Introducing the Work of Paul Bress


Today ‘posterised’ art images and prints come two a penny – albeit costing lot more on poster sites selling them. Indeed anyone can now ‘posterise’ or ‘oil paint’ an image with a single click using the ‘image editing’ and  ‘special effects’ software built into their  digital cameras, smart phones, tablet apps or computer ‘paint’ programmes.

Though the results are often very surprising, pleasing and even dramatic, what characterises this instant ‘techno-art’  of posteri(s/z)ation and other special effects such as ‘oil painting’ is precisely they requires no art and even no artist at all  to create. For unless the images which are posterised are based on authentic art photography,  the sole ‘artist’ is just a piece of in-built digital software.

All the more surprising then, to come across an artist called Paul Bress who - without use or even knowledge of instant digital posterisation and other technical tricks - came to spontaneously create acrylic art  portraiture sharing the same basic character of technical ‘posterisation art’– the use of unmerged colour zones - albeit with one big difference.  For the result is actually a work of art in the traditional sense – created through the genuine and impressive painterly skills of a real live artist and not just by an automated and instantaneous technical process.

Paul Bress describes his particular art style as ‘zonism’, contrasting its use of unmerged and ungradated colour zones  with other forms of post-impressionist art - but without any reference to the automated digital transformation of images into unmerged colour zones through ‘posterisation’ and other image-editing effects such as ‘oil painting’ likenesses.  Some might therefore consider his view of ‘zonism’ as a wholly original art style as therefore wholly naive.

If so, then through this apparent naiveté, Paul Bress has actually ventured something much more historically significant that he even he himself thinks - namely to buck the trend  that has led to the ever-increasing digitalisation and technologisation of art and painting. Indeed he has unknowingly but effectively reversed this trend - returning us from one-click techno-art to authentic artistic and painterly ‘craft’ – craft, craftsmanship and art being in fact, the original meaning of the Greek word techne.

Paul describes his own journey as an artist as follows:

“I started painting with acrylics (first in black and white, and then in colour).  Once I had a canvas in front of me I found myself painting in a very singular style.  Instead of starting in one place (say, the corner of the left eye) and continuing adding to what I’d done, I started painting in zones.  What does this mean?  I looked at my muse and thought “What do I see first?” Let’s say I saw a sunlit square centimetre of nose.  I painted that in, then looked for other parts of the muse that looked the same colour/tone – and I painted them in too.  The result was that I had a canvas with splodges of sunlight spread, unconnected, all over its surface.  Next, I said to myself: “What’s the next thing I notice?”  And I did the same with that.  And then the same again.  And the same again.  Until my picture was completed. Because I paint ‘zones’ I’ve called what I do ‘zonism’.”

To the art critic or connoisseur  this sparse account, with its lacking reference to art history, and to all the countless varieties of post-impressionist and expressionist painting in particular, Bress’s belief that ‘zonism’ is a wholly original painting style and technique might seems simplistic or naiive. But it is it? One might think of Warhol for example – but his work is certainly ‘simplistic’ by comparison.

Compare for example, Paul Bress’s Monroe with that of Warhol and the difference is clear – as it is with all Bress’s paintings in comparison with the images to be found by simply Googling  ‘posterised’ or ‘posterized’ art.  

Indeed Warhol’s Marilyn Dyptich  - voted in the Guardian (2004)  as the third most influential work of modern art  - is almost an exact anticipation of a digital image editing screen set to ‘posterise’ a photograph and can be seen as pre-digital inception of  today’s wholly automated, commercialized and mass produced ‘zonist’ imagery.  In this sense it constitutes the  very opposite of what Paul Bress seeks to achieve through the non-technological ‘craft’ or techne of his ‘zonist’ facial portraiture.   

Peter Wilberg 2012

Paul Bress



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