Steve Russell talks to record-breaking caricaturist, graphic designer and digital artist, Paul Slattery, about his storied career and the power of grand ambitions.
Claude Bristol once wrote “you have to think big to be big” and it’s a philosophy ingrained into the DNA of many a successful entrepreneur. However, no one has interpreted the mantra quite so literally as legendary artist, Paul Slattery. Paul spent the early part of his career in advertising, including stints with Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Newcastle College and spells working in London and the Netherlands. However, he found his niche in the mid-1990s, when he established himself as a live-caricaturist. Over the next few years he regularly performed at highprofile events across the UK, but it was a casual suggestion over a convivial beverage with Northern Insight’s very own Michael Grahamslaw, which would really put him on the map. Paul recounts the tale:
In 1998 Mike was doing my PR and we used to meet every week in Fitzgeralds on Grey Street. I was trying to think of ideas to really make a splash and raise my profile, and one day I said to him ‘why don’t I do a massive, world-record sized caricature of Ruud Gullit, with 60- foot dreadlocks and hang it from the Tyne Bridge? No, in fact we’ll do Alan Shearer!’ Mike just looked at me like I’d had one too many, but the next morning he rang me to say he thought it was a great idea and it went from there!
Mike duly contacted Guinness, who confirmed that, providing certain conditions were met, it would indeed become a recognised world record, and the pair set to work making it happen, a feat which Paul soon realised may be harder to achieve than he’d first imagined: The first challenge was to find somewhere that I could actually paint the thing! After trying a few venues, The Mayfair eventually allowed me to use their space. It turned out to be ideal, as I’d do some painting then jog up to the balcony every few minutes to check that the dimensions were right!
Paul admits to some ‘what have I done?’ moments during the process, but eventually, and amidst much media fanfare, he became a world-record holder on May 5th, 1999, raising significant funds for the NSPCC in the process. The record has been broken since, but Paul remains proud of the achievement, and he’s taken pleasure from seeing other artists across the world embrace his idea. The subject of Paul’s epic work, Newcastle’s iconic number 9, took it all in good fun, but he admits to being star-struck upon meeting Mr Shearer:
Mike and I went to the training ground to meet him to discuss the idea and I remember being absolutely terrified. He came over to introduce himself and I went to pieces!
The exposure and opportunities which came in the wake of his world record, ensured that being star-struck became a rare occurrence, having gone on to work with luminaries across the globe. Indeed, his adventures have even inspired him to pen a book of memoirs, a tome which promises plenty of celebrity-infused entertainment! Paul explains his motivation:
A big part of my work is live events, so when the lockdown hit I thought ‘crikey, what am I going to do?’ but I’ve had a blast over my career and collected plenty of great stories along the way, so I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months working on what will be my first book.
Paul has also been hard at work on his online store, which boasts a fantastic range of merchandise, featuring some of his best caricatures over the years, as well as original artwork and sports memorabilia. Although chiefly known as a caricaturist, browsing through his website is a reminder of just how much of the North East is adorned with his artwork. He’s painted countless murals, with The Split Chimp and The Red House in Newcastle and Ramside Hall in Durham among the many venues to have featured his work. He also offers a range of graphic design services, including corporate imaging branding, digital mural design and even digital caricaturing.
He’s certainly kept himself busy since the world pressed the pause button, but like live acts everywhere, he can’t wait to get back to what he loves best. As lockdown continues to ease, he’s hoping to return to live work later in the year, and he’s currently taking bookings for the winter season. His “mix and mingle” entertainment certainly offers something a little different to any wedding, party or corporate event. Intriguingly, he’s also planning to resurrect his fabulous “Scribbling Connoisseurs” evenings, which combine art tuition with haute-cuisine. Paul explains:
I first launched Scribbling Connoisseurs ten years ago with the Fisherman’s Lodge in Jesmond Dene, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Basically, I would give people a snapshot of what I do and teach them some illustration techniques, whilst they enjoyed some fantastic food. My fiancé is a chef, and through her contacts, I’m working on reviving the idea. It’s one for the future, but if we can pull it off, the events will feature some amazing and well-known culinary talents.
Twenty years after his most ambitious feat, it seems Paul is still thinking big, and more power to him. In person, he’s almost a living embodiment of one of his myriad caricatures. Fun, engaging and fizzing with mischievous energy. He left me with the distinct impression that it will take more than a global pandemic to halt this particular creative dynamo!