During Artwalk, the Weld office will proudly display the work of Paul Cordes Wilm, a rising star on the Birmingham art scene. Here in just five questions, he tells you all about it and throws in a laugh track, to boot.
WELD: Why did you become an artist?
Paul: I don’t know if I can answer why, but here’s how…It seems that all of it was pretty accidental. When I was little, my mother used to have to separate my twin brother Peter and me in church because we kept giggling and cutting up. The best way for her to keep us quiet was giving us pads of paper and pens. These are my first memories of seriously drawing and letting my imagination pour out of my head.
Later, in high school, I learned about Andy Warhol and his art. I fell in love with not only his paintings, but his mind as well. My brother and I started a rock band called The Warhols.
In college I started out as an art major, but quickly became frustrated by my classes, so I switched to literature, graduating with an English degree. It wasn’t until after college that I found myself seriously painting. I was unemployed at the time and had recently met the Alabama artist Mose T at his home in Montgomery, which was a truly inspirational experience because he actually explained some of his techniques to me. I was suddenly painting all day long, so I decided to see if my works would sell … and they did! So I just stuck to it! [Laughs.]
Since then, I’ve allowed painting to sort of be my outer heart, so to speak. My “outlet.” Using my works, I can get things off my chest and laugh (or cry) out loud, thus letting my soul “talk” to other souls. It’s like a silent but very engaging conversation. I’m very happily surprised how it’s all evolved. Life is so playful and so utterly unpredictable.
WELD: What issues, themes or concepts does your art address?
Paul: It sort of depends on which painting you’re talking about at the moment. I show a lot of “business beasts” (animal headed people in suits) and there’s something about those that just makes people laugh. But then there’s some pieces that have more of a political edge and sort of focus on certain issues. For example I have a series called “Silent Majority” where people have word bubbles, but there’s nothing in them. It’s like they have things that they really want to say, but they’re so distracted by everything around them that they feel they can’t say anything.
Two of my newer pieces that I’ve made into T-shirts and bumper stickers are more “activist art”.
The first is a smiling state of Alabama wearing a sombrero, but the eyes have a censor bar over them with the word “Bienvenidos” (“Welcome”) inside of it. This is my reaction to the immigration law and it is my way of saying to Hispanic and Latino people “Hey, not all Caucasians want you to leave here!”
The second contains three different variations on romantic couples: a man with a woman, a woman with a woman and a man with a man. All three of their eyes spell out the word “LOVE.” The message behind this piece is blatantly simple, and it’s one that I think desperately needs to be understood.
I’d also like to note that I paint on found wood and use nearly all recycled materials, from leftover house paint to junk mail and the insides of old envelopes. Material-wise my work seems to be borne out of a nature that we ourselves, as humans, have created. It’s made out of things that we’ve previously mass-produced, used and then thrown away — a second nature, maybe? [Laughs.] My treasure is another man’s trash!
When I have some of my characters speaking (in word bubbles etc) about environmental stuff, or when I incorporate the recycling symbol, in a way I’m trying to tell folks that things can be remade out of all this “second nature” stuff and we don’t have to blindly throw away so many things that we do every day.
WELD: What’s the most interesting thing anyone’s ever said to you about your work?
Paul: Well, one lady asked would I mind if she had the image from one of my paintings tattooed onto her.
I’m not going to tell you where! [Laughs.]
WELD: Whose art do you like (or buy) and why?
Paul: Funny…most of the art I like is really random colorful stuff that I find in really old (vintage) school textbooks and magazines. I tend to just tape or tack up stuff like that and collage them all over my walls. It’s hard to say why, really. I think that I mostly enjoy the fact that it’s from another time, another era. It’s a little like seeing baby pictures of yourself and seeing how much you’ve grown and evolved.
Other than that I love so much of the work of my fellow artists in Birmingham. It’s a really healthy scene. We’re always trading stuff and helping each other out. I really like that.
WELD: What do you think of Artwalk?
Paul: Artwalk is a wonderfully eye-opening festival because it not only exposes folks to Birmingham’s incredible art scene, but it also gives folks a chance to experience so many of the great businesses of Northside, old and new. Festivals like this one do so much good for this community. In fact, doing festivals like this really caused me to not be afraid to show my work in places other than galleries — restaurants and such. Lately I’ve been showing my work at both Jackson’s Bar & Bistro in South Homewood and Lucy’s Coffee & Tea on University and 20th St. South.