A dash of inspiration

©Paul Dash©Paul Dash

Carole Edrich talks to local resident Paul Dash – artist, educator and writer – about his school days in Oxford and his regular trips back to Barbados.

I don't remember which coffee shop I first met Paul and Jean (his wife) in – the area around Wanstead, Leytonstone and South Woodford has so many and they're all very good. The second time we met, however, was in Le Petit Corner in Leytonstone. He's holding an exhibition there this month, so I arranged to visit him at his studios to discover more.

Paul has had work exhibited at the Royal Academy and smiles as he tells me what a staggering, wonderful experience he had at the Private View. In 1998 the sale of one large painting was enough to take the whole family to Barbados, his country of birth.

His work is gorgeous, lots of detail and the colours – mostly subtle but sometimes strident – have a kind of gentle joy to them that works well with the various messages given through the content. "I don't make sketches, I like accidents," he explains. He works from photos or pictures, moving the figures in his work around and planning as he works, which, he says, he has done since a small child. Paul says he often works hard on a piece and then leaves it to gestate.

He and his wife have lived right on the border of Wanstead and Leytonstone for the last 30 years, but he first came to the country aged 11. He laughs when I ask him about his childhood. He explains: "I was bundled into a Dickensian secondary modern school in Oxford. Coming from the Barbadian educational system – they have the highest literacy in the world, you know – where I was learning Spanish at primary school to this place, which a teacher told me was a dumping ground and where they took one look at me and dumped me in the bottom stream... Then, through my work, seeing kids of today exposed to a proper education of the type I dreamed of as a child and being part of the process of that education. It's good, and yes, you've got to laugh."

Further conversation reveals he never told his father how bad it was, and that despite this environment, he excelled at many subjects. But he still feels he has gaps in his education as a result of his treatment at school. I'm not sure how much of this is subjective as he has clearly done very well. Before retiring to concentrate on his art he was a lecturer in educational studies at Goldsmiths for 20 years, worked at OFSTED, wrote a book in his spare time, brought up his family and did very much more besides.

He says his studio is often a mess, but I can't quite believe it looking around this warm, incredibly tidy and ordered room. As with all his art – which deals with impressions and details rather than photorealistic interpretation – the embryonic work on his easel comprises aesthetically arranged people, their clothes, movements, colours, intensity and intent already clear, even though the work is nowhere near done. He tells me that he got excited by the idea of the carnival band in operation. He and Jean go to Barbados regularly and got hold of one of the images that have inspired the series while they were last there.

Another series draws me closer. Soft colour washes with line details appear from a distance to be pleasant pastel scenes. Get closer and you realise they are people crammed so tightly into boats that they can barely move. Faces, feelings and impressions change as you realise the true nature of the theme. I think it's fantastic, but don't rely on me. Go visit his exhibition and decide for yourself.

Paul's work will be on display at Le Petit Corner, 734 High Road Leytonstone, throughout February. For more information, visit wavidi.co/pauldash


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