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Exclusive: In Conversation with Paul Oz

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There are very few names in the current F1 world who are so well known but aren’t part of a team etc, one of these is certainly Paul Oz. His works capture iconic moments and legends of motorsport (and beyond) and we were lucky to catch up with him after last week to talk through his career, his experiences and even a few exclusive teasers…

For those that maybe aren’t aware of you, can you please describe yourself in a couple of sentences?

“I’m a portrait artist and sculptor, specialising in F1 but also other sports and subjects that I’m passionate about. Over the last decade I’ve worked with most teams on the grid and with F1 directly, live painting around the world and partnering with galleries and British Embassies in F1 cities. Most well known for creating the life size bronze statue of Ayrton Senna at McLaren Woking.

You’ve noted in the past that your first plan was to go to art college when you were 16 – but your grades didn’t allow as you didn’t “follow the guidelines “. Do you think your style would have been diluted/ changed if you had attended art college?

“Possibly yes, I do think it’s a strength never really having been taught how I should perceive or create. Even now with hindsight I don’t disagree with the advice not to pursue my dream to art college – at the time it was the sensible decision to follow the more academic path towards a ‘proper job’. And indeed I do believe that it’s everything I learnt in business that has enabled my career to get where it has now, especially in F1. It doesn’t matter how good the art is or isn’t without communication, marketing and business management knowledge to get it out there. For sure I wouldn’t be here doing this if I had gone to art college.”

Some of the first paintings you have mentioned you painted were ones for your own apartment of acrylic abstracts, how did you progress from there to the thick oil paintings you create now?

“Even the first acrylic abstracts when I started painting again in 2005 had texture and splats – I went through a phase of using polyfila even under the paint, the texture is always what I loved. The first non abstract I painted was Jenson in the 2006 BAR, celebrating his first win – still a semi abstract, that I had to blur the reference image to force myself not to be tied to the detail too much. Now with 15 years practice I make that conversion in my head, then pick out the detail to include on top. Accurate form but impressionist style is my aim…. if that’s a thing. I only use pallet knives to paint with, no brushes.”

What was the inspiration for your first gallery show and how did the chance come about?

“Rather than inspiration… it was a request from the gallery, but perfect to get my foot in the door. It was a study of local landscapes and architecture around Warwickshire where I lived. And because of that it was really successful, almost sold out! To get my foot in the door initially, I’d previously loaned some superhero paintings to the most popular pub in town, and asked the gallery director to have a look next time he was in there. It has to be a novel approach with galleries unless you’re well known – every gallery has hundreds of artists hassling them to show their work, so the default answer is no, without any consideration. It was three years after this first show that I was made redundant from my software sales role in London, and had to ramp things up with the painting to cover my next months rent.”

The F1 world is notoriously difficult to become part of – how did you get the chance, what was your first taste of it and was it what you expected?

“It’s been a long steady journey in F1… it’s not an arena you can push to break into, too many are trying to do that, so the walls are high. You need to get taken in, not push to get in, if that makes sense. The important thing is to build relationships organically, be professional and to understand the dynamic and politics of the industry. If an F1 team is going to place you front and centre of a sponsor event for example – remembering that they are then entrusting you with the most important stakeholders in their world. The art is a fair way down the list of the most important things to get right in scenarios like that…. but of course, the art has to stand up to scrutiny too.
My first F1 team live painting was back in 2010 for Marussia, who I then worked with regularly for several years, my first Monaco gig was with them too. The first experience was most definitely more than I expected – meeting the drivers straight away and being introduced on stage by Crofty on day one hour one! All of my work with England Rugby has come from this first F1 gig too, as one of the sponsor partner managers from Marussia stepped sideways into rugby and invited me to do the same there.”

You have met and painted so many F1 icons, was there a moment where you had to pinch yourself to where you have got to?

