Pacey: Doing It My Way

An interview with Prague-based Canadian artist Paul Pacey

Impressionist photography – sharp green nature, city landscapes and swan shapes loose on a canvas. Paul Pacey, a Canadian-born artist established in Prague, uses his camera to give emotions a new dimension. In an attempt to discover himself Pacey closed his ears to the world noise and focused on what was relevant: going beyond the limits of the eye perception. His pictures, impressed on top-class canvas by ArtImaging, a new art reproduction studio using the Giclée technique, remind the works of classical impressionist masters. Only that behind is now a camera – and a lot of sensibility and awareness.   

Paul, how did you start with impressionist photography?

When I look back to where it all started - those early years before I was formed - I devoured the masters, the people that shaped the original blueprint in my brain. For those first few years I tried to inhale as much photography as I could as quickly as possible. Once I started to find my own voice, in a way I stopped paying attention to what other people were doing. This was partly because I had already found in my head what my influences were, and also because I didn't want to be influenced by what other people were doing anymore. I didn’t want to see something and say “Wow that’s really amazing, I want to do something like that!” In fact, by not paying attention to what people were doing, it kept my work pure because it didn’t come from anyone else but from within myself.

When you look back now, was this a good approach?

I think that if I would have paid attention trying to see who's on top and trying to emulate that, I wouldn’t have created the work that I have now. You know, the stuff I have now was often in defiance of the rules as I understood them at a certain point. It drives me crazy when I go to openings and stuff and people drop names like bombs. Maybe I should pay more attention to the art world, you know, who’s on top, and who’s hot and all that stuff.  But I think that if you really pay attention to who is on top, by the time you have maybe taken a page of their book, they’re not on top anymore. And I think that if you try to play that game you will be always one step behind.

What is your current approach towards inspiration from other fellow artists?

My approach is that I don’t care what anybody is doing. This is how I like to do it, and I'm not so naïve to think that nobody else is doing that. I know for sure there are people out there doing [photography] like I do it, and I can only hope our work will become an established genre one day.

Have you felt any change on the Czech art market over the last five years?

It's funny that I have to resort to this answer, but the real thing is that five or six years ago I wasn't making any of this. I was really focused on not only commercial work but quite corporate work. At that time, my business model was really PR-driven, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the stuff that I'm creating today. So to ask me how people would have responded five years ago to the same work: I don’t know because that work didn’t exist then.

When did you actually start focusing more on art and less on business photography?

My current work only started to develop in 2008. By 2010, which was only last year, I had my first exhibition. It’s not like I have a long period of history to look back and say: this is how it was then and this is how it is now, because it is such a small amount of time. So that's a better question for me five years from now.

Can Czech photographers make a living from art photography?

I can't say that anybody sells out of the photographers I know. I mean, there's a lot of co-working photographer guys paying the bills with the cam. But in terms of art sale I really can't say how many photographers make a living this way. I will say - and this is more second hand knowledge more than anything - that the people that I know in the art world, even if they’re located in Czech Republic, must simply think beyond the Czech market in terms of doing business. The Czech market, in my opinion, is simply not big enough.

What are the main challenges for such artists?

They are smart enough to know that building a reputation doesn’t happen overnight. You have to be present at all art fairs, you have to be and exhibit in Amsterdam and London and all the rest of it. I think that artists realize that relying on the so-called Czech market… I don’t want to call it a dead end, but certainly any artist who really wants to take his art to next level has to think beyond the Czech market.

What are your personal main challenges?

First, when you make that transition from the business into the art world, it's a different game, a different sport, a different circle even though you’re using the same tools. I think trying to break into any new circle has the same obstacles. For example, when you walk into one of the top galleries and you show them your portfolio, they say: 'Wow, I love it! But where did you study? What grants have you won? What awards do you have?’

So what you’re trying to say is that one of the main barriers is an artist’s education?

You need a certain foundation to gain credibility. I have to say it's frustrating. There is still this mentality that unless you come from New York or London, then you’re marginalized in the art world. I spoke to artists who I really thought would stand against this idea, but they all seem to agree with it. So that's the first thing: you can be a big fish in Prague but it’s still a small pond. Yet, even beyond that, the fact that I didn’t go to school for this, I didn’t apprentice under anybody, I haven't been active in the past 10 years building my exhibition résumé, then when you start walking off the street with nothing but your portfolio and good intentions you are already negative because you don't have that history. This is another barrier for sure.

How do you promote your art?

Of course publicity is a huge thing when you're a one-man show doing everything from creating a work to hanging it and everything in-between. I would say that at this moment the amount of work that goes into producing a show or producing a print is similar to the amount of effort that goes into promoting it. When you’re a one-man show it's really hard to let the world know that you exist beyond your own circles. Back to barriers, I would say that the last external obstacle is really the financial. To produce a good show is not cheap. When you put something in a cheap frame it is like going to a gala dinner wearing cheap shoes and a cheap tie. You just can’t do it. If you do it you need to do it right, and to do it right costs a lot of money. And at this moment, this may be one of the biggest obstacles of all.

You speak about your desire to deliver top quality. You also print your pictures at ArtImaging, a new art reproduction studio focused on using the Giclée technique to create premium prints. Why did you choose ArtImaging?

I work with ArtImaging because it is truly filling a big void in this regard in Prague. So far they have really exceeded my expectations. Such [premium picture imprint] services here were very difficult to find - I think the closest source I could find was in Poland. ArtImaging is really trying to do it well and so far it is the cleanest, coolest look you can get that is being done here in the Czech Republic.

Where do you plan to take your art in 2012?

When it comes to producing work, internal obstacles have more to do with time and inspiration. My resolution for 2012 is that I don’t want to do commercial work anymore. I only want to make art. Yet, at the end of the month, when the rent is due, then you need to prioritize and sometimes it’s easy to spend more time on the money aspects than on art. The second internal obstacle that I suppose that every artist faces at some point is that inspiration is not something that you can turn on and off. Sometimes it finds you, and I guess that if an artist isn’t focused on something, this can also become an obstacle.

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