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Courtesy of Thompson's Gallery
Courtesy of Thompson's Gallery

British Artist Paul Wright: 15 Years Of Reinventing Portraiture

Picture of Harriet Clugston
Updated: 8 December 2016
It’s been 15 years since British illustrator-turned-oil-painter Paul Wright’s career began. Since then, his striking style — heavily texturised with large, prominent brushstrokes — has led to his emergence as a significant presence on the British fine art scene. 

Perhaps best known for his portraiture, having been featured in the National Gallery’s BP Portrait Awards shortlist twice (most recently in 2014), Wright has been noted for his ability to bring a vibrant, psychological sense of life, even to his still scenes. Wright has described his career as having been a search to develop ‘a painterly language through which I seek to capture a vitality beyond the establishment of a mere ‘likeness’ to the subject. Whilst I appreciate the importance of the subject being recognisable, they are glimpsed rather than exposed, their inner selves hinted at but ultimately inscrutable.’


In Wright’s work, the process is at all times visible. Even when staring into the eyes of the subject of one of his highly intimate portraits— recently he produced a likeness of famed British poet and current Oxford Professor of Poetry Simon Armitage— you never feel quite alone, but you are constantly conscious of the artist’s mediation thanks to his eclectic, idiosyncratic authorial presence. For Wright, playing with the thickness and viscosity of paint as a material is key to his process. He builds up different levels of familiarity on a single canvas until he knows how they will end. Describing this process, he says he ‘would take them to where they were going to be, but then destroy them. The idea was to show new possibilities. They’re a lot more chancy’. 

Wright has gained permanent representation at Thompson’s Gallery in London, with the gallery soon to launch a solo exhibition and corresponding book to celebrate his career so far. Exhibited will be both the artist’s latest paintings and some of his never before seen early work. Below is an extract from the book’s first chapter.