After traveling the globe illustrating, painting, and teaching, Paul Balmer fell in love with the energy of New York City and decided to make it his home. Working out of his Soho studio, Balmer paints the city from a perspective influenced by his South African roots and his love of abstract expressionism. We had the opportunity to chat with Balmer and find out more about this talented artist and what inspires him.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in South Africa and at the age of 17 I moved to Australia. There is a similarity of landscape and color in both places as well as a strong “tribal” art culture which influences my work still.
You’re originally form South Africa and moved on to Sydney for school, then after traveling the globe working, you ultimately settled in New York. What attracted you into moving to New York City?
New York has always held a certain fascination for me and a place I had to experience. One of my favorite periods in art is the Abstract expressionist movement and many of my favorite artists lived here / Rauschenberg, de Kooning, Motherwell, Franz Kline and Pollock. Soho seemed to be the right place for a studio with the hopes of brushing up against some of that history. Basquiat happens to be one of my all time favorites too.
Bridge on Black
When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist?
Art was something I did a lot of (as with all kids) but I kept on at it as I got older. At 11 I was making sculptured dinosaurs out of glue and toothpicks and drawing family portraits. I never thought a career was possible until I went to art school. I loved illustration and started my career as a freelance illustrator in Sydney. I used an Airbrush and tried to make things hyper real but it slowly gave way to oil wash illustration which quickly turned into painting for exhibitions.
What were your influences growing up?
Of all things – MAD magazine was my first influence. My Dad subscribed to it and I would copy all the Don Martin and Jack Davis drawings. Even growing up in South Africa I still looked at American illustrators in particular – Bob Peak and Drew Struzan for there movie posters as well as Mark English, Bernie Fuchs. I would analyze their illustrations closely to work out their techniques. Was a good way to learn.
If you could spend the day with any artist living or deceased who would it be?
May be cliché but I would go with Picasso. To be around someone who is constantly finding new ways of creative expression. And it sounds like he had quite the social life.
At one point (as you state) your work switched from traditional painting to abstract. What was the pivotal turning point that caused you to switch from figurative to abstract expressionist style of painting?
I was teaching in Switzerland and had many opportunities to travel around Europe (Paris mostly) painting Neoclassical architecture – this kicked of 5 years of painting realistic figurative work. It was when I moved to New York that is all changed. I wanted to represent not only the building and scale of NY but also the atmosphere and the craziness of the place. I started drawing this city without worrying about perspective. I flattened some surfaces that would usually have more depth and added textured areas to represent the “feel” of manhattan. It was not only more fun to do but also more spontaneous and somewhat subconscious. The paintings also seem to hold the viewers’ ( not all viewers) attention longer as it is not so literal or obvious.
Which one of your paintings would you consider your favorite? Why?
“OVER A RED RIVER” this painting captures the “movement” of New York and manages to get in key elements that make up NY – the East River, Empire State building, shadows and sailboats.
Over a Red River
What do you like most about living in the city? The least?
New York is a constant source of inspiration for the type of paintings I do. I am inspired by the scale of the place, the textures and color combinations that come unexpectedly. I like that at any time I can walk up the road and see the worlds best art ( classical or contemporary).
Do you work in silence or play music? If you play music, what type do you listen to?
I listen to all music from classical to techno – depends on the mood.
Where has your artwork been exhibited?
Cape Town, Sydney, London, Amsterdam, New York, San francisco, and Napa Valley
Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
Hampton Art Fair JULY 7th / St Helena, Napa CA, 2nd SEPTEMBER / Art Basel Miami DECEMBER 1 /Boston DECEMBER / Greenwich CT FEBRUARY 2012
Name three favorite words.
Zig-Zag, Zulu, ingenuity.