Pauly and I meet on a hot and sunny afternoon at Mascara, a Hove bar just off Palmeira Square, writes Roosa Herranen. As soon as we step in you can tell even the staff on the floor recognise him. No wonder, as Palmeira Square is one of Pauly’s favourite spots to paint. More on that later.
We grab our pints and I tell Pauly how we at The Brighton Seagull are working on a series of interviews with well known Brightonians, figures we recognise on our day to day lives across the city. “You mean nutters,” he says laughing. I let him know we thought he would be the best one to start with. This gives him another chuckle.
Pauly The Painter, a Brighton institution at this point, fascinates those who pass him on the streets of the city; why does he paint in public? Why Brighton? What does he do the rest of the time? Where does he get his great, glittery shoes?
“I’m a semi-retired school teacher. I’ve been a secondary school teacher for over 30 years and I really enjoy it. I love educating, and I’m very passionate about creativity.”
Pauly sees educating and inspiring people as his mission. He says one of the reasons he paints on the streets is education. “Hopefully it’s encouraging people, whether young or old, to be creative. I’m very passionate about the fact that it’s fundamentally good for people, it’s good for their well being, it’s good for their intelligence,” he continues, “and it also allows them the opportunity to connect with their surroundings. I think that sometimes people forget, even myself, how beautiful things around us are.”
I suggest this means he is putting his teaching into practice. He confidently replies with, “absolutely. I now effectively teach seven days a week, 24 hours a day. And I’ve got no qualms about that.”
However, even the teacher needs a break sometimes. “Unlike today, I’ve been working at Hove Deep Sea Anglers. Only for a break, because I’ve been working on several commissions with several more to do. I’ve spent the last two or three weeks standing by a road in different places, painting commissions for people. And yesterday, I just thought, I need to get away. I need some sea.”
As for all of us, COVID-19 changed things for Pauly The Painter. He produced a series of paintings during quarantine, which interestingly ended up showing the stages of the various lockdowns.
“I did a whole collection of pieces in COVID times. I started them off because we weren’t allowed out. The paintings were with no people, they just looked at life and tried to capture the moment of Golden Hour, which is the hour after sunrise or the hour before sunset. I just worked during my favourite hour of the day.”
He ended up with a series of 20 or so paintings. As conditions changed, more people came out into the pictures.
It’s difficult to put into words how passionate Pauly is about his craft, and his community. The day before meeting me he had been painting a commission at the Tea Leaf Café on Portland Road. They had commissioned a gorgeous piece for the owner. The amount of intricate detail throughout the painting is staggering. Little easter eggs everywhere, you would have to spend hours studying it to find them all. From Wallace and Gromit to Tintin, to the London tube map to the recipient’s favourite sports team, to the painting itself inside the painting, it’s a wonder. Even the painter himself is hidden in the piece! This painting will be on the wall at Tea Leaf Café.
As I’m being explained the story of this commission, we get into the subject of learning. He goes on to say, “I think as a creative like me, you never stop learning. I’m always learning as I go. I see great works of art and learn from them. As an educator, I believe that a part of the joy of life is continuing to kind of investigate and learn new things. It’s what makes your life better.”
I am curious about the subject of Pauly’s paintings, the main star you could say, which so clearly is the city of Brighton and Hove. He tells me he is from the area and that painting here is personal to him: "The best way to connect with the environment is to set up in it, and to connect with the people, to appreciate that in person.”
You can tell Pauly really loves Brighton. He says his students recognise him as a local celeb, and it’s flattering, but it’s also good to be recognised as part of a bigger community. “I feel very strongly that the community and what’s around you, the people that surround you, enrich your own life,” he says. “I’m incredibly, incredibly lucky. I know so many people here, and I put them in paintings. I have a lot of fun with them, and they know me for that.”
“You know, I genuinely love the city. We live in a place that was built by the finest craftsmen at a time when we were the wealthiest country in the world, the wealthiest we’ve ever been. So all the buildings, including the church opposite (St John’s Hove) were made by the finest craftsmen from the finest materials. It’s a beautiful thing and I just look at all the buildings around me.”
I ask if the artist has a favourite spot in the city. I’m not surprised by the answer as this is the area I personally spot him the most. “I’ve got to be honest with you, Palmeira Square,” he admits. “Definitely. The thing is, it’s perfect. It’s probably my favourite spot in the city. I love the square. I like the fact that it’s busy but it’s peaceful,” he says, adding that it is also where he likes to take his puppy for a walk. As his other favourite places to paint he mentions the Pavilion Gardens and the sea line in general.
When it comes to inspiration and keeping at his craft, Pauly says he is almost always motivated. “I noticed that there is such a notion as an artistic block, but I’m hyperactive. When I’m creating, because they take about 40 or 50 hours to make, and I do four or five paintings at the same time, I’ve got something that drives me constantly. I never find a shortage of things that I want to capture throughout the year.”
For me the most beautiful thing about what Pauly does is the touch he keeps with the community. He says he often has people approach him (which he loves), even kids accompanied by their parents. He explains:
“I always, always feel enriched. Today I had moments that are just the best. I had two young children approach me and sit there and watch me paint, and I’m talking to them about painting and they just want to learn. I think that a part of what I have to do is, you know, I’m nearly 60 and want to continue that legacy of creativity and make sure that it’s embedded within our city. I’d love to have somebody standing on every street corner with an easel.”
He says that the most privileged thing that happens to him every now and then is when a child comes up to him with their parents, asking to paint with him. Sometimes children bring him drawings they drew of him painting. Pauly himself has a similar experience from when he was a child.
He said: “I’ve got to admit, when I was very, very young, about five or six years old and living in Leicester, I did see street art people painting on the street. It stuck with me. All those years later, I’m doing that now. I like to think that if one person feels confident enough to do that, it just makes everything else worthwhile.”
Interestingly, though Pauly’s work is mostly Brighton-centric, he has painted abroad as well. He recently visited Venice with his family. You can see paintings from his trip on his Instagram page.
As for the shoes… Pauly makes them himself. Of course, as one does.
For more information, photos and commissions, you can find Pauly on Instagram.