frugalis creativus

Interview with Paul Cadden, Pencil Artist

Gloria Robinson Editor-in-Chief

The following interview is conducted by the Pencils for Africa Editor-in-Chief Gloria Robinson with London, UK-based pencil artist Paul Cadden, who is represented by Plus One Gallery in London, UK.

Gloria: Mr. Cadden, it appears that you are very adventurous in your pencil artwork and you do not shy away from depicting those persons in society who are sometimes downtrodden or marginalized. This is an aspiration and an ethic that is shared by the Pencils for Africa community. For example, in the section of our website called “The Point” which is essentially our “About Us” page, it says as follows:

PFA is particularly interested in the experiences and perspectives of children who have lived through and witnessed conflict in Africa. PFA builds upon the model developed by human rights lawyer and researcher Olivier Bercault and Dr. Annie Sparrow who, in 2005, received pencil illustrations of war and conflict from children in Darfur after Annie gave them some colored pencils and paper. PFA will replicate this 2005 model developed by Olivier and Annie by working with a network of humanitarian agencies and university faculty to both access children in conflict areas and deliver pencils to these children so that they can illustrate their stories and their perceptions of events they have witnessed and endured.

Why is it important for an artist such as yourself to reach outside his or her “comfort zone”?

For me, there has to be an emotional context with the subject matter whether it be social or political context -
if the artist can’t feel everything that humanity feels, the artist isn’t capable of art.
- Paul Cadden

Gloria: In her book, Educating Children in Conflict Zones (Chapter 6, Listening to the Voices of Children and Teachers, page 90), Harvard professor Sarah Dryden-Peterson gives this example of a Congo refugee child in Uganda’s response to drawing her school with a pencil:

“When asked to draw her school, Annette looks at me blankly. I was curious as to what Annette would consider her school and how she would describe it. She breaks her silence but her blank look does not. ‘I study under the trees’ she says.”

This young girl, Annette, who is about the same age as I am, has already experienced the devastation of the horrors of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is now going to school under a tree in Uganda. Mr. Cadden, how can artists like you and students like me, work together to get pencils into the hands of students like Annette in Uganda and encourage their freedom of expression through art?

What advice and guidance can you offer me in this direction? As the Russian author Leo Tolstoy would ask: “What then must we do?”

I don’t think I could ever presume to offer anyone advice or guidance with freedom of expression. All I can say is that I try to go beyond what is in front of me…to look underneath or beyond to find answers.
- Paul Cadden

“Complicated Sentiment” by Paul Cadden, © Plus One Gallery

Gloria: In one of the articles on the Pencils for Africa site entitled “The Pencil“, we learn that Henry David Thoreau and his father, John Thoreau, were pencil makers who “played a vital role in the pencil’s evolution and refinement”.

There is also a quote from Henry David Thoreau which reads as follows:

“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”
— Henry David Thoreau

I see this quote as relevant to the modern times my peers at school and I live in today.

It is a time of intense media-drenched brand-brainwashing material consumerism and an obsession with creature comforts and incessant amusement. This is particularly true in the holiday season here in Northern California where everyone seems to be caught up in an endless buying and spending frenzy and suffering the financial and spiritual stresses associated with such hyperactivity. It seems to me that when you are caught up in such a hyper-frenzy of materialism, it is difficult to step back and consider the circumstance of children in Africa like the Congolese refugee Annette in my previous question, who - like so many children in Africa - will often share just one pencil between 30 of her classmates at school because that is all they can afford.

These African children of my own age who attend schools under a tree can just barely afford one pencil to be shared amongst 30 children.

Circumstances of African children like Annette become invisible to us because we are so obsessed with our pursuit of what Thoreau calls “many of the so-called comforts of life”.

What are your thoughts on this quote by Henry David Thoreau, Mr. Cadden, as it applies to your own life as an artist and as a world citizen?

I feel that humans have become so hypnotised by material possession and the pursuit of wealth that they have lost sight of what is important and for me that is the creative spark.
What I mean by that is the ability to intensify the normal, to see the beauty and wonder in nature, to find time to pause and reflect on ideas, to find ideas and wisdom in one’s self as said by William Blake:

“To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.”

- Paul Cadden


Plus One Gallery
89-91 Pimlico Road
London, SW1W 8PH
Tel: 020 7730 7656
Fax: 020 7730 7664

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