LUAP: The Unconscious Therapy

Artist LUAP, aka Paul Robinson, talks to Lee Sharrock for Runway Gallery Magazine.

LUAP’s solo exhibition ‘The Unconscious Therapy’ opens during Frieze Week in London and features painting, photography, sculpture and a deliciously tactile installation that has transformed the ground floor of the New Bond Street venue into a cocoon of pink fur.

Lee Sharrock spoke to LUAP about the symbolism of dream states, how The Pink Bear character born of his subconsciousness during therapy acts as a buffer with the real world, and how his connection with the natural world has liberated him.

LUAP has collaborated with exciting young curator MC Llamas on his biggest solo exhibition to date, fresh from her curation of ‘The Female Room’ in the critically acclaimed ‘Art in the Age of Now’ at Fulham Town Hall.

Lee Sharrock: Where did the title for your solo exhibition ’The Unconscious Therapy’ come from?

LUAP: The title just made sense. It’s about the things we do in our life that make us feel happy. The unconscious things. Like buying flowers for ourselves to brighten our home. Going for a walk to escape our desk. Taking 5 minutes out of our day to reflect and then move forward. Going shopping and buying something that makes us smile. Looking into a fire and day-dreaming. It’s all a form of therapy. The Unconscious Therapy.

It also made sense from the perspective of the symbolism in my artwork as it is about dream states. Our mind presents us with personalised films overnight using theinformation from our waking lives and then we are presented it back to us as sometimes abstract and literal ideas to help us make sense of the world. The title just seemed to make sense on so many levels.

LS: Is The Pink Bear you alter ego, or a figure from your subconscious?

LUAP: I used to think of The Pink Bear as an alter ego, but it wasn’t really now when I look back. It was a mask so that I could hide in plain sight without having to talk. The Pink Bear was able to go places I felt I couldn’t go on my own.

Disconnected from people around me, I struggled to really communicate. How could I? I was even disconnected from myself. It’s called dissociative disorder, my therapist told me. And as life happened, love came and went, my depression deepened, and with it the vast disconnect. This is how I discovered Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). I was in need of a lifeline, desperate for a bridge to connection.

Further into my therapy I reconnected with a happy childhood memory of a pink bear, it is from here that The Pink Bear was born. The Pink Bear was my beacon of light helping me to explore the dark caves that had developed inside my mind. The Pink Bear melts away fear and darkness with the warmth and joy of innocence lost by just being there, a hidden light in the darkness empowering me.

So now I see The Pink Bear as a figure of my subconscious helping me to make sense of my world and inner thoughts helping me to function better.

LS:You said “Life is beautiful but fragile and fast – flowers remind me of this. So we should try to live each moment to the fullest – like being in full bloom.” Did the experience of lockdown when many people found solace in nature, reaffirm your love of flowers, and reinforce the analogy of living life to the full?

LUAP: I think at the start of the first lock down, I along probably almost everyone else, felt more like a pressed flower in a display case rather than a flower in full bloom. There was suddenly this fear of being outside or around anyone – its like everyone was packing pesticide and we were a fragile daisy. It was very surreal in London that first month as I remember cycling around the streets and there were no cars on the road and the pavements were completely empty, a ghost town. The reason you live in London is for the people and culture and the hustle and bustle.

Then came all the beautiful weather and we were allowed outside again in the parks and people started popping up in parks like bluebells and daffodils in spring. I’d never seen it so busy. People were finding solace in nature together, exercising and just hanging out. I’ve heard so many stories of people turning over a new leaf and getting in the best shape they have been in a long time as they had given up so many vices and just enjoyed being outside. Nature was healing people.

I had the same experience myself back in 2015. I set out (bear-less) with a varied group of people, a jumble of personalities and abilities, to climb the four highest peaks of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco for charity. The journey was spread out over ten days and, much to my frustration, I kept struggling to remember names. But as we lent each other helping hands and shoulders and exchanged smiles, helping each other struggle up the mountains, as we trudged up the final steep slope, exhausted, dirty, weak, and haggard, I remember how we overcame the summit. The dawn’s first rays spilt over the horizon, washing over me and drenching me in warmth. With a smile spread across my face, I could not recall the last time I had felt such overwhelming freedom and joy. Nature, once again, lowered a drawbridge to connection, connection with my human companions, connection to myself.

Travel, nature, and camaraderie liberated me and inundated my being with positivity. I had reconnected to the natural world. I think this is what everyone experience when they connected with nature after that first lockdown. Everyone was in full bloom.

LS: You have collaborated with curator MC Llamas on the new solo exhibition. How did you come up with the idea for the pink fur installation, and how would you like visitors to interact with it?

LUAP: I feel that art shouldn’t just be about looking, it should be about feeling too. We should connect with art on an emotional level rather than just at the aesthetic surface level. The pink fur installation is a full sensory experience abstracting the colourful warm feeling that The Pink Bear brings into one of light, touch and colour. I want people to feel this warmth and comfort whilst they are visiting the exhibition.

When I first saw the space I had imagined a corner or two of the ground floor being turned into a furry pink area as a backdrop to a Pink Bear installation. Then MC suggested why not cover the whole room. Like the room is giving you a hug. It made so much sense, so we set about making it happen. Give people the hug they have been missing.

LS:The exhibition features photographs of locations you have found during travelling and hiking.How do you find the locations, and what technique do you translate the photographs into your paintings?

LUAP: I’ve travelled to every continent except Antarctica with the bear. Climbing mountains, trekking across glaciers and deserts, and even swimming in the sea and water skiing. Its not glamorous or easy though as I have to carry all my professional camera equipment on my back when I climb the large mountains, often carrying over 20kg on my back for up to 12 hours on some climbs to get to the locations I want to photograph. The journey is worth it though as I’ve seen some of the most beautiful and inspiring places on this amazing planet.

Once I have the images they may sit on my hard drive until a feeling or mood inspires an idea or narrative that strikes a chord with me. This is where I feel the work takes on life and the process of painting begins. Many layers of paint are then built up to create the abstract backgrounds, this often takes months – I call it artificial decay. I then paint onto this surface with the scenes and figures in the photographs.

The paintings are all hand painted, there is no transfer technique, just lots and lots of blending and colour mixing. I’ve overheard many times that the photo real areas of my paintings look like collage or that I have painted over a photo with the other elements on my canvas. I mix abstraction, impressionist style marks and photorealism to create a world on my canvas that sits somewhere between reality and dream, connection and disconnection. Real elements in a world that doesn’t always makes sense and can feel abstract.

LS: With “The Unconscious Therapy’ exhibition you have further developed a surreal Pop Art world of The Pink Bear. What is the next stage of The Pink Bear’s visual journey?

LUAP: I can not wait to start travelling again, its coming up to 2 years now since I’ve been abroad. After the exhibition closes I am heading to Peru to visit the rainbow mountain.

LUAP: ‘The Unconscious Therapy’ is at 95 New Bond Street, London W1S 1DB

The exhibition is open to the Public between 11am-6pm from 13-16 October, and from 12pm-6pm on 17 October.