Paul Oz is half painter and half so­cial me­dia im­pre­sario. Schön! meets the man turn­ing the art world up­side down.

Schon! - - This Business Of Art - Words / Lucinda Bee­man Spe­cial Thanks to the team of Im­i­tate Mod­ern - Lon­don Art Gallery.

When it comes to Paul Oz, you can for­get any day­dreams of the reclu­sive artist; he sim­ply doesn’t fit the bill. As likely to com­plete a paint­ing on the back of a yacht in Monte Carlo as in his stu­dio, Oz is hard to dis­miss.

It be­gins with his work. Large in scale and cre­ated al­most ex­clu­sively with a pal­let knife, his paint­ings are full of bold colours and in­cred­i­ble tex­ture. His style is dis­tinc­tive; his fo­cus is on por­trai­ture and he taught him­self how to do it all. Art school doesn’t fig­ure in Oz’s artis­tic jour­ney.

“As a six­teen-year-old, I was per­suaded that I would never make any money as an artist,” he says now. “I was told that I was prob­a­bly bet­ter at maths and physics any­way. I got a C in GCSE art and A’s for some of the sciences, so that’s where I fo­cused. In hind­sight. it was prob­a­bly the best thing to do.”

Rather than art, Oz stud­ied busi­ness, but he was an avid For­mula One fan, and that in­ter­est – so far from the art world to the out­side eye, but in fact so en­twined with it – would be­come his way in. Oz got his start paint­ing For­mula One stars and con­nect­ing with other fans (and po­ten­tial buy­ers) over so­cial me­dia. Be­fore long, he found him­self at­tend­ing the lav­ish par­ties where his sub­jects spent their time.

“A lot of the big­gest PR flags I’ve had are off my own back, be­ing proac­tive on Twit­ter and open­ing doors in the For­mula One world,” he ex­plains. “It’s not that prof­itable – I’ve spent an ab­so­lute for­tune fol­low­ing them around the world – but you don’t have to be a fan to un­der­stand what live paint­ing on the back of a yacht in Monte Carlo means. To get your name on the ta­ble would have cost thou­sands, and I’m there live paint­ing at the back just be­cause I’ve do­nated my time. It’s quite bizarre. Some of the peo­ple you meet… it’s just crazy.”

Live paint­ing in it­self is a strange phe­nom­e­non. It’s just what it sounds like: Oz vol­un­teers his time to paint a por­trait in the mid­dle of a soirée, of­fer­ing him­self as some­thing of a party trick. At the end of the evening, his work is auc­tioned off and the pro­ceeds go to char­ity. It’s a ge­nius way to get his name out there, but it does make his re­la­tion­ship with gal­leries – big play­ers in the ca­reers of most artists – far from con­ven­tional.

Nor­mally gal­leries of­fer up-and-com­ing artists their con­nec­tions and re­sources in the up­hill battle that is find­ing a re­li­able pool of buy­ers. But Oz doesn’t need a gallery to sell his work, in the same way he didn’t need art school to break into the art world. Oz does have re­la­tion­ships with gal­leries – he holds his meet­ings at Im­i­tate Mod­ern gallery in a swish West Lon­don neigh­bour­hood – but doesn’t re­quire their whole range of ser­vices. There­fore, he says, the re­la­tion­ship can be a tightrope.

“I do most of my own mar­ket­ing, which tra­di­tion­ally would be a gallery role, which does make the re­la­tion­ship in­ter­est­ing. It takes a cer­tain type of gallery – busi­ness part­ner, ef­fec­tively – to cope with it. There has to be lot of trust in­volved. I could ex­ist on my own, but be­ing with­out any gal­leries be­hind me wouldn’t be the right way to get up and run­ning.”

While some of his big­gest suc­cesses have had ties to For­mula One, Oz is slowly try­ing to move away from por­tray­ing the stars of the sport. A re­cent se­ries, and the sub­ject of a re­cent solo show, fo­cuses on the wildlife that lives at the Bris­tol Zoo. A mas­sive paint­ing of an ele­phant hangs be­hind the desk at Im­i­tate Mod­ern. Its thick swathes of grey on grey are clas­sic Paul Oz in all but the sub­ject mat­ter.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent set of chal­lenges,” says Oz, ges­tur­ing to his work. “Get­ting an ele­phant on a grey back­ground to be in­ter­est­ing is a dif­fer­ent set of chal­lenges than paint­ing some­one ac­cu­rately. I can re­lax. I can get an ele­phant 30 per­cent wrong and it’s still an ele­phant, whereas with a por­trait if you get two per­cent wrong, it’s some­one else en­tirely.”

Oz takes com­mis­sions, some of which ex­cite his artis­tic mind and some of which cer­tainly do not, but he’s not one to wait around for in­spi­ra­tion to hit, es­pe­cially since he could eas­ily spend two days do­ing noth­ing but re­ply­ing to emails. “I feel quite strongly about this,” he says. “I’m sure there are artists who have a suc­cess­ful ca­reer like that, but in my view if you wait un­til you’re mo­ti­vated and paint what you want to paint, you won’t have a ca­reer. It’s bet­ter to have a head for busi­ness. If you have a ca­reer, you’re able to in­vest in your art. You’re able to cre­ate.”

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