Artist, photographer, writer, maker of art, teller of tales, friend. Born March 12, 1935, Melita, Man.; died Oct. 7, 2013, Winnipeg, of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, aged 78.
A tall gangly man with a toothbrush mustache and engaging grin, Paul spent his early years in small towns across Western Canada, one of three sons born to Reginald Panton and Emily Fraser.
As a young man, he worked as a reporter for small newspapers, first in his home town of Melita, Man., and later in Penticton, B.C. He studied education at Manitoba’s Brandon University, where he worked as secretary of the music school, and developed a community of close friends. He frequently recalled the happy times there.
Elements of Paul’s life reflected the era through which he lived. He was gay but came of age in a time which, for most gay men, meant life in the closet. Growing up in small towns, there were few inducements for a young man to “come out,” and compelling reasons not to do so. Nonetheless, and not without some anguish, he came to embrace being gay. After that frontier was crossed in his late 30s, he never looked back.
About the same time, he abandoned conventional nine-to-five jobs in favour of trying to make a living through his art. That was a brave decision and he created a following for his work – oils, water colours, drawings, cards, and his “ice painting.” These began as water colours which, when not quite dry, were frozen quickly and became ice crystals, to magical and mystical effect: When the ice melted and the water evaporated these water colours had morphed into another art form.
Starting in the early 1960s, Paul’s work was exhibited professionally in galleries and shows; it can be found in collections across the country.
He lived very simply and frugally. The oddments of furniture in his apartment were eclectic; he was a more than competent cook and rarely bought prepared foods; he made many of his own clothes, some stylish and all functional. Neither in his clothes nor in his political opinions – nor, above all, in his art – was he ever much concerned with fashion.
When his age qualified him for pension he observed that his total annual income had reached a new high. With it, he bought a used car which he put into service for his art, now increasingly expressed photographically. The car let him travel from his home in Winnipeg to the back roads of Manitoba at will.
He loved nature – the wildness of undeveloped countryside, the abandoned homesteads, the derelict barns, and the dirt roads – especially those slowly being reclaimed by wild grass and flowers.
He seemed to know every species of the plants and flowers and wildlife he encountered and captured them in photographs that made them seem both old and new. Through his camera he brought the eye and judgment of the artist with stunning results. Though he is gone, his works will endure.
English poet Walter Savage Landor, writing 160 years ago, captured Paul's spirit in these words:
“I strove with none, for none was worth my strife.
Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art:
I warm’d both hands before the fire of life;
It sinks; and I am ready to depart.”
William Neville is Paul's friend.