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Paul Liptrot: Creating Places of Sanctuary

Paul Liptrot is a UK-based artist who grew up in South Africa. From the time he lived in the UK, he moved around quite a lot, before settling down in Nottingham. He holds a BSc (Hons) in Environmental Science and Geography and a DipHE in Fine Art; he is currently working towards an MFA in Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University. He’s worked in the environmental, education and creative sectors, and currently splits his time between his art practice and working at Derby

Museums. He’s exhibited his work both in the UK and India and is a partner in Bring Home Stories, a culture project based in India. He is also a committee member of the Lady Bay Arts Trail, an annual

celebration of the arts in Nottingham.

Paul’s practice is concerned with ideas of sanctuary and places that put the audience at the centre of the work. This is driven by a desire to create something that offers time for momentary pause or reflection. His practice is aimed at audiences to engage with his work on their own terms, whether on a personal level or one that creates conversation with others.

1. When did you decide and what prompted you to become an artist? Please give a brief account of your challenges and struggles in your journey as an artist. Any role models?

PL: My story to becoming an artist starts with a passion for the sciences and the desire to understand the world around us. This took the form of an Environmental Science with Geography degree in my early twenties. From that point on I began to experiment more creatively, and a long journey started towards understanding what excited me and what it was that I wanted to communicate through my art practice.

It’s not been an easy process. I’ve had to unlearn and reform large parts of the way I work, as I moved away from a technical background towards creative outputs that can be often hard to define. I’ve now reached a place where the technical side of my personality interacts directly with the creative process, with both allowing new discoveries to be made. This iterative process is continuously evolving; as I become more comfortable in my practice, I become more experimental, which drives me forward.

The first artist I saw as a role model was Bridget Riley who combines technical drawing skills with painting. It was the first time that I could really understand what was going on in the work, the way colour and form created movement and tension for the viewer and that were not limited to the two-dimensional. My inspirations now are more varied: the key artists for me now include James Turrell, Robert Smithson, Ellsworth Kelly and Agnes Denes.

2. What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this?

PL: My practice is currently concerned with places of sanctuary and considers how I might create sanctuaries for audiences, both in the physical sense but also at the mental level; spaces where people can spend time enveloped with calmness and engaged with visual and aural sensation.

This work is driven by my own need for quiet, for time to allow my mind to wonder. It’s far more personal than it ever has been – it gives me a baseline from where I can think of creating spaces that are meaningful for others as well. The way I define sanctuary is broad and open-ended; it’s not simply a physical space, but something driven by the mind and about the need for space that comes from living in the time we do, extended in recent months by the coronavirus pandemic.

This is manifesting itself in two ways:

First, by considering how I create spaces within the landscape, moving outside of a gallery experience to see how my work is perceived and experienced. This uses lightboxes from the petri latex series being placed in unexpected surroundings. I’m interested to see how these clearly man-made objects occupy a space and invite people to engage with them, ultimately leading to conversation and shared experience.

Second, by the documentary project that I plan to undertake, where I’ll be recording my experiences of being in places I see as sanctuary using words and photography, to try to communicate the physicality of the sensory experience. This is a new area for me and it’s exciting to place myself in the landscape. Through the work I hope to inspire people to consider how they can create moments of sanctuary, be it in nature or in an obscure urban corner.


Obscurus II

Obscurus II, lightbox

Obscurus II

Polser Brook Sanctuary

3. Contemporary art has become very diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend? Is this trend part of your art practice?

PL: I think the breadth of contemporary art is exciting – it has opened new ways of working that do not have to conform to rules and set ideas of what art is or what it can be. The part that really inspires me is the ability of contemporary art to create new conversations with audiences, to not being a passive experience within a gallery but something active, that people can shape and experience and that asks challenging questions. This is generally positive and feels part of my practice, but it is something that can be difficult to navigate in order to discover where one’s work fits.

4. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?

PL: Art definitely has a social purpose; you only have to look at the conversations that can be created by art of all types – good and bad – to see how it invites people to question, to challenge and to understand. What I love about art is that it can be everything: from a massive painting by Picasso that draws people to it to transitory works in small rural communities around the world. For me, the purpose of self-expression is to find a way to communicate; to connect with people and share ideas and human experience.

5. Where do you create your art (workplace / studio)? What is your process?

PL: I have a studio on the edge of a farm that gives me space to see ‘green’, to not be constrained by an urban environment. The studio grounds me and creates a space for thinking and making. I’m increasingly working outdoors, searching for spaces that inspire my thinking and enable me to develop my ideas. I’ve recently returned from a trip to Scotland full of inspiration.

When I’m working in the studio, I tend to be process-driven, using latex, ink and other materials to create reactions on a surface – primarily in petri dishes but my art often takes other forms. This side of me is quite controlled: I use a recipe book to record each the stages of each set of work. I want to maintain a record of what I’ve made so that I can refine my techniques and to some extent determine the results; that said, chance is exciting and opens up new potential.

6. To what extent will the world of art change in the post-Covid period – both in terms of what is created as also the business of art?

PL: This is quite a question! I think the next few years are going to be challenging in ways that we cannot predict. There’ll probably be a huge impact on art business but I imagine we’ll see a huge amount of new work created that responds to Covid-19 and to the experiences we’ve faced over the last few months. Times of adversity often lead to new discoveries and pathways – I look forward to seeing what comes of it.

7. Tell us about any other interest you may have besides your art practice . Does it get reflected

in your art?

PL: In addition to my art practice I work at a museum on a programme that aims to inspire and empower the next generation of makers using STEAM learning (Science, technology, engineering, arts and maths) – it’s exciting to be working with young people to get them to be the driving force in creating their own future. This connects well with my background and looking beyond a singular way of working so both sides influence each other. When I am not making art I like to get out into nature which is increasingly being reflected in my art.


The artamour questionnaire is a regular series of interviews with visual artists across disciplines, who share their views about art, their practice and their worldview on a common questionnaire template. Like, comment, share and subscribe to stay updated.

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