Meet the Pub Pinter
One of the world’s best-loved artists inspired a North-East man to pick up his brushes and go to the pub, writes Alastair Gilmour...
The next time you see someone drawing a quick sketch of a pub, check the number of ears he has. Paul Frost, part-time painter, full-time brewery hand, quite definitely has two – one more than his artistic mentor Vincent Van Gogh.
Not that Paul in any way compares his work to arguably history’s greatest painter, but his style, approach and subject matter sparkle with more than a passing reference to the 19th Century Impressionist.
Paul fulfils various roles at Newcastle-based Almasty Brewing Co, one of the North-East’s most innovative – and popular – beer producers. On pub delivery days – which invariably double up with a sales pitch – Paul can be spotted scribbling down prominent pub features to be rendered later at home in oils.
As we are all too aware, the Covid lockdown periods that began in March 2020 had a profound effect on the hospitality sector and on people’s wellbeing and this is where Paul began thinking.
“I’d done bits and pieces on and off over the years,” says Paul. “I missed going to the pub during lockdown, so I started sketching The Free Trade Inn in Newcastle where I’d go for a pint when they were open, then worked my way around the places I delivered to. I often sold beer while I was there – I know what beers they like and what we had available at Almasty.”
The Cluny, Newcastle. Glorious slabs of complementary colour
Paul’s quick, loose brushstrokes and bright palette describe scenes of everyday life to give the visual impression of a moment in time, especially in terms of the shifting effect of light and colour.
He says: “The pubs were all completely shut, but I found the whole process therapeutic; it was relaxing and a way of passing the time.
“I work in oil paint but do little sketches to begin with – they’re not accurate reproductions, I can’t make it look exact, it’s a representation. For example, The Cluny – also Newcastle – lends itself to that type of painting and I decide what colours make up a block (which is another Impressionist approach).
“If you look at the building, it falls away on the left and I wanted to show that rather than, say, have every window in its right place. My wife says it’s the probably the best one I’ve done.”
Paul isn’t so sure: “I’m very self-critical and sometimes the motivation is hard.”
Flash House Brewery in North Shields was his first actual commission, but depicting a straightforward industrial unit couldn’t have been particularly inspiring, even on an Open Day. But owner Jack O’Keefe’s girlfriend Milda had asked him to do it as a surprise.
“It was a bit different from doing pubs and a bit of a learning curve,” he says. The full pint outside The Free Trade Inn was another rare commission which he completed but the guy never got back to him, which he is actually pleased about because it’s a lot of people’s favourite image and forms a fond memory.
“Van Gogh is my ultimate hero,” he says. “He painted a lot of street cafe scenes which on the continent means pubs. I really like his palette-knife work and the way he filled in the detail. A lot of it is my memory of that place, what’s in my head, and not a focus on a photograph.
Flash House Brewery, North Shields. A lively rendition of an ordinary scene
Pint at The Free Trade Inn, Newcastle, is a real favourite
“We’re going to Belgium in the summer; I’m very fond of Belgian beer and I’m hoping something there will inspire me – that’s my next phase.
“Sometimes I’ll draw from photos, but it’s about looking and studying. The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle, image is the first impression you get when you’re walking over the beer garden. There’s a lot of detail in the pub with all the glass and window frames and I nearly abandoned it. But I’m glad I didn’t.”
Paul works on his paintings in the living room at home where his easel stays up alongside his record player, vinyl and painting gear.
He says: “People have been very supportive which is confidence-building. The Dog & Rabbit in Whitley Bay bought prints from my Etsy site to put on the wall. I went to work for Tony Patton there for six months and ended up doing three years.
The Cumberland Arms
The Dog & Rabbit, Whitley Bay, where Paul Frost previously worked
Paul Frost at The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle, with his version on the left
Even Paul's dog gets his portrait painted
“I’ve been working in the beer scene around the North East since – pubs and breweries where there’s a concentration of really good community pubs. If I had to make a living out of it I’d be painting landscapes and dogs. Dogs are a challenge to keep going when it’s not quite right.
“People buy the prints for friends and family – Daisy Turnell (Craft Beer Newcastle) bought one of The Cluny for the owner Julian Ives and Mick Potts from the Free Trade bought one for himself.
“It’s been a busy 2022 so far – my work is busy, my wife’s work is busy, I have one daughter at uni in Manchester and another doing her A-Levels. My wife is a big gardener so we’re constructing a potting shed.”
Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting that we know of in his lifetime. The Red Vineyard is a Provençal landscape which went for 400 francs in 1890 (then about £16). In that sense, Paul Frost is ’way ahead of his hero. It’s the shifting effect of pounds and pence.