A ‘standup comedian, makeup artist and idiot’, Kindersley is a master of disruptive, chaotic storytelling
Paul Kindersley loves being interviewed. It’s probably something to do with his practice being built on private performances that are documented in some way. The art is what’s left over. That could mean a YouTube video, theatrical prop or painting – Kindersley draws no distinction, and the 33-year-old enjoys the confusion it can create. “If people think it’s not art, that’s fine,” he says. “Art means nothing and everything, and I like that.”
Described as a standup comedian, makeup artist and idiot – all of which he accepts as valid – the one thing that ties his practice together is storytelling; and performance is the oldest form of storytelling we have. What’s less traditional is his approach, turning genres inside out by using modern media. A portrait becomes a messed-up beauty tutorial with his face as the canvas. A drawing evolves into a live film of an installation piece in progress. This is art that rarely exists in physical form at all.
“I don’t have much room in London to create,” he says. “The beauty of painting your face on YouTube is that it takes up no space.” Video’s low-rent appeal is a theme – he reinvented Virginia Woolf’s Orlando as a debauched romp heavy on the cosmetics for a recent show at Charleston, home of the Bloomsbury Group. And a series of deranged webcam makeovers (see below) defined his contribution to DRAG: Self Portraits and Body Politics at the Hayward Gallery. “If I ever made an actual painting, I wouldn’t even know what to do with it.”
Here, he reflects on his strange childhood habit of befriending elderly women on family holidays, and being a hopeless hoarder addicted to car boot sales.
Would you describe yourself as a romantic?
Paul Kindersley: In a way I have really romantic views on everything, but the differences between reality and my utopian vision can be quite extreme. I’m so romantic that I don’t understand why there are borders and countries, it makes no sense – it’s hard for me to have political conversations because I can’t get my head around it. Everyone should be able to say anything and contradict themselves whenever. I love fakeness because you can tell truths through storytelling and fables, not just by hitting people with facts. I’ve never seen fake as a negative thing.
Who was your first crush?
Paul Kindersley: I used to watch a lot of films because I didn’t have many friends growing up, and I remember watching Adam Ant wandering around London like this weird dreamboat in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee when I was 14. I used to watch Barbarella every night after school to calm me down, and I became obsessed with Jane Fonda. I bought her workout videos at car boot sales. Mum says I always hung out with older women when I was a child – there are holiday photos of me with random women I befriended. I think that was for companionship, like Mrs Van Hopper at the beginning of Rebecca.
Have you ever had your heart broken?
Paul Kindersley: I get very attached to everything, so I find it a wrench when things don’t go my way. I can be a brat. But my romantic views help me deal with things like death. However far along in life you are when you die, you’re always kept alive in people’s memories, and that’s almost as alive as everyone in this room right now.
Are you in love at the moment?
Paul Kindersley: I’ve been with my boyfriend for 13 years and it’s really great but I guess I’m reluctant to define things. There are so many different types of love, and I have different love relationships. That sounds like I’m polyamorous! There’s family who I hate, but love.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for love?
Paul Kindersley: Being with just one person. In my romantic mind I used to think about being with lots of people, but then I lived in a commune and found that everyone there ended up inventing more rules in order not to have any. I moved in with boyfriend straight away and we haven’t separated since.
“I go to the car boot every weekend and spend like a pound but still come back with ten things – then I have to hide them around the house to make it look as if they’ve always been there so my boyfriend doesn’t notice” – Paul Kindersley
What wouldn’t you do for love?
Paul Kindersley: I’m a brat, so I wouldn’t change myself. I just live my life and do all sorts of peculiar things, so I probably need to be a bit more grown up.
Do you have a secret passion?
Paul Kindersley: I can’t stop collecting stuff from the street and car boot sales. I’m a hoarder. A shopaholic with no budget. I go to the car boot every weekend and spend like a pound but still come back with ten things – then I have to hide them around the house to make it look as if they’ve always been there so my boyfriend doesn’t notice. And I collect people. I always let people come and stay. I even used to send people to my parents’ house who would end up staying for months and become part of the family.
Can you describe the perfect date?
Paul Kindersley: I love doing strange and unexpected things with people I don’t know and will never meet again, maybe because I’ve been with my boyfriend for such a long time. I ended up in a pub for hours once with a man I met walking along the Thames who collected bricks that washed up. He was really interesting but I never saw him again.
What’s your heart’s desire right now?
Paul Kindersley: To do the art I’m doing right now without worrying about resources. Not just money but time, because a lot of time is taken up in London with things you have to deal with. It’s arrogant to think that you can operate outside money because it doesn’t work like that, but I just want to do my own thing. I literally do not understand money either, and it causes me lots of problems. People who go to art school should do banking first as a foundation course.
What’s the most romantic piece of art?
Paul Kindersley: The Pasolini film, Teorema, but it’s devastating too, so maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick. It stars Terence Stamp, talking of crushes, and he seduces this entire family one by one. And he is really beautiful. The film is perfect and depressing, which is a great romantic combination.
Who is your romantic hero and why?
Paul Kindersley: People who do their own thing. You see these artists who have these mad trajectories. Rose Wylie the painter is super hot right now and she’s in her 80s, but she’s always been doing her own thing. And Niki de Saint Phalle, who people think is really kitsch, but I think is amazing. Art should be judged on the passion and enjoyment that goes into it.
A version of this article appeared in the A/W18 ‘Romance and Ritual’ issue of Another Man.