The Work of Paul Harbutt

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New painting – new directions



‘Tohei, from Okinawa’ 2020 oil on canvas, 56″ x 46″








The story of ‘Tohei from Okinawa’.

Tohei Yoshida left Japan in search of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, something almost impossible to find in the rigidity of Japanese society in the early part of the19c. Therefore in 1916 he sailed from Okinawa to California in search of his dream. With tenacity, hard work and a good deal of luck he eventually succeeded in creating a new life. He married his “picture bride” from Japan, and started to raise a family in California. Alas the world was becoming increasingly unstitched, and with despair he watched his homeland following in the footsteps of the world’s new psychopaths that were bent on creating murder and mayhem. In 1942 overnight the world changed and the US squarely put one foot back into the dark ages, and  American  interment camps for anyone unfortunate enough of being Japanese sprung up all along the Pacific coast, and all people of Japanese decent were forced virtually overnight to leave their homes, farms, and family businesses and go to live in the camps. Tohei lost everything. He was forced to sell all that he owned for a pittance, and for the following years Tohei with his wife and  children were all forced until 1945 to live in a camp in Arizona. In 1945 after almost four years of internment Tohei witnessed the final decimation of his past by war, and the nuclear havoc that followed the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In my painting Tohei sits quietly, with a noble grace and dignity, dressed in a costume of an samurai, contemplating the destruction of his past and present life and the fragility of the world. Hence the photograph in his hand of the atomic bomb explosion. The crazy sky is how I imagined a sky might have looked during the aftermath of nuclear destruction, and thinking of this brought to mind the image of the explosion of the twin towers and the indelible image of millions of papers fluttering down from the sky like autumn leaves. The reference to the microscopic cells in the painting returns us to what remains  when all is said and done, ashes to ashes, dust to dust!



Shainman exhibition heading



‘Queen of The Universe’ 2018 oil and mixed media on canvas. 72 inches x 60 inches



Detail Queen of the universe




Detail 2 2





Title. ‘The Pearly King of Pigeons’ 2019 oil, mother of pearl buttons, on canvas, 57.5 x 49.5 inches



Final Li'l Grndma copia.jpg

Title. ‘Li’l Grandma’ 2019 oil and mixed media, on canvas. 57.5 x 49.5 inches



05 Harbutt Detail of Li'l Grandma.jpg




06 Harbutt Immigrants

‘Immigrants’ 2018 oil and mixed media on canvas. 94 x 49.5 inches



07 Harbutt Detail from Immigrants



F1‘F1’ 2019 oil and mixed media on canvas




Space to watch

Drawing for teddy bears picnic 2

Title. ‘Today is the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic’ 2018 Sanguine on hand made paper.



New Maps 2019

Frozen Sea copia

Title. ‘Frozen Sea’ Casein paint and mixed media on canvas.



Italy 2018 

A new painting from the series of maps has entered a major private collection in Monte Carlo

original final



Original final 2

Title. ‘Italy’ 2018




Australia 2017

Completion of a major conceptual work for and Australian foundation entitled ‘Songline’ it includes 56 paintings, all oil on canvas. A book has been been published to celebrate the completion of the work.


Title. ‘SONGLINE’ 43 ft 6 inches x 4 ft oil on canvas x 56 paintings


Catalogue Songline

(click to view) ‘SONGLINE’pdf


London-New York 2016

Guys Book.jpg

Belgium 2017

Museum De Reede.jpg



Italy 2017

Mab and Reede




USA 2016

Exhibition review John Davis Gallery 2016


Art and about: Weird and wonderful Wendy
by John Isaacs

I had three very different mentors in my study of the philosophy of art, each with a different mindset, based in law, theatre, and history, but they all suggested that the central factor in art criticism is psychology. Creativity, they asserted, is the expression of unconscious impulses. To be honest, I was never convinced by the Freudian premise, even while it was fashionable.
Nowadays, though, I’m more frequently disillusioned by the vacuous pretension of so much art criticism that glorifies style over analysis.
Surely, there’s a middle way. I’m of the school that looks at art through three prisms: the intent, the idea, and the execution. I wouldn’t dismiss the psychological component, but I would ground it less in the unconscious and more in temperament.
I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on “style”. Style’s a complex subject, and I’m still, decades later, trying to get my head around it. But if ever there’s a constant aspect of style, temperament is visible in all great art. Compare the mercurial Turner to the languid Constable. Consider the fiery Goya. The unstoppable Picasso.
Like Pablo, Paul Harbutt is a compulsive painter. A fellow north Londoner, trained at the Royal College at the same the time I was soaking up theory at the Courtauld Institute, his compulsions were already in full fling. A frenetically productive image-maker with apparently endless imagination, he, as did I, moved to New York in the early seventies, but then went on to Seville, and Rome in particular, where he fashioned a style very much his own, but rooted in Italian surrealism.
I have another esteemed artist friend, whose name I’ll not mention, but who aficionados will recognize. A quiet, gentle man, he paints exquisite small canvasses of bottles and ceramics bathed in Mediterranean light, and languorous, scantily clothed young women lounging in Apennine landscapes. His style perfectly reflects his temperament, and love for the nicer, gently seasoned side of earthly life.
Harbutt’s more on the mercurial orbit, that much closer to the sun. Rarely
lyrical but always ingenious, his work is most often violent, cynical, and ominous, even if often a bit humorous, even cartoonish. You never know what you’re going to run into. It’s a hair-raising ride, which occasionally falls prey to sensationalism. In recent work, however, his mood, as he grows older, seems to have tempered some.
His series of six large semi-abstract canvasses, inspired by and dedicated to a friend who died recently, is currently exhibited at the John Davis Gallery in Hudson. Wendy was Australian, but she could be Dora Maar. And the mangled lines that suffuse these works could be aboriginal. The imagery is still dark and sad, but whatever misanthropy animated Harbutt’s earlier work is redeemed by these heartfelt, fully conscious, skillful and evocative tributes.
I’ve never visited weird and wonderful Australia, and have no idea who Wendy might have been. But in his weird and wonderful images, convoluted though they are, Harbutt captures the culture, and the spirit of the mysterious woman who walked and waltzed through it. The intent, to honor a deep friendship, is evident and evocative. The idea, to reflect on a life, is clear and authentic. The execution, at once elegant and uncontrolled, is appropriate, and without pretension. Such delightfully idiosyncratic works are the marks of a temperamentally mature artist.

Italy 2013

‘BAD BOYS’ Exhibition Museum Carlo Bilotti Rome, Italy 2013


‘Bad Boys’ 


(click to view) ‘Bad Boys’-bilotti-catalogue


All Things Bright and Beautiful’ 2014. oil, neon, and mixed media on canvas