Paul Oz’s Pop Paintings Are a 1980s Nostalgia Trip

Like any of us, Paul Oz is a product of his upbringing, but like only the lucky few, he has managed to incorporate his childhood passions into his adult occupation. Oz takes cues from traditional portraiture, rendering in oil with loving detail the omnipresent characters of the 1980s pop landscape. Now on view at Imitate Modern, “80s Kid” is Oz’s first solo show in the city of London.

Known primarily for his commissioned work for corporations including Red Bull and Pirelli, Oz has accrued a following for his “explosive portraits,” made through a unique method of building up paint to an extreme impasto and carving it with a palette knife, resulting in three-dimensional works that are part painting, part sculpture in their depth of relief. On this carved surface, he develops a painterly, haphazard coating of random, colorful splatters. The overall feeling is that of encountering in real space those imagined as one’s adolescent partners in crime. 

Each of Oz’s more than 20 subjects is a face familiar to anyone who lived through that raucous decade. Most are pop icons, either real or imaginary, but each is a prevailing character in the cultural consciousness to this day. Many are set against dark backgrounds—touchstones emerging from the dimness of memory. Purple Rain (Prince) (2015) shows the High Priest of Pop looking sultrily at the viewer, while Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones stares into the distance. Two small green characters are remembered by quotes from their classic films: straight from Ghostbusters, Slimer grins in “Ugly little spud aint he…” (Slimer) (2015); while “Do or do not, there is no try” (Yoda)(2015) shows a peaceful Yoda. 

Margaret Thatcher in Mrs. T (2015), lips pursed and looking down at the viewer, rounds out Oz’s representation of the decade, pointing both to the Iron Lady’s powerful political agenda and her position as a symbol of the era. Presenting the likes of Thatcher, R2D2, Madonna, and Super Mario together, Oz conjures a playful and nostalgic vision of the ’80s through the people who shaped it.


—K. Sundberg


Paul Oz: 80s Kid” is on view at Imitate Modern, London, Jun. 4–21, 2015.


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