Published on December 8th, 2015 | by Alastair Gilmour


Awash with talent

An artist who fills his work with personality is a real find. Alastair Gilmour shares a pint full of anecdotes with Paul Goldsmith.

Newcastle’s rich architectural heritage is well documented but it often takes someone else’s vision to appreciate what we invariably scurry past. Great fortified structures can often be taken for granted, as are historic houses, sturdy columns, graceful bridges and Victorian arcades.

Pubs too have earned their right to be examined more closely – those balustrades, that cornice and this roofline add up to much more than a simple drinking house. We see them every day but there are personal stories wrapped up every one of them – and that’s one reason that watercolour artist Paul Goldsmith has been painting Newcastle’s buildings for the last 16 years.

Cheers56GoldsmithNewBridgeGateshead-born Paul has long been intrigued by the tales passers-by tell him about a scene he is laying out on paper in front of them. And it’s these comments from strangers told through their great memories and bad experiences that have given his work a different perspective and depth.

So, for two years he’s been working towards producing a new set of paintings for a book, Visions Of Newcastle, which aren’t just representations of fine architecture but are animated with wit, personality and character.

“People always commented about my work, saying I should do a book,” says Paul, putting a few finishing strokes to his version of the stained glass windows at the Crown Posada. “So with some Arts Council funding which went towards paper and paints – it all helps – I got started. I thought Newcastle deserved it; we have so many beautiful buildings and I wanted to document them.”

Paul is never short of anecdotes about every image in his magnificent book and he appears to revel in the reactions of observers as much as he enjoys the creative process of portraying the likes of the Theatre Royal, The Beehive, Laing Art Gallery and Bridge Hotel. Sitting on his fold-up stool in the street with a small drawing board on his knee gave him a unique insight into human behaviour. There were people who loved what he was doing and told him so, while some would tell him it was about time he got a proper job. Others would approach him with coffee, milk and sugar.

“One guy came back and gave me a bottle of cognac,” he says. “Fantastic. Beggars would come and sit beside me because I was attracting attention. I didn’t mind that at all.

“They would say, ‘I wish I had the opportunity to do that’. I’d tell them, go to Poundland, pick up a pad of paper and a pack of pencils and have a go – and they’ve come back saying ‘it’s the best thing I’ve ever done’. I tell them to keep it up.

“One said ‘thank you very, very much; I’m homeless and it distracts from the emptiness of it all’.”

Paul got his first set of watercolours when he was 11 years old – and sold his first painting then, too. He got 11/6 for it and promptly gave it to his mother (“It was a bit tight then”). He kept sixpence back though and took his girlfriend to the pictures.

It wasn’t all rosy, however. He says: “I was dyslexic and couldn’t read and write, but that wasn’t diagnosed until I was 19. I was classed as ‘educationally subnormal’. I went on to get three A-levels and a BA Hons degree. I’ve been teaching for 27 years – including special needs groups – through that. I tell them if I can do it, you can do it.”

Paul makes his own watercolours, grinding raw pigment and mixing it with gum arabic and teaches the art of craft. He is adamant that anybody can draw and paint. Give them the tools to make marks on paper and they’ll discover what’s inside them.

“Doing this I’ve learned so much about Newcastle,” he says. One day he might get a proper job.

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Alastair Gilmour

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