Pahnl’s pup has been a constant source of entertainment for me since he wandered into my peripheral view a few years back. The placement of Pahnl’s stencils and the humour involved always makes me laugh. I especially enjoy Pahnl’s earlier works, the small figures in a big world happily going with the flow and making light of their sometimes frightening surroundings, some of his pieces, are for me, reminiscent of the artist Clet Abraham because of their interaction with road signs, municipal furniture and traffic lamp fixtures. Pahnl will be hosting his first solo show later on this year at West Bank Gallery London and with this in mind I picked a few choice questions to put to Pahnl.
You’re like a total package producing canvas, print, film and sculpture, are you the type of artist who believes that they can do anything they set their mind to and so goes about learning the process independently?
The process is the artistry and the more techniques that I am familiar with the better. I can get stuff out of my head and into a tangible form. With the likes of the internet and with all the information and communities it provides, it’s almost a proverbial sin to not make use of it.
I think ‘sculpture’ may be too grandiose a word for the little limited edition vinyl toy I made; it was actually made of polyurethane but ‘vinyl toy’ is a term that goes beyond what material you may have used. However the ‘plastic pup‘ (as I like to call it) was a fantastic opportunity to make something with a third dimension. I spend so much of my time painting onto flat surfaces that suddenly having this z-axis to deal with threw me off for a while, ha ha.
But yes, learning the process on your own terms is an incredible way to make sure that none of what makes ‘you’ is lost in the conventions of a medium or lost to involving someone else in your idea. Collaboration has its advantages but artistic merit aside, it’s just more practical (and cheaper) to be able to professionally photograph my on or off street work, build my own website just the way I want it or to be able to create films documenting my process without relying on someone else’s availability. Access is a virtue.
It started with a pup and now you have multiple characters in intricate scenes… what inspires these scenes?
I think anyone who has only ever read even a couple of artist interviews will know what I am about to say but time and again, for so many people, the answer remains ‘everything and anything’. I don’t have a magic formula or system. Street work is usually inspired by little spaces in the street where I think I might be able to drop a context sensitive figure or animal in. Whilst studio work, canvases and all that, will lead off whatever themes and motifs I’m currently playing with.
I don’t use references to draw my figures, I can usually open up a blank document (as all of my drawing starts digitally from the get-go) and start bringing a figure to life without much hesitation. I’d like to think my figures have become more expressive, more subtle, over the years.
Funnily enough, my street photography, which can be found at Human Safari as a blog that I run with my girlfriend, sometimes bears an interesting resemblance to my paintings. I like to shoot wide, getting full shots of people and the composition tends to be quite condensed. I guess the things that fascinate us, our personal ‘obsessions‘, shine through no matter what we’re doing.
You have your first solo show coming up later this year how daunting a task is that for you?
You should’ve seen me when Tommy Blaquiere, one of the founders of London West Bank, got back to me about the idea of having a solo show! The confirmation came halfway through November and I think that I was in shock for the first month. A solo show is a massive milestone and a milestone I’ve only granted myself license to even dream about in the past couple of years.
I take comfort from the past and the fresh challenges I’ve tamed. These moments of fear, discomfort and ambiguity keep you alert. Alert is good. Alert will push me into new ground and I’d be mortified if, even in say two years time, I was doing the same kind of stuff as I am right now. I don’t like change but I detest predictability even more so!
What are you trying to convey in your works?
I used to feel guilty when I would answer this question in the past but I’ve gladly accepted my overarching motivation: happiness. I read the news and I’m au fait with all that stuff but pushing moral agendas or making political statements doesn’t enter my work, or at least, they haven’t yet. If I’m going to spend most of my time working on something, I want it to have a reflexive positive effect on me and as a welcome side-effect, on the people that engage with my work.
Whilst that is a massive ‘engine’ in my work, I also like my work to be indicative of the environment it is in. The art shouldn’t be about me, it should be about the place that I’m in. That’s an easier concept to realize with street work but it’s something I’m looking to integrate into the show.
Do you feel that as your work is from a graphic background that it sets you apart from other street artists?
It’s absolutely a facet of my work and my aesthetic but all artists have a myriad of factors that affect their work. The good artists build and develop the facets that sincerely interest them. Sincerity is the only way you’re ever going to keep pushing in a direction when it invariably feels like you’re hitting a wall.
Why the name Pahnl as an alias?
I like comic strips, which are comprised of panels and I’ve always enjoyed seeing surfaces in the street as panels to drop my figures into. I simply misspelt the word ‘panel’ as ‘pahnl’ to turn it from a noun into a name. I liked the idea of making a word up and then, slowly over time, having it intrinsically tied to my work in the minds of people who have been following it for a while.
Whose work do you admire and why?
Isaac Cordal, Escif, Jace, Slinkachu, Stik and Pablo Delgado are all fantastic artists in the realm of street art right now. There’s clearly the commonality of figurative work between them all but I love how all of them like to make work that is specific to the place they put it. Street art isn’t just about putting a pretty picture in the middle of the wall, there needs to be some kind of link.
Your work is always so clean and minimal do you ever feel like doing a Pollack and making them more freestyle and messy?
That’s something to possibly explore in the future but I’m still loving the feel of a clean, geometric shape. Spontaneity is a question I’m constantly wrestling with in my head. I use stencils to paint my work but I’d love to be able to freehand my figures up on a wall with nothing more than some cans of paint. There’s a beautiful freedom to that approach but alas, my spray technique is good but it’s not good enough to realize what I want yet.
With that said, I very much like that my work inhabits a smaller world than the one we live in. Friends are always telling me to paint bigger and I have done on a few occasions, life-size stuff, y’know, but I always feel they lose a certain vulnerability when they’re not their usual miniature size.
Is there an artist that you would like to collaborate with?
None come to mind but I know I’m just being complacent with my thoughts right now
What does the future hold for you, the pup and the other characters in your world?
I want to continue growing the world that I’ve already been cultivating for nearly six years now. The solo show will look to do that and of course getting stuff up further afield, abroad, will be fun. As long as I can continue to do ‘this’ full-time, I’m happy. Very happy!
I see a graphic novel/comic book of your characters in the future, do you?
The thought has crossed my mind but my figures have never looked great with speech bubbles coming out of them believe me, I’ve given it a go in private. If I was to go that route, it would be a more unorthodox approach: maybe a book comprised of a narrative that takes places out on the street and presented through photographs.
Keith Haring painted some fantastic pieces where he’d divide the canvas up into different areas, again, like comic panels, and weave an ambiguous narrative through the sequence of images. I like that as an idea, it’s accessible and very self contained, so that might be something to try after the show. To be honest, I’ve got plenty of sketchbooks filled with ideas for new projects. I come up with them faster than I can realize them, which is a bitter-sweet position to be in.
Thank you Pahnl
More of Pahnl’s work can be found here: