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Close to His Creator

David Paul, Former Barbarian, Refocuses on the Art World


The world's most muscular multimedia artist isn't big on talk. A grunt from him can mean a whole conversation. No doubt about it, David Paul is rather quiet. Until he has something to say, that is. When he does, his vocabulary explodes from his hands. Whether they're wielding a camera or a guitar, a paint brush or a hammer, his hands do most of the talking. Paul's body, all 230 traffic-stopping pounds of it, might sometimes appear to be little more than a life-support system for his 10 great and grubby fingers and paint-blotched palms. Right now he's using them to part the tangled woods behind his Topanga Canyon home, where he intends to pee.

'I built this house myself, so I figure I can take a leak outside once in a while,' he explains, in a voice so deep it could be connected directly to his heart. Later, as we walk back up the stone staircase that embraces his home'a magnificent wood-lined lodge, artist loft and gallery'Paul pauses on the threshold and announces, 'I'm going to do something big in my life.'

For most folks, Paul's already done enough. While wrestling in college, he earned a degree in kinesiology. 'My father was an elite athlete and an inventor, and my mother was an athlete and a teacher,' he says, 'so strength and creativity run in my blood.' After college, David and his twin brother, Peter, moved to Venice. Calling themselves the Barbarian Brothers, they starred in a fistful of movies, including 'D.C. Cab,' directed by Joel Schumacher, who recalls that the brothers were, 'great fun to work with.' Artistic differences eventually caused the burly brothers to part professional ways. They remain close on a personal level.

When he was 13'about the same time he began bodybuilding'David started taking pictures with a camera his mother gave him. 'I was always shooting the dog too,' he recalls. The experience paid off. In the past five years he's shot many of the print ads and covers for the fitness industry's magazines. 'You immediately know a David Paul picture when you see one,' notes John Balik, IRON MAN's publisher and an accomplished physique photographer himself. 'David has a powerful style and an arresting point of view. He can transform the mundane into fine art.' Paul's work is also being sought by the general public. At a recent $2,500-per-plate charity dinner sponsored by MusicCares, his collection quickly sold out.

But despite all that, the role of photographer isn't enough for the restless giant. He's yearning to be a respected painter like Van Gogh and a singer and songwriter like Leonard Cohen. 'I can't stop creating,' he admits. 'Whether it's painting, photography or writing a song, creating brings me closer to my creator.'

He steps down into his living room-cum-studio and closes the door. Suddenly several sparrows fly across the room and land atop a brick fireplace. 'They're wild, but I let them live here,' he says. He points to his latest work, a large dark abstract with a white drip running down the center. He asks me if I like it. I tell him that I really like the drip. 'That's not supposed to be there,' he says, 'That's bird-shit.' The next day he calls to say he's worked the droppings into the painting.

Paul's spontaneous approach to art resembles his approach to photography. 'When you're taking pictures with David, there's no telling where you're going to shoot,' says Lee Priest. 'He's very willing to take chances and try something different.' According to Paul, the location chooses him. 'I just follow the light,' he explains.

We leave his house and head for a restaurant in Santa Monica that serves raw organic foods. ('The cleaner you eat, the higher your spirit will fly,' he promises, flashing a smile.) Once seated, he opens his laptop and shows me a photo he recently took for Newsweek magazine: A middle-aged woman is walking along the ledge of a skyscraper, her arms held straight up, the wind blowing hard against her hair and clothing. 'She's a leading candidate to design the new World Trade Center,' he says softly.

I tell him I'm eager to shoot a picture of him, and he passes me a Polaroid camera and walks outside. In a shaft of light, Paul stands erect and tweaks his beret. I click the shutter. 'The light's perfect over there,' he says, indicating the middle of a busy street. Ignoring traffic, he lies flat on his back on the warm asphalt. He looks like Gulliver, about to be tethered by Lilliputians. I straddle him and take aim. Seconds later a police officer drives up and orders us off the street. Undaunted, Paul tells me to take the shot. 'David's fearless,' says his photography agent of six years, Joanne Fierstein. 'He'll do anything for a special shot. The real beauty of it,' she muses, 'is that he doesn't really know what he's doing. He has no technical training whatsoever.' ALL Partners in crime, we return to our table in the restaurant. Paul takes the Polaroid camera and pulls the film. He then separates it and dunks the negative into a glass of water and watches the black gel roll off the film. Pleased with the results, he picks up his guitar and strums an antiwar ballad titled 'Dear Mr. President':

'Dear Mr. President
My son is asking me
Daddy, why are we going to
war?
I didn't know what to say
So I repeated what was told
to me
We have to take their weapons
Away.
He looked at me
With those puppy-dog eyes,
and said,
Daddy, don't we have weapons
too?
CHORUS
That's when I realized how
wrong we are.
(Daddy, why are we going to
war?)
That's when I realized how far
we've gone.
(Daddy, why are we going to
war?)'

When music distributor Marco Garibaldi heard that song, he instantly knew he wanted Paul to sign with his Internet company, K-OZ.FM. 'At first, I was intrigued by his super baritone voice'no one can sing like him,' says Garibaldi. 'And then when I actually met him, I was surprised that a guy who looks like a construction worker could also be such a sensitive and gifted artist. There's no mistaking him for someone else; he's absolutely unique.'

'I recognize the angels in my life,' notes Paul, who's endured his share of hardship, including the death of an older brother, followed by a divorce from his wife of six years. 'When my wife left me, taking my son with her, I was so unhappy I went on Prozac for a month,' he recalls. According to Paul, however, there are no mistakes in life. 'The wrong road is the right one,' he says.

Paul's life took a pivotal turn around the time publisher Bob Kennedy asked him to shoot for MuscleMag International. 'Bob's support of my photography enabled me to pursue my art.' For Kennedy, the decision was a no-brainer. 'The bodybuilders totally trust him,' says Kennedy. 'In exchange, he makes them look absolutely terrific.'

But why has it taken David Paul'now 47'so long to discover his artistic genius? Are some people just late bloomers? Or was there something in him that slowed the process? 'It's all in God's time,' he concludes. 'Besides, I didn't have anything to say back then.'

Editor's note: You can hear David Paul's music online at K-OZ.fm, or contact him directly at ArtfulDodger7@verizon.net. Teagan Clive can be reached at teaganclive@earthlink.net. IM

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