One-On-One With NY-Based Mixed Media Artist Paul Gerben

Describe your art to me in your own words.

I am a contemporary mixed media artist, sculptor, photographer and designer. My art combines several visual disciplines that are part of my background, including painting, graphic design, photography and illustration, into one organic style. I never plan what I am going to create, but I record anything I see that visually catches my eye or inspires me and use it in my work. My pieces are shaped through nature and time.

What inspired you to become an artist and from where do you draw inspiration?

I come from family of artists, painters, sculptors and interior designers who inspired me to follow my creative side. Lucky for me, my mother encouraged me to go to art college and pursue a creative career, whereas most of my friends’ parents wanted their kids to be lawyers and doctors for financial stability. I draw inspiration from everything I see, touch and feel. Walking through the [New York] City streets or walking on a beach…I always see texture, color and light, while ideas constantly flow through me. It may be a flattened soda can or a box of cigarettes that was stepped on 50 times, or a series of roots from a sideways-turned tree—anything can inspire a new creation. For me, it’s a never-ending organic process where it is as if I’m just a passenger for the ride. In my freshman year I had a teacher who really taught me to notice all the hidden beauty in things that most people don’t ever see. I remember he made us pick up an object off the ground on the way to class one day. He told us to pick three colors and shapes that we saw in the object. I had brought a small rock I found and when I saw how many different designs and shapes came from my classmates’ random objects, I realized anything can inspire something new if you just look hard enough.

How do you choose the subjects you feature in your pieces?

That depends what the subject matter is. For instance, I’ve been developing a pop art series where I am trying to use subject matter that is timeless, real and generally, figures for whom I have a personal fondness. From fashion icons like Karl Lagerfeld to the Beatles—whose music I grew up on—I try to think about the icons in my own generation as well.

What are some of your favorite pieces you have created and why?

I think it’s a mixture of my favorite one-to-two pieces from each series I have created. It’s a combination of the compositions, colors, subject matter and finish. I would therefore say my Butterfly; “Circle of Love” sculptures; Abstract and Surreal series; and my Karl Lagerfeld and Bruce Lee portraits.

How (if at all) has social media had an impact on you as an artist?

Social media had been incredible for my career because much like the music industry where a record label is no longer needed in order to be successful, I believe artists and sculptors don’t need gallery representation to be successful or to dictate either value or prices in today’s art marketplace. It’s evolving and changing so quickly, which I think makes it an incredible time for artists, designers, and creatives in general.

What is it that you hope people can see or feel through your art?

I want to make art that people fall in love with every time they look at it; something so visually pleasurable that people gravitate towards it, not just because it is physically beautiful, but also because the viewer or collector has a personal connection with the subject matter.

Why did you decide to move into making jewelry as well?

I actually just made jewelry originally to gift all of my “Circle of Love” collectors who purchased one of my sculptures. I posted the sample online just out of excitement and had such a positive response, I expanded into an entire jewelry line. I have several celebrities wearing them and Bloomingdales also just picked up the line last month.

Please explain your creative process to me.

I have so many processes, it is hard to define. I create new pieces daily and organically by constant experimentation. I will often create 30-to-80 versions of the almost same piece, each slightly different, using everything available to me as an artist—from brushes and chalk to computer software and apps, pencils, bleach, wax, collage, photography, metallic inks and more. I just keep making things until I myself fall in love with a piece…and that’s when I know when it is finished: when it just feels right to me.

Who are some of your favourite artists and why?

I love such a variety of artists, from M. C. Escher for his steady pencil and conceptual images, to ‘80s playboy artist Patrick Nagel for his taste in subtle colors, Shepard Fairey for his simple graphic style and palette to New York Times cartoonist Al Hirschfeld for his simplicity. I also love Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons for their conceptual ideas, boldness and courage, as well as Peter Beard for the organic, raw beauty he finds in nature.

What can we look forward to, in terms of your upcoming artworks/projects?

I am currently still creating and photographing subjects for my soon-to-be-published coffee table book of my portrait work that I’ve been working on for two years, which will include portraits of performers, actors and creatives. It will also have pieces I made from my original photography turned into modern pop works of art including figures like Robert DeNiro, Lionel Richie, Barack Obama, Gerard Butler, Naomi Campbell, Tommy Hilfiger, Sir Elton John and Tom Petty among other figures, like writers, chefs, producers and other creatives that continue to inspire me.

All images courtesy of Paul Gerben.

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