“Regularly, I’m not sure it will ever become normal, and it shouldn’t be. First and foremost, I’m an F1 fan, that’s why I started painting F1 drivers. So to meet and work with your heroes is absolutely ridiculous….it’s tough not to be a fan boy! But staying professional is vital to build relationships. One of the most surreal was the first time I met Jenson; In Mexico city, on stage at the British embassy where they were auctioning an artwork of mine that Jenson had signed…. conducted entirely in Spanish. Neither of us knew what was going on so we just stood there chatting whilst it went on around us.
And more recently, going to a shooting range with Lando and Carlos one evening in Austin. Very privileged to see their competitiveness and banter up close – and see just how sharp Lando is, he picks something new up and instantly excels.”

We know you are a massive Ayrton Senna fan (the paintings and statues you have created so far are stunning). Can you tell us a bit about your ‘love’ for the man and if we can look forward to any further special commemorative works (especially as the 30th anniversary of his passing is coming in a few years)?

“Ayrton is my first memory of F1, aged 10. Probably I just loved the black car and yellow helmet initially – if you think back to the 80’s everything cool on TV was black – A-Team, Airwolf, Knightrider, Cannonball Run, Streetwolf. But something stuck! It’s not just his driving why he was so special – his attitude to life and what he stood for too. You can see it today in Bianca and Bruno for sure – both incredibly kind and positive souls.
I will have to pull something special out of the bag for 2024 yes. To be honest, my plan was for the recently unveiled JPS statue to be for 30 years, but with Covid lockdowns pausing most of the big projects I was on, I just cracked on with it, and then didn’t have the will power to hold it back for that long. I will create a Williams Senna statue at some point, I have the race suit already…. maybe 2024 is too soon though. Lets see. Otherwise – you heard it here first!”

Are there any subjects (F1 and other areas) which you have been desperate to paint, but haven’t had the chance and / or they haven’t been successful?

“Countless ideas yes. It’s incredible to have the amount of work as I have coming in now, and the ideas an opportunities kinda create themselves – like the Monaco Lando portrait from a few weeks ago that McLaren commissioned. But the flip side is that I haven’t had chance to run with some of my biggest ideas, for which I need several months studio time clear to focus on. Celebrating the history of armour around the world is one I really want to do – but I think I’ve been trying to crowbar that in for 3 years already now. Hopefully soon! And a vintage F1 series. There are several huge discussions going on around bronze driver statues too…. if just a couple of them come off it will be mind blowing.”

You are lucky enough to be able to call the MTC ‘home’. How did the opportunity come about with McLaren and do you have any special works coming up with them (including anything due to your visit there today)?

“Simple answer to the end of that question is…. yes! But I can’t say a word more at this point. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a long steady journey – you can’t just contact an F1 team saying ‘hey I want to do xxx’ and expect any sort of reply let alone a favourable one. But if you’re a known name in the field and have made contacts in the right way, anything and everything is possible. Zak Brown also happens to be one of the biggest fans of F1 history I have ever met too – which helps! It’s an absolute honour though for sure to work so closely with one of the most famous teams in F1, with easily the most iconic headquarters. To have just one artwork on show there would have been unfathomable only a few years ago.”

How did you find the past year being confined to the studio and not being able to attend races / events? Where are you looking forward to getting back to?

“Being totally honest… it was the most relaxed I’ve been in a decade. Just working away holed up at home with my wife, no stress of events or travel, and work steadily dropping in. A huge proportion of the usual day to day business evaporated overnight of course, without events. But then my costs also plummeted. I didn’t have the usual shows in F1 Paddock Clubs for example – but none of the costs and time out of the studio associated with that either. The challenge was then recently going 0-100 immediately with Festival of Speed and Silverstone back to back – absolute mayhem. No one really knowing what was going to happen before hand, still a bit rabbit in the headlights all through it, and a big logistical challenge. Absolutely loved it though! After I’d warmed up a bit at least… I’d not had to talk about my work or myself for 18 months, funnily enough the Mrs doesn’t want to hear it! I’m booked for a few end of season F1 weeks…. I’m really not confident I’ll travel though, especially with Mexico being on the red list – usually my biggest week of the year after Silverstone. I really need to get out to the US – so much going on over there, and especially building up to Miami F1 next year, I think that needs to take priority if I’m going anywhere.

You have noted in the recent past, you have something special (which may not be a painting…) connected to Lewis Hamilton’s titles – can you give us any exclusive clues please?

I know what I’d like to do…. but until it’s approved in more but loose principle, I can’t say anything. But watch this space!”

