Paul Volker

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Snow Hill artist Paul Volker has done thousands of satirical paintings showing various animals doing very human things. He uses unconventional materials to create his paintings and bas-reliefs: house paint and recycled paper pulp. Paul wants to challenge the viewer to think beyond the ordinary.

Painter Paul Volker has a gallery called The Green Pearl. It is so named because it sits on the corner of Pearl and Green Streets in Snow Hill. The combination gallery and studio space will give art enthusiasts a window into the artist's creative process. This should prove to be a unique and enjoyable experience. Paul had an early interest in cartooning which evolved into a work as a painter with a sense of humor. He attended Ohio State University for three years before jumping into his career full time.

Paul Volker:
"I had become so busy during that time doing actual art jobs for people. I thought well this is why I am in school. I was spending so much time doing that I really didn’t have time for the academic stuff. However I continued to be involved at the University and I used to sit in on classes and participate in my spare time which the professors liked."

"I found myself doing graphics, primarily in cartooning, graphics, menu designs, things like graphic arts, and a lot of cartooning and illustration work for people. And then I was working on a mural for somebody on the front of a building one time. And, uh, I really became fond of paints at that time, especially house paint. And I had been using ordinary art supply paint: acrylics. But I had a lot of acrylic house paints left over. I started using those and now that’s my preferred medium. And, a friend of mine who does paint restoration, she said: “Oh a hundred years from now they’re gonna love ya. They’ll be able to go down to the hardware store and you know, match the color.”

Paul has done thousands of paintings showing various animals doing very human things like drinking espresso. When you look at them you can’t miss his sense of whimsy.

Paul Volker:
"Animals are a very good way of conveying a human experience in a humorous way. And, humor is actually the focus of my work. And, humor is a highly regarded form of expression in theater, in television, in literature. I mean the longest running TV show is the Simpsons, things that are funny. But in the art world humor is relegated to a very low status. Um, uh, it’s like gags. Like: “Oh it’s a joke.” Once you get it the painting’s done. But I think it is, um, possible to work on that more, really explore humor as a valid theme in art."

Mark Twain once remarked that in terms of humor “The further the pendulum swings out over woe the further it is bound to swing back over mirth.” Paul’s animal paintings give the viewer a good laugh while poking fun at what is sometimes the darker side of the human condition.

Paul Volker:
"Animals are funny because there is a lot of cruelty in the animal world, in nature. You know, you watch the old nature programs watching big fish eating little fish, and tigers, or lions eating gazelles or whatever. And that’s not really cruelty to the animals. That’s just survival. But, in terms of humans, um, it’s just a good way to reflect on the way humans relate to each other. Some of my favorite animals to paint are crocodiles, and bears."

"I sort of just make it up as I go along. I don’t invest a whole lot of sentimentality to my work. Although, I do want my work to bring a lot of joy to people, when they see it; and that is part of my intention. But um, I ‘m not too attached to it. And the reason for that is because, um I find that to be very inhibiting. It’s one of the reasons that I use house paint on plywood. It’s because expensive art materials are intimidating to me. And, uh, one of my rules is to frequently, when I finish a painting, is to just paint over it, even if it is good. And, do another one, and just let it go. And that gives me a real sense of freedom that it doesn’t matter all that much if I destroy a painting, or not. Because of that I find that I am really able to let go and break a lot more rules, and be a lot more freer with myself. "

Paul's work is evolving from flat images into three dimensions and even working parts. He is using recycled materials like wood, and paper pulp mixed with caulk and industrial glue.

Paul Volker:
"It’s kind of like papier-mâché only it is rock hard. I like the three dimensional quality of it and the fact that you can touch it. Because, you’re not supposed to touch art. And, most of my stuff breaks a lot of rules. I don’t have frames. I don’t use canvas. I don’t use oil paints. Um, and, you can touch the work.

The painting I am working on right now which is going to be a very large work will have twelve interactive pieces that you can actually remove from the painting and play with. But, it features twelve old fashioned TV sets on a board that looks like a store window, like an old TV store."

Paul says that people now often treat artwork more like a souvenir of their experience. For example, they take selfies in galleries and museums rather than more directly enjoying the work they see. His goal is to invite the viewer to break through the barriers that technology has inadvertently placed between them and the artist’s work.

Paul Volker:
"The goal of technology these days with iPhones, and iPads and that sort of thing, is to make a 3-D interactive experience. So what I am trying to do is, using the most low-tech materials possible, which is house paint on ply wood, is to create 3-D interactive TV experience. And so I decided to make a series of televisions with knobs on them, and black and white images on them, which the user can actually turn the knobs and change the picture on the artwork. So it is in fact 3-D interactive television, which is the goal of modern technology. But I’m trying to do it in, like I said in a completely rough… even the wood is rough and uneven. The paint is gloppy. There is nothing smooth about it. It’s not like an iPhone, which is completely smooth. This is bumpy and coarse.

Today, in the world today, we’re getting all our information on these glass screens. And, we’re losing that sort of textural quality to our experience. And so, I want to create artwork that you can feel the texture with your eyes. You can feel some depth. It’s not just something behind glass."