In Other People’s Enthusiasm, Paul Spencer presents the same grotesque figure – red in the face and sullied in expression – in innumerable states of compromise. To give just a few examples, in one painting they are a walrus/human hybrid surrounded by blood, in another they are a one-eyed human with swollen feet, in a third they appear as three near-identical heads, floating in a body of water from which drinks a horse. It is as though Spencer reincarnates this character across canvases only to subject them to another miserable fate.
Spencer says that his work addresses ‘the inevitability of our demise and how to live [with that knowledge]’. In these paintings, Spencer’s protagonist appears entirely aware of what is coming. So that in one painting, where Spencer’s protagonist is dismembered in a fire, feet arranged amongst the logs, and their head atop the inferno, they simply display an expression of resignation that seems inadequate for the torture they are enduring.
But rather than representing a scene separate from himself, Spencer tries to tease out his own humility in relationship to a broader human condition. Medieval imagery and folklore are recurring themes in Other People’s Enthusiasm. Castles, monks and mythical creatures are represented in images of astonishing suffering: the Middle Ages were, after all, marked by plague, famine and human sacrifice. In representing human misery through the lens of recognisable historical and mythological, Spencer speaks to the collective human experience and, particularly, weakness and shame.
Despite the less than alluring themes in Spencer’s paintings, the works are nonetheless visually appealing; they are executed with a cartoon-like, fantasy quality underscored by bold, flat colours and thick, palpable lines. Meanwhile, Spencer’s characters are somehow endearing despite appearing so pathetic. Experienced all together, these qualities create a push and pull between unease and satire – Spencer’s method of working through vulnerability.