Just an illusion, the art of Paul Czainski

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Paul Czainski is a successful tromp l’oeil artist who exhibits his work at Al Milnes’ Staithes Art Gallery.

Al says: “Paul has also created our Staithes Festival Illusion Trail – a series of trompe l’oeil murals around the village for visitors to find (a real treasure hunt).

This is a year-round exhibition that captures the spirit of our September Festival of Arts and Heritage, combining high quality art with fun for people of all ages. This was funded by the NYMNPA and there is a free leaflet guide to the murals in Al’s gallery.

Decorative effects, chiarascuro, specialist techniques all help him interpret a commission and make it his own.

Though the phrase, which originates in the Baroque period, when it refers to perspectival illusionism, trompe-l’œil dates much further back.

It was, and continues to be employed in murals. Instances from Greek and Roman times are known, especially in Pompeii. A typical trompe-l’œil mural might depict a window, door, or hallway, intended to suggest a larger room.

Paul finds his inspiration from a myriad of sources, all of which offer different challenges. He works closely with internationally celebrated interior decorator Nicky Haslam, along with other clients and designers.

“Since Paul and his wife Chris (also an artist) moved into their cottage in Staithes a few years ago they’ve uncovered several layers of beautiful vintage wall paper,” explains Al.

“This 1960s space-themed wallpaper formed the inspiration for Paul’s fantastic trompe l’oeil painting Boy’s Room.”

This nostalgic homage embraces vintage colours and immediately reminds the viewer of a simpler time – boys with short back and sides and trousers, collecting stamps and postcards. Paul combiines layers of peeling vintage wallpaper, wood panelling, old photographs and colour popping postcards.

These fragments and colours are as realistic and evocative as discovering the room in an old house yourself. This sense of old fashioned forgotten memories illustrates the various techniques that reimagine a slice of the past so poignantly. There is a craft and wealth of experience which manages to make this look so effortless and real.

“I love the challenge of being a trompe l’oeil artist and trying to paint things that look more real than real,” explains Paul.

“The images that work most successfully are those which depict things that do not protrude too much... objects which ideally are no more than a few inches in thickness and throw a good shadow.

“People, landscapes, things which move, these have a limited success but books, playing cards, coins, combs, scraps of paper and just about anything that we can pin or tape to a wall: this is the stuff of trompe l’oeil.”

Typical early French trompe l’oeil paintings were often of manageable size (for a quick, convenient sale), inexpensive, and rapidly executed.

The artist would have a good visual memory – relying on his knowledge of light and shade which would be exaggerated for an enhanced 3D effect.

Trompe l’oeil becomes even more challenging when used in mural decoration and in large scale commissions.

“I find that success comes with invention,” said Paul.

You can see examples of Paul’s art at Staithes gallery, then take a walk around the village to see what he’s invented to trick your eye.