every turn. He tells me of the influence on his working methods by Len Tabner, a painter of turbulent seas and roiling skies from the North East.
Paul Fowler will be exhibiting at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea on 20-23 October and as part of the Kent Painters Group Annual Exhibition and Sale in Sevenoaks 28-30 October. Look out for his upcoming landscape painting classes at Creek Creative creek-creative.org and also his ‘daily painting’ posts on Twitter @PaulFowlerArt.
Text: Posy. Photos: Paul Fowler