Discover / Ones to Watch - 2020

A glimpse into the mind of Paul Neberra

"Art without pain and suffering does not have the same flavor. I think it's important to look for something deeper by creating art."



Using oil on canvas, the art of Paul Neberra @neberra captures our imagination with rich narratives and whimsical delight - and it's easy to see why.


The mysterious anthropomorphic figures and the seemingly casual, yet emotionally charged objects inhabiting his surreal artworks enchant and confuse the viewer with their direct yet ambiguous essence.


Undertaking to decipher the enigma of these superposed visual narratives of emotional complexity, we went to Paul Neberra with questions about his life, his art, his technique and his views about the crazy artist artistic mythbusting.




This century of digital art, led lights and a variety of mediums, why paint with oils?


Well, I started drawing and painting with traditional mediums at a young age and it always was my favorite hobby. After I finished my degree I felt more connected to the digital options, especially photo manipulation, vector art, and later on, digital painting.


I worked as a graphic designer and software teacher for about 10 years in which, especially during the time I had two-day jobs, I found it hard to paint with acrylics or oils, so I kept practicing with painting and drawing at the computer. It was easier to start, after a long day of work, and easier to clean. I even tried out some animation, 3d sculpting, and creation of contents with flash and so on, but I didn't have the opportunity to explore it in a way to get really good at it.


Those were really crazy times, a lot of pressure, and working over 12 hours a day, I totally needed to change my life. That's when I decided to get back on old school painting methods and start to pursuit an art career.


My first online portfolio consisted mainly of digital paintings, but I soon realized that there was something missing, the relation to the tools, the oil colors, essentially, having something unique after completing each artwork.


Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of prints and posters, comics or illustrated books, but the original object where the creation was done is unique, the textures, even the smallest mistakes are part of a precise moment of creation. To keep feeling the thrill of not having a second chance or to be creative about how to fix mistakes while you're painting, without undo or a copy-paste, that is part of the reason I like oils that much.


I also like the idea of creating something for my supporters that will last a lifetime, it just feels right to me. Using the best materials for a long-lasting artwork; it takes time to create, dry and curate and that certainly makes it special. I'm also kind of naive, not considering faster ways to achieve certain results, but I guess you have to feel honest in your art, right?





"Starfish Reborn", by Paul Neberra



What does the figure mean in your work? What's your philosophy on the nature of the portrait?


There's a big attraction to the characters, especially the eyes are quite important, they can express many emotions and usually, I create a story behind every painting. I've got criticized for painting only portraits one time and I didnt understand the problem of that. I guess not everyone likes the same type of art, and thats great, we cannot all like the same things...


Anyway, I like the connection with the characters I paint, I like to have long conversations with them while im painting. Also, as I have mentioned before, I love the stories that these portraits tell me. I dont think that figurative art is boring, there are so many possibilities and I feel the need to see a reflection of something human in my paintings. The landscapes are also important, they give me a lot of peace, I'm happy when im painting them. I need the connection with nature, I just cant get enough of it.



Is it easy to create or do you struggle with painting your artworks?


It's always a struggle! I would almost like to end my answer with that sentence, because I assume that many artists find themselves in the same situation. In fact, art without pain and suffering does not have the same flavor. I think its important to look for something deeper by creating art, but again this is just my perspective.


I don't consider myself an extremely talented or gifted artist, whenever I have a precise idea I need time to understand how I want to represent it and then I need more time to make it happen. This whole process can take weeks or months and its not linear at all. I have ups and downs that make it uncertain. So almost every painting has this difficult moments when I have doubts, not knowing if I'm doing it right. I'm still trying to find the perfect balance between quantity and quality.



Do you think it's important to have some political agenda?


It is certainly one of the most effective ways to add value to your work. It can be negative or positive depending on what people think, you can't reach all, unless you're using something like universal common sense or a large mindset, but even so, you will always have some objector to your beliefs. In fact, everything that has an agenda brings value, such as giving a meaning or a concept to an artwork, it certainly brings visibility.


But above all, I don't think it should be something far-fetched, which ends up being noticed, due to the constant repetition of the subject. It is possible to be obsessed as an artist, but to what extent? As much as a work of art may call attention to a specific problem, I also consider that it can have a perverse effect of alienating minds.


In this age of social networks I get the idea that some people seem to believe that you can solve a problem with comments or posts. It works very well to raise funds, sign petitions, awareness but it ends there. While I'm answering this question I'm also meditating about it, art can be a weapon of propaganda or even creation of positive movements. So let me wrap it up: its good to have a political agenda if you really feel its important and that you have things to say, not if youre trying to show off and get attention, but thats just my opinion, how I want it to be for my art.



The mad artist stereotype, the popular myth that hardship leads to accomplishment, and -relatedly- that the more troubled the artist, the better the work. It's a very old yet very polarising myth and I would love to know your views on this.


I think you can find crazy people in all areas, it also depends on the level of madness to which you refer and I confess I am not an expert in that area. As I cannot speak for others, I will try to apply this question to my case and sure, I do have my moments of madness, sometimes its all about the joy of painting and I certainly look silly when I'm painting, other times its almost anger and disappointment with my work.


History usually gives us biographies of personalities that left their mark in this world and there are some crazy examples, not only artists but also monarchs, scientists, and so on. I guess some artists use it as publicity or maybe they have no problems to show themselves as they really are.



Do you have an artwork of yours that you hold closest to your heart? If yes, why is that?


Almost every painting, but "The Nurse and the Starfish" is the one that hold closest. My mother is currently in a retired nurse and she's undoubtedly a reference, a model to me. I just think she's an extraordinary person. As much as it is not a portrait of my mother, it is a representation of her, and I'm actually also in that picture as a starfish, an animal that has the ability to regenerate. I would never have overcome many adversities in my life if it weren't for her.

The painting has other sources of inspiration. Anthony and the Johnsons' music, the crippled and the starfish, one of my favorite songs by an artist I love. But also the character "Sybil" from the series Downton Abbey, for her generosity, irreverence, adaptability and strength.





"The Nurse & the Starfish", by Paul Neberra



Do you consider stopping painting someday?


Sure, all the time. I mean in a professional way! I will never stop painting, I love it too much, but things aren't always easy and when you share your art, something that's so personal, you can get some unpleasant feedback. It took me much time to decide showing my work to the world, essentially because I'm a shy person and was always taught that you can't make a living from art. But this is what I am, what I do and believe me, I've tried other things, almost with the same passion and they didnt work out quite well.