The goal of home design is to create a living space that is a work of art. What if you could literally live inside a work of art?
It’s the fantastical reality that Kingston artist Kevin Paulsen brings to homeowners across the Hudson Valley, New England, and even across the country.
For 30 years, Paulsen has been installing his incredible hand-painted floor-to-ceiling murals for art lovers around the world.
Most of us know what it’s like to fall in love with an artist’s work. Some of us have acquired pieces to hang in our homes. We usually define interior design around our favorite art.
Paulsen’s murals take home art to the extreme. You don’t just appreciate a mural in your dining room. You inhabit it while you eat.
“What I’ve always appreciated is that there’s context in a mural,” Paulsen said. “It’s an environment relative to ‘Oh, there’s a painting hanging on the wall’.”
One of the most exciting parts of a permanent art installation in one’s home is the rich, rich sense of history the artwork brings with it. While many of Paulsen’s murals reside in upscale homes, the origins of his mural tradition have a storied past in the residences of the less wealthy.
Two hundred years ago, a new school of art was springing up on the walls of homes all over New England.
The walls of history
The history of American traveling art has an outsized influence on the world of mural painting. Paulsen’s work is rooted in an appreciation of the timeless forms of colonial-era painters, often self-taught, who performed uncredited work in exchange for room, board, and money to travel to the neighboring city.
“It was funky, worn, simplified landscape and decor formats,” Paulsen said. “It was largely because they were emulating the wealthier class in town, but they didn’t have the resources.”
The American traveling tradition is something Paulsen knows very well, although he says he’s not as influenced by it as he used to be. “I took it as a lesson,” he said. “My stuff looked ‘period’ at first, but then I just developed images to create something new.”
Artist and polymath Rufus Porter was the leading figure in this tradition in 1800s New England. He literally wrote the book on the subject.
“That was more or less his theory of how you approach a wall,” Paulsen said of the text’s influence on him. “He wasn’t really talking about technique, naturalism or realism. He talked about balance and form. It was more like abstract expressionism.
The techniques Paulsen developed for wall painting have their origins in his work as a restoration artist, where he brought vintage art and decor back to life. It was not long before he put his talents to use in the creation of entirely original works.
“I had the idea of putting plaster on lightweight styrene and developed a technique,” he said. “Plaster is one of the oldest and most permanent things you can paint on. I always used unorthodox materials to understand what I was trying to achieve.
His more traditional paintings are even more unique, right down to the canvas. “With paint orders, I’m moving away from plaster surfaces,” he said. “Old boards, 18th and 19th centuries, folk urns… I started painting on my floor literally by accident. I did 53 paintings on my floor, most of which have disappeared. Eventually, I’m going to cut the ground.
He also incorporates elements of graffiti into his original works, a more modern tradition of uncredited traveling American artists very similar to their colonial counterparts. Both art forms feature the fleeting aspect of throwing art at a wall and bouncing to the next spot.
The unifying artistic thread between the two scenes is the spirit of intuitive and indelible painting, perfecting technique while letting creativity run wild.
Paulsen has exhibited in many well-known galleries over the years, and many mural customers end up purchasing paintings to hang as well, carrying Paulsen’s antique and modern aesthetic throughout their homes.
It is difficult to quantify the number of Paulsen pieces that adorn walls across the country. There’s certainly enough to fuel a word-of-mouth cycle that drives homeowners and designers to discover his remarkable work and hire him to turn pieces into art.
“Value increases with reputation,” he says.
Creation of a fresco
If you’re a homeowner interested in exploring handmade murals and patterned walls, you’ll be happy to know that artists like Paulsen are making the process easy. Your biggest challenge may be finding the artist who connects with the aesthetic you want to define for your dream room. Once you find them, Paulsen recommends trusting them for the best results.
“People usually find me by word of mouth now, so they already know what I’m talking about,” Paulsen said. “If they know what I’m doing and they let me do it, they’re usually a lot happier.”
While he will consult with clients on color palette, mood, and overall aesthetic, Paulsen is an intuitive painter with an eye honed over decades of his craft.
“I rarely do mockups,” Pauslon said. “You get a better job.”
He likes to see space. “You work with elevations,” he explained. “Sometimes the measurements you get can be inaccurate. If I can, I go to the site and take measurements.
For such a massive art installation to be produced on a client’s schedule, it is imperative to start planning as far ahead as possible.
“The further you go, the better,” says Paulsen. “Once we have met and had a meeting of minds, it can take a few months. The actual time this takes varies from job to job, and sometimes there is a level of detail or adjustment that takes longer.
Once the specifications are set, Paulsen walks into his Kingston studio to begin the process of creating the custom wall art. “I stretch theatrical muslin, shrink it with water, then apply a thin veneer of synthetic plaster,” he said. “I don’t always use it properly. I get a dry, crisp color, then I just work on it, stain and sand, and kind of mess it up.
Once complete, the mural is rolled up and transported to its final destination, with Paulsen present to do the installation and finishing touches.
“I’m usually the last in and the last out,” he explained. “When I hang these murals, the painters are usually finished. I cut to fit. We glue it to the slightly oversized wall and we cut it. And if there’s any antiques, then we do that. is difficult to put up a mural when there are people moving around, working.
The wallpaper is back
According to leading home decor trade publications and market data, wallpaper is making a comeback. The ability to print digital wallpaper has enabled unprecedented customization. Paulsen has a long history of hand painted designs and more recently has moved into the digital side.
“Shaping takes time, especially if you do it by hand,” he said. “It varies by scale. It can range from one month to six months, it depends. I also made digital wallpapers, which are easier.
Modeling techniques can be mixed and matched. Some walls are covered in hand-stamped and hand-painted wallpaper. Whatever the technique, you really have to see hand-painted wallpaper to believe its artistic superiority over traditional printed wallpapers.
The latter is a mass-produced aggregation of ink, the former seems to come from nature. Each handmade pattern element is ever so slightly unique, and overall this creates the almost surreal effect of a perfectly repeating pattern in which two parts are not exact copies of each other. .
Paulsen said price “is a big variable, and it’s not based on their money, it’s based on the scope of work. It can be $15,000 to $150,000.
Besides the invaluable experience of living in the art of your dreams, there are other benefits to investing in a one-of-a-kind piece by a renowned artist. “I’ve heard that sometimes my murals drive up the price of a house,” Paulsen said humbly.
Homeowners are well aware that costs and wait times for home services are skyrocketing due to inflation and supply chain issues. It may surprise you that the same challenges exist where the art world intersects with home improvement around wall installation.
“I’ve wanted for months to get a roll of jute,” Paulsen said. “It used to be pretty cheap and easy to get. I waited three months for it to arrive. Hard to get shellac and fixative spray. I’ve heard designers say they’re having trouble sourcing materials and shipping has become prohibitively expensive.
For now, the paint is still flowing, and the owners are still lining up, especially locally. “I do frescoes here, there and everywhere. But with all the money coming into the Hudson Valley, I get more work in the area,” he said.
If you would like to take your place in modern art history by dedicating a room to Paulsen’s widely revered wall art, you can contact him at [email protected] or 845-338-8046.