January 2024
Dynamic Intensity
Paul Abbott retrospective at The Art Hive thru January

I first heard of Paul Abbott a couple of years ago, when I talked with Carole Jolly for an artist profile in these pages. Over the 22 years he has lived in Prescott, Paul has had a formative influence on many Prescott painters. Currently painting and teaching in a studio at The Art Hive on Cortez Street, he will soon return to London, where he began his career, to begin a new chapter. The Hive is hosting a solo exhibit of his work through the end of January that is well worth seeing.

Totem Extinction

Consisting of sketches and oils, Paul’s work is fine and satisfying to take in, clearly showing years of training and focus. The accuracy with which he captures a face or a gnarled piece of wood is remarkable. He arrived on the planet with a strong attraction to making images. As soon as he could hold a pencil he was constantly drawing, a passion shared and encouraged by his mother. By the age of 13 he had set up a studio in his bedroom, and not long after snagged his first job as a junior illustrator in Soho, London. After traveling around Europe, he returned to London, attended art school and moved to Paris.


It was in Paris that he got his first break when, like in a movie, someone spotted his work in a cafe and invited Paul to join in a gallery venture. This ultimately was many galleries as his work became more known and sought after.

From 1993 to 2000 Paul had successful shows in both London and Paris. After meeting his American wife and starting a family, Paul moved them to Arizona with what turned out to be rough timing, within a month of 9/11. Life was hard for artists for a while, but Paul eventually gained a name in the US art world and had work shown in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

The 2008 recession proved to be another bump in the road, and while Paul was again waiting for the art world to recover, he took up building houses. When the pandemic came and building slowed way down, he was able to focus again on his painting. As horrible as Covid and the shutdown was for so many, it was sometimes a gift for artists. All through his time in Prescott Paul had been teaching, both privately and for a time at Yavapai College. A highly respected and well loved teacher, his students speak very highly of him and of the support he has offered them over the years.

Carole Jolly has studied with Paul for twelve years: “… he has been a master at encouraging and understanding my unique artistic expression without letting me fall victim to cliches or repetition. Paul has a lovely ability to highlight what’s off in a painting without giving away the solution.” Anna Fallon, a student of Paul’s for the last eleven years, notes, “Throughout working with (Paul) he developed my sense of how I create. The result is that I have become creatively more independent and able to judge how to proceed in my work. He has given me the great gifts of self-confidence and independence.” Carole and Anna are both members of the new Art Hive, a collective of artists who rent studio space in a newly renovated building on North Cortez Street.

Christ Crumpled at the Base of the Cross

When Paul’s wife became ill earlier this year and died not long after, Cloud Oakes, director of the Hive, invited him to share her large studio there. His first painting was a large canvas of his wife when she was still healthy, leaning back, looking relaxed and content. He calls it a collaboration (with his wife), and feels deep gratitude for the support of the Hive community after his loss. “Being in the Hive has been a really big part of my healing.”

The retrospective show at The Art Hive will be comprehensive and well worth visiting. Some portraits are particularly arresting, depicting the subject gazing directly at the artist, giving the powerful sense that they are looking directly into your soul, that this is not only about you looking at a painting but about you being scrutinized. Sometimes the background behind the subject is intentionally unfinished, making the statement stronger.

Though not himself religious, his work is deeply informed by his having lived with Judeo-Christian cultural iconography all his  life. “Religion has always been a key element in my work because of the way orthodoxy and the power in religions is the side that tries to do good, and also the side that just wants more power and destruction.” Among the most striking of his recent pieces is Christ  Crumpled at the Base of the Cross, pointing to something that once was profound but has been discarded. He shared that the crumpled figure could just as well have been the Buddha or Muhammad.

Woman with Her Hair Raining Down

The painting indicates a fossilization of ideology. He paints Jesus on the cross repeatedly because that is his cultural heritage.

Having been an antinuclear activist in past years, Paul feels the climate devastation and loss due to human greed and carelessness deeply, and the theme of extinction recurs in his work. The series he has been working on through these recent years he calls Entities and is based on extinction, pointing to decay, fossilization and intimating a parallel tendency in the human soul.

On his walks in the woods he will often come upon an old, gnarled piece of wood that reminds him of a human figure or body part, and brings it to the studio to study and paint. “I’ve always been attracted to natural objects that have a human quality about them, usually to indicate some quality of human relationships.” In the pieces Womb Extinction, Totem Extinction and Mask Extinction it is clear that here are echoes of what once was alive (human thought, the human body?), but is now dead and discarded.

Paul’s contribution to Prescott, both in his creative output and his teaching, has been a gift to our community, and he will be missed. Soon he plans to move back to London and begin to rekindle connections with galleries. Be sure to catch his show before he hauls all his work with him over the pond.

The Paul Abbott Retrospective exhibit will be at The Art Hive at 203 N. Cortez St. through January. Gallery hours are Wed-Fri noon-4 and Sat 10-4. Visit Paul’s website at PaulAbbottstudio.com.

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