What’s currently on the drawing board?

“I have a backlog of commissions I’m steadily working on, not all F1. My first proper portrait of Queen Victoria being one of them! Another I’m really looking forward to is celebrating Checo’s win earlier this year for a Magazine cover in Mexico. And I have the perfect reference material too. Oh – and we’re currently trying to figure how to 3D capture a live bull – without anyone or the bull getting hurt. Which is an interesting challenge!”

People may not know that you used to race bikes, do you miss that competition? Were you successful?

“Yeah I spent many years doing that – mostly solo time trials but a bit of track racing too. It’s only when I retired from the sport and I suddenly had loads of free time for the first time since school, that I started painting again. I founded my own team too which was really rewarding – in 3 years we won over 100 races and 6 national titles. At my peak I was 13th in the British championships in 2005… but that was never going to pay the bills, and the amount of sacrifice to get there was getting too much. I still train most days now and race occasionally, but not in anger. Loving the MTB more and more these days.”

One thing we have never seen from you is a livery design on an F1 car, is that something you’ve ever thought of turning your hand to?

“Oh definitely. I’d love to get involved one day! I’ve been asked to do a couple of F1 art cars for events… but none that I’ve really wanted to do as they tend to be a bit crap unless given total freedom and have a strong concept. I have a pretty big idea for one but have yet to be given an F1 car to cut up ha!”

Away from the F1 world, what are your plans for the year and beyond and can people come to meet you anywhere?

“I have a series of gallery shows which look like they will happen this winter – Manchester, Solihull, North London and Plymouth. If anyone is interested to know about those please sign up to my newsletter on the contact page of pauloz.com, or ping an email to studio@pauloz.co.uk And hopefully a big new solo show in the spring if I manage to find that studio time.”

Your love for cars is known – what are you currently driving and have you had it wrapped after what happened with a previous Audi…?

“The thing about that Yiannimize car wrapping show on Dave was that I hadn’t taken into account how often it’s repeated, it’s even on some flight entertainment menu’s. Every now and again my social channels go nuts, and it takes a while to figure out that’s the reason! That Audi RS5 was the last car I’ve had wrapped though yes, now that you mention it. Currently on the drive is a remapped Audi RS7 which is an absolute monster, and a Lambo Huracan Evo – drives like a go kart with a screaming rocket up its ass. Both factory spec in orange so I haven’t had to wrap them – Lamborghini even let me design my own tone of paint which is now added to their range, Arancio Poz is officially a thing! I think I’ve now got the orange thing out of my system…. maybe.”

Your style is very unique, full of depth and texture. It creates stunning works, but has there been anyone who you have painted who has said it didnt look like them?

“Only once – Martin Johnson! I painted him for a Rugby World Cup event in London and met him just before we went on stage together to unveil – he hated it. And he’s a big lad to have grumpy! I think it must be quite bemusing to have someone live paint you at an event, I think would be the usual over riding thought from the other side. Chris Hoy was a little taken aback if I remember. Johnny Wilkinson, Brian O’Drisscoll and Bruno Mars all loved theirs. Jenson, Bradley Wiggins and Theo Paphitis all actually bought their own portraits. But yes any strong style will have a negative reaction from some, not everyone will like the same thing, or I wouldn’t be doing it right.”

Does anyone inspire you and do you ever hear of anyone who you have inspired?

“I wish I had more time to get to more shows that’s for sure…. it’s rare that I’m in a gallery these days unless it’s my own show, which isn’t really the point! Artists I really admire are those doing something to stand out from the crowd, and blurring the boundaries between 2D, 3D and sculptural – David Mach and Joe Black especially. Mark Evans leather carvings are incredible too, I’ve been after one of those for ages. I love artwork where I really can’t fathom how they’ve created it – if I can figure it out there’s no mystique for me. Banksy from a brand and marketing perspective is a genius. I regularly get emailed and tagged on socials by students who have studied me for coursework, which is awesome! If not a little difficult to get my head around. I mean – I only got a C at GCSE, so don’t do what I did!”

Thank you so much for your time Paul and you are welcome to connect with us anytime.

 

All images courtesy of Paul Oz

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