Paul Romano: West Derby-born abstract artist discusses his new exhibition
A mainstay of Liverpool’s thriving art scene, West Derby-born abstract painter Paul Romano has seen his unique creations find their way into the hands of private collectors as far afield as New York and the Far East.
As a new retrospective spanning almost 20 years of his work gets underway at Huyton Gallery, Your Move sat down with Paul to find out what inspires him to paint and how his home city has impacted on his craft.
Interview by Lawrence Saunders
How did you first become interested in art and painting?
Ever since I was a child I’ve been interested in drawing. My father was an artist as well, although he worked in a more traditional style than myself. He was also a good writer and had many books on the Renaissance which I used to copy out of and learnt a lot from.
When my dad left the army he worked on the boats and I think that connected with me. In some cultures the idea of the boat journey is a spiritual thing but with me it’s all about the journey – the adventure where you discover something new.
I also used to read lots of adventure books when I was young and plenty about ancient civilisations like the Egyptians and the Romans. There’s something magical about ancient cultures for me so I try and put it into my work and if people pick up on it then that’s great.
Has being from Liverpool and having your studio in the city centre had an impact on your work?
I think it has – it’s a creative thing with Liverpool. I’m a great fan of The Beatles and they’ve undoubtedly had an impact on my work.
Although my work is quite abstract, when people look at many of my pieces they see architecture and boats – which is obviously linked to Liverpool’s history as a sea port.
People have also said they can see some of Liverpool’s more famous buildings like the Liver Building. I don’t really do this on purpose though.
I soak in ideas as I walk around the city. I go to exhibitions, galleries and Albert Dock a lot. These things just soak into my mind and then come out in my work.
Your approach to painting has been described as very organic and many of your canvases have been worked over repeatedly and redeveloped. Is there ever a fear you’ll never be satisfied with a piece?
Before I start a piece I always have an idea about how I want it to look but often people tell me they like the way a painting looks and not to develop it any further.
Things like that stay in your mind but certain pictures don’t have to be changed. I often leave my work in the studio then come back a week later and I’ll see something else that works and then I’ll leave it.
Even as I look at my work here in the gallery today, I can see different things which I’ve never noticed before – faces, places, buildings. The picture changes all the time.
But it’s like that when I’m working on them as well – it’s like a never ending story, it keeps on evolving. It’s a good thing, I like it. Seeing different things in my paintings today might feed my next work when I go back into the studio.
What’s the story with the name of your new exhibition, ‘The Beginning of a Great Adventure’?
The idea behind it is the process of making a painting, but the actual title is taken from a track on Lou Reed’s ‘New York’ album.
I like the song but I like the title as well, it means something creative to me. It’s the way I look at doing a painting – the beginning of creating something new and something magical.
“Although my work is quite abstract, when people look at many of my pieces they see architecture and boats – which is obviously linked to Liverpool’s history as a sea port… I soak in ideas as I walk around the city.”
Your work has made it into private collections around the world, and on the first night of a recent exhibition in Liverpool your paintings almost sold out. Do these moments make you feel proud?
It’s good in one sense because it makes you feel like the paintings are valid. It’s not about the commercial aspect for me, but that is a great asset.
When all those paintings sold so fast I was amazed. I’m happy that anyone likes my work and it keeps me going in a sense. But when people actually buy them it puts you on a different level.
At the end of the day I just do what I want to do and if people like them and want to buy them then that’s a bonus.
If you look through the history of art and look at why artists did what they did, a lot of them weren’t in it for the money but because they just had to do it.
With someone like Picasso, who is one of my heroes, if you look at his early period he could have been a very successful graphic designer but he knew he had to follow his own path.
That’s just what I’m doing. Luckily I’ve sold some paintings and that’s helped me to develop the next ones.
Alongside Picasso, you’ve cited graffiti art as one of your big inspirations. What is it about this particular style which appeals to you? Is someone like Banksy an inspiration?
Up to a point – I like Banksy and the mystery behind him, but I find a lot of his work too graphic and full on for me. The type of art I prefer is the stuff by Jean-Michel Basquiat which has got a real rawness. Basquiat was influenced by another artist I admire, Cy Twombly.
I also get a lot of my inspiration and ideas from the environment around my studio on Duke Street. There’s actually a painting in this exhibition called ‘The Poster Board’ which I got the idea for during a walk home from the studio one night.
It had been raining and some posters on the wall had soaked into one and other and I noticed one of the images had a woman’s face on it – it just worked, it was great.