The talented artist grew up on a Birmingham council estate in the sixties where the idea of becoming a painter was laughable. But due to chronic childhood asthma and a lack of TV, he discovered he could draw, which changed everything
“You’ll never make a living out of art”, was a phrase Paul Horton often heard as a teenager, even in his own home. It wasn’t that friends and family doubted his talent. Art was just not seen as a viable career option. “It wasn’t something a person from my background did and you certainly didn’t give up a steady job to do it. It was unthinkable,” Horton recalls.
The art scene in Birmingham was ‘little more than a few shops selling Athena posters’ which added to the challenge. “It was a case of ‘all roads lead to London’ in those days,” Horton recalls. “In the late seventies and eighties all the big galleries were in the capital, so the only option to exhibit locally was through amateur societies.”
He began exhibiting forty years ago through the Royal Birmingham Society of Art (RBSA) and became a published artist in 1997. Now on the verge of his biggest show to date, Horton’s journey is one of which he feels immensely proud. The culmination of two year’s work ‘Love and Hope’, an 80 piece exhibition will adorn the Waterhall at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) at the end of October. “It’s made all the more thrilling because it’s happening in my home town.”
Long before Paul’s battle to break into the art world, he had a struggle with ill health. He suffered with chronic asthma as a small child, which meant he missed a lot of school and fell behind. “There were no inhalers then, so I just couldn’t breathe properly for long periods. There were only two channels on the TV in those days, so I occupied myself drawing. It was an outlet – escapism I suppose.” He went on to study Life Drawing and History of Art at Bourneville School of Art. “If you can draw the human form you can draw anything. It’s the thing we’re most critical of,” he says, “It gives you the confidence to paint from your imagination.”
In 1986, a close encounter with a defunct puppet theatre provided the start of a journey for Horton and was the catalyst for the style of work and the characters we recognise today. “The puppet theatre at the Midlands Art Centre (mac) closed and I asked if I could see the old puppets. It was like finding a lost world in the cellar. I wanted to bring them to life,” he says.
Horton’s work feels nostalgic and uplifting like flicking through old photos. “It’s the greatest gift when people have an emotional response to my work. Being an artist tucked away in a studio is a fairly insular existence. It would be easy to slip into painting from within, but it’s important for me to have a connection with the audience.” Being published was a big deal. Rather than being stocked by one gallery, Horton was stocked by 200 gaining him national recognition and a throng of keen collectors. Horton meets his collectors as often as he can and has toured the UK numerous times to gauge the reaction to his work.
HAPPY TO BE ALIVE
The negativity Paul experienced as a youngster meant that when his son, Mark showed an interest in art he was right behind him. Mark is now an artist in his own right, manages the gallery and is his father’s ‘right hand man’. “The art scene in Birmingham has changed beyond recognition. It’s vibrant and encouraging. Nowadays, I hope somebody from my background would consider art an option and just go for it.”
Horton speaks with enthusiasm and joy, the hurdles he overcame to get to this point have made success all the sweeter. “There are so many tortured artists through the centuries whose work has only been recognised posthumously. I’m just thrilled to be living to see all this,” he says.