To those in the know, Paul Horton is a man you need to be collecting.
Some people have even thrown their hands up with regards to his prolific output and said: ‘We haven’t got any more room on our walls’.
And, when you consider the quality and volume of the 80 pieces of work he’s mostly done in the past two years for his first major city exhibition, you can understand their problem.
A ridiculously young-looking, 55-year-old grandfather, Paul is an artist in his prime who takes everything in his stride.
As well he might with fine art publishers Washington Green putting its own artistic weight behind an exhibition where the programmes alone are £25.
A keen student of the history of art, Paul’s career has been inspired by Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s famous Pre-Raphaelite collection and artists like Degas and Chagall in particular.
Today, he is constantly refining his own technique, expanding his repertoire and taking himself – and his followers – on a journey of self-discovery.
Harborne-based Paul is jovial, excited and boyishly enthusiastic about his talent.
He takes me from alcove to alcove exploring theme after theme.
As a child growing up on a B29 council estate in Weoley Castle, Paul was frequently ill with asthma.
It meant he began to fall so far behind at school that he was often bottom of the class in most subjects.
But never in art, because whenever he was ill he would sit at home drawing, painting... perfecting.
He practised figurative art at Bournville School of Art. “I got myself a proper trade as a printer. I would always rush home to practice and carry on painting.
“Learning how to draw people gave me the confidence to be able to draw from my imagination.”
Anyone who spotted his talents 30 years ago and spent £250 on a painting might be gazing at a pretty penny on their living rooms walls.
As his style progressed, it took significant turns. Any works from those pivotal points could easily now be worth £15,000 to £18,000 – a not untypical price for some of his originals today, too.
If you fancy the surprise package at Paul’s exhibition – an illuminated, Noah’s Ark-style leaded, stained glass window – then it would set you back £35,000.
Paul became a full-time artist 16 years ago but says he’s not a rich man. The most eye-catching experience Paul has had as an artist was to go into the old Midland Arts Centre just when its legendary puppet theatre – run by John Blundell, the man who made Parker for Thunderbirds – was on its last legs.
“I was given access to the basement,” says Paul.
“It was like a lost world into which I could breathe life and that was a turning point in my career. I became a storyteller with the sort of characters you see today.”
Paul’s Waterhall exhibition was officially opened on October 10 by Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel fame.
“I wrote to him 30 years ago,” explains Paul. “Not as a fan, but as an artist, to say thank you for how he had inspired me in those formative years which makes you the person that you are.
“He commission me to paint something for him which I called Innocence & Guilt.
“When I’d done it I just gave it to him as a thank you and we’ve been friends ever since.”
In turn, Steve Harley says: “If the subtle vibrancy of colour isn’t the first aspect of Paul Horton’s pastels that makes an impact on the viewer, then the endless sense of optimism might well do it. I have several of Paul’s originals hanging at home and there are several in this exhibition that I have my eye on. This collection shows Paul at his best: always entertaining, endlessly enchanting and original.”
Dotted around the Waterhall are bronze castings of some of Paul’s models he’d sculpted himself in clay using carving tools and some of his own special techniques, including dabbing with a wet brush to create fine details.
Another turning point in his career came when he visited a school to explain his craft.
“There were about 60 children and there was one girl, aged about nine, who asked me why I never painted the sea,” he recalls.
“And I said: ‘Growing up in Birmingham, I never got to see the sea, coming from a poor family’.
“So then I went home and created the Sea of Love. My harbour works here are more colourful than the industrial scenes of duck egg grey and blues.”
Paul says it’s the love which drives him on. “I draw and paint for people today. It will never be about money for me and that will never change. If I had nothing, I would still be me.”
* Love & Hope by Paul Horton – an exhibition by Washington Green Fine Art and Castle Galleries in the Waterhall at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery – runs until October 27. Paul will be giving pre-booked tours several times a day at weekends.