Interviews with Artists

Paul Chisholm

Interview by Frank Schrijver


Published in April 2023


"Fusing irony with allegory, Paul Chisholm creates works layered with allusions to his personal history and emotional state, subtly criticising social and political circumstances. Utilising his own experience as a springboard, he has built a distinctive visual language, imbued with poetic nuances of the often contradictory and disconcerting feelings related to the human condition.”

Ana Bambic Kostov, Art Historian, 2018


What are you working on now?

It’s been a busy few months in the studio as I received artist grants from The Oppenheim John Downes Memorial Trust and from Visual Aids in New York this has enabled me to create a large body of new paintings.

I’m preparing for a solo show at The Brewery Tap Project Space in Folkestone, Kent which is run by The University of Creative Arts. This year I turn 40 and that’s 24 years of professional practice so it’s kind of a turning point for me now. A time for reflection, presentation and moving my practice forwards. I will be showing recent paintings created since lockdown and my iconic work ‘Mc Whimsical’. I’m very much looking forward to this show as I was born in Canterbury but grew up in the Midlands.

A lost Child, householdpaint on MDF, 122 X 88 CM,2023

You say about presenting your iconic installation ‘Mc Whimsical’ at your upcoming show at The Brewery Tap Project Space in Folkestone. Can you tell me more about the work and how it came about?

I was doing a residency at Metafora Arts in Barcelona in 2010, Living and working in Barcelona was a minefield of inspiration and productivity. One day I came across a toy in a toy shop whilst eating my McDonald’s burger. I instantly saw the connection and married the burger with the toy. I exhibited this work several times in Barcelona and once as a guerrilla performance at Arco Madrid. The work went silent for many years until I found the joys of Ali Baba whereby I was able to exhibit the work at Hoxton 253 Gallery in London where I was able to install the work with 101 of the creatures! Below is a press release from the 2019 presentation of the work.

101 Automated machines, McDonalds burger bags, batteries, staples, 2011-present Contemporary British Artist Paul Chisholm hosts a one-day performance of “Mc Whimsical”

Mc Whimsical, Hoxton 253 Gallery, 2019. Image credit Mirko Boffeli

Comprising 101 automated McDonalds Burger bags, the gallery becomes a circus for new ideas about how, what, when and where we consume. McDonalds is not singled out here, however the company stands in place for the ohhh-most recognisable tour de force in global capitalisation. In fact there is a term for this, the McEconomy, coined by The Economist magazine. The cost of a Big Mac showing each country's economic and consumerist power by the cost of a Big Mac!

The work goes deeper and asks us to question our relationship with food, agriculture, the environment, meat eating and the homogenisation of consumption and capitalist ideals.

Fast food, fast lives, fast living and the hunger of the World’s most poor people. It's only 99p,  that’s equivalent to the daily working wage of over 30% of the world's working poor.

This isn’t just another piece of performance art but a spectacle of a 21st century post-apocalyptic landscape painting.

What inspires you to create?

I think it’s an internal need to express my anger, my emotion, my political stance and my wonder at the world. Also there is something innately beautiful about creating a unique painting because I was diagnosed with HIV at a young age (27) and my art career and motivation took a huge hit until I turned it around and realised I could live immortally via my paintings, something which Visual Aids in New York had a huge role in turning my art practice around too. My first exhibition with them in 2012 came out of the blue and I was invited to display my work ‘Fuck me I have Love & HIV’ This show, alongside other great luminaries such as Felix Gonzalez Torres, David Wojanwicz and Yoko Ono, really gave me the confidence to carry on practising as an artist. Visual aids was the arts charity which invented the Red Ribbon project. I have gone on to be funded by their generous yearly arts grants and to exhibit with them in New York several times.

The Tronies of Croydon-oh, Turf Projects, London,  2022

What does a usual studio day look like to you?

Studio days are like magic whilst juggling work/life balance other commitments, the dogs and the boyfriend! However a studio day for me is a perfect starting point to my day (especially now I have a large studio in the centre of Bletchingley, just 30 minutes outside of central London by train) In the studio I have complete silence but also due to being diagnosed with Schizophrenia in 2020, I often hear voices in the music or metaphors that aren’t there but because it becomes so disconcerting at any time. I prefer silence in the studio to let my mind focus on the work. I now see the Schizophrenia as a magical gift rather than a hindrance. Many famous artists share this lived experience such as Agnes Martin, Yayoi Kasuma and Edvard Munch to name a few. But each artist is unique in their vision and production and personal and social political times in which they live/d. This and the innate impulse as Art as a form of survival is what draws me to continue to create in my studio.

I tend to work on five to ten paintings at a time. I work in Household paint which I now get from the Recycling centre this has a threefold effect. Firstly it means the paints I use are environmentally friendly (people were going to throw them in landfill anyway) Secondly the recycling centre support McMillian so the donations I give help the charity and thirdly because so much of my practice relies on Artist grants at the moment it means my grant funds can go so much further especially as I mostly create highly layered paintings.

The Tronies of Croydon-oh, Turf Projects, London,  2022

Whats next for your practice and future goals?

Next I have a solo show at the Art Fund Prize Gallery at the Lightbox Museum in Woking, Surrey in November 2023. This will be my first museum exhibition.  I’m also donating a work to the Horacio’s Garden Auction with Wallace & Wallace and early next year I will be having a solo show at The Bermondsey Project Space, London.

Love, Fuck, Chelsea College of Arts, London,  2022

Any advice for emerging Artists?

Yes keep going not matter what your circumstances, not matter what you do as a day job or sidekick keep creating, keeping pushing your practice forwards. Exhibiting is not the be all and end all of your artistic practice ( they call it a practice for a reason there is no finished goal just a continuation of creation, research and development which all artists must go through) Do be wary of scams or as I like to say ‘Pay for Play’ These are what seems like great opportunities but actually the organisers are just scamming you and the opportunity isn’t all its set out to be having said that Artists can also be left at the short end of the stick where even prestigious opportunities come at an upfront cost. Choose wisely, network and perhaps use this website if you are unsure Hows My dealing 2.0 set up by Brainard Carey. https://howsmydealing.com/. Also a great way of checking out opportunities is to ask previous Artists about their experience, I was once saved a lot of money time and heartache by asking Sarah Maple about a notorious gallery in Notting Hill.

Many thanks for your time Paul and I look forward to seeing what you do next.

Jack&Jill and portrait of the artist at Christies, London, 2022. Image credit James Basire


︎ @artistchisholm
︎ @mrpauldavidchisholmstudio


If you like this why not read our interview with Andrew North.


© YAC | Young Artists in Conversation ALL RIGHTS RESERVED