Artist Profile: Paul Summerfield

WORDS Emma Macdonald
PHOTOS Andrew Sikorski

Some artists use paint and pigments to express their vision to the world. Canberra digital artist can—and often do—head Paul Summerfield employs a PC and pixels.

When it comes to artistic output, Paul Summerfield is both prodigious and diverse. From album covers, to murals for Lonsdale Street Roasters and Canberra Hospital, to portraits, a residency with the National Folk Festival, and even a colouring book, his creative impulses can—and often do—head in many directions.

But his one constant is a desktop PC.

Where other artists employ a colour palette and paintbrushes, Paul needs a powerpoint and software like Photoshop or Illustrator to create his particular aesthetic, which can come to him in a subconscious moment or take thousands of hours of deliberate movement, overlay, erasures and pixel adjustments.

Paul is the newest artist to join the Ginninderry Art Trail (GXAT), where his distinctive rich, dreamy, and sometimes comical landscapes feature alongside other local artworks on show at the Ginninderry Display Village.

Paul grew up in Coffs Harbour and studied Fine Arts at TAFE before moving to Canberra in 2003 and completing a course in 3D Animation at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment.

“As a kid growing up in the ’80s, our first family computer was an Apple Macintosh Plus featuring an impressive 8 MHz 68000 processor, 1 MB of RAM, 800k disk drive, 9″ monochrome display and all the freedom of the world at my fingertips,” he recalls with a laugh.

He soon began to coalesce his fine arts aptitude with a burgeoning fascination with technology. While Paul often resorts to lead pencil and a sketch pad, he translates his art into the digital realm.

“Working digitally can give you certain freedoms over traditional media forms—being able to erase elements of a work in a blink of an eye, shaping things to perfection—which brings me to something I actively think about while creating digital artworks, not being too perfect. Approaching a work as if it’s a painting or drawing, not being too fussed with the level of perfection you can conceivably reach if you had all the time in the world, and being able to follow mistakes and evolve them into new ideas is something to treasure, I think.

Osiris and the Thoughtful
Garden of Quetzalcoatl
Archival digital print on fine art paper
Size: 40cm x 80cm

Night Falling
Archival digital print on fine art paper
Work: 100cm X 100 cm

“Being able to work with layers is one of the interesting advantages digital artists have, and I often use as many layers as I like—sometimes hundreds of them and sometimes just a handful. When a picture is finished and printed, the amount of layers is just a trivial fact about the process. Generally, while creating a work, the composition of how everything fits together is in my subconscious thoughts.

“Which leads me onto the subject of the subconscious mind. Sometimes decisions are made while creating a work that are very decisive and thought about, while other times they just sort of happen from decisions made by the subconscious mind on the fly.”

Paul, who was commissioned to be the National Folk Festival’s resident artist in 2017 for a four-year term, is rarely without the stereo blaring from his small studio at Gorman House.

“A huge inspiration for my work is music in all its glorious genres. I’ll listen to anything that makes me feel something. From death metal to ocean soundscapes and back to posthardcore, then to psytrance and then some folk music. I guess, listening to music can really take your imagination to places far away.”

But Paul said his inclusion in the GXAT was a welcome introduction to new audiences and a rare privilege for an artist.“Being a part of the GX Art Trail has seen some good exposure for my work to new audiences which I may have not received in other ways. I like the way the project features artworks by local artists in a display home environment. I think it gives the viewers a real sense of what it would be like to live with one of the artworks in their own space or home.”

To view Paul’s work, you can go or visit the Ginninderry Display Village open 10am–4pm, Friday to Sunday.

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