Biography: Paul Seiwald

Artist, Paul Seiwald

Paul Seiwald in his basement studio near Vermillion, Kansas.
Photo courtesy of Julie Denesha, KCUR.

Born in 1930, Paul Seiwald created mainly for his own satisfaction and his paintings were either given away to friends and family or stored away in his basement as soon as they were completed.

A self taught artist, Paul completed over 300 paintings and sculptures throughout his life. His style of painting has been compared to Thomas Hart Benton, Salvador Dali and Dr. Seuss.

His first attempt at painting was a paint-by-number kit but over the years, he carefully observed the techniques of artists he admired most: Klimt, Matisse, and Thomas Hart Benton.

Instead of painting on canvas, he painted on plywood panels textured with wood putty and he also created the frames.

The most recurring subject of his paintings is an old red barn surrounded by surreal trees and barbed-wire fence-posts. Other subjects include mysterious rural people involved in courtship, progeny and conflict.

Distinctive features of his subjects include elongated faces and what appears to be mascara running from their eyes or dirt infused sweat-streaks streaming down their faces. Some are surrounded by thorny plants or depicted with thorns growing from their fingertips while others are portrayed with prosthetic or artificial body parts. Many of the elaborate costumes are clearly based in fantasy and not reality.

Seiwald's brother, Dee, and daughter, Karen, say the subjects in his paintings are not self-portraits and do not represent anyone from his real life. Each painting appears to tell a different story from within the same imaginary world.

Although Paul never explained the meaning behind his paintings, the titles provide clues that frequently result in an "ah-ha" moment - examples include: "PUSH", "GIFT OF SELF", "GIFT OF SELF - 4", "GARDEN TOUR", "COED" and "GATEPOST USA". Sometimes the barns in his paintings seem to represent a place his characters could go to for a romantic hideaway and at other times, they seem to play silent witness to the events in the painting. The painting entitled "WHOT?" features a derelict barn with disquieting eyes peering out from within but who (or whot) the eyes belong to is not clear.

Some of the subjects are recurring and appear in various stages of life - most notable is a striking blond woman and a boyish man with brown hair.

Likely present in many paintings is subliminal erotica - examples may include: "TWIN MOUNDS RED BARN", "HOSTAGE", "JUST BEYOND LOVE'S GENTLE SPOOR", "YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND THE DISTANT HILL" and "JUST BEHIND THE MUFFLER SHOP".

Basement studio of artist, Paul Seiwald and daughter, Karen

Basement studio of Paul Seiwald and daughter, Karen.
Photo courtesy of Julie Denesha, KCUR.

Printed titles on the back of Paul Seiwald paintings

Paul consistently printed titles on the back of his paintings in the upper left hand corner in all caps.

He produced at least 96 "RED BARN" paintings with titles that increment e.g, "PRAIRIE RED BARN No. 24", "RED BARN No. 51", "RED BARN No. 56", "RED BARN No. 67", "RED BARN No. 82", "RED BARN No. 85", "RED BARN No. 96".

Other titles that increment are bird nests, fenceposts and gateposts. Paul painted at least 6 bird nest paintings, at least 7 fencepost paintings and at least 10 gatepost paintings.

Additional subjects include floral still lifes, mixed media, and homage. He produced at least 10 floral still lifes, at least 6 mixed media pieces and at least 4 homage paintings with titles that begin with "ESSENCE OF". It's tempting to speculate if he also painted an "ESSENCE OF BENTON" because he painted an "ESSENCE OF KLIMT".

Several paintings have religious themes or have titles that invoke religious meaning.

Paul consistently printed titles on the back of his paintings in the upper left hand corner in all caps.

Seiwald retired from a career as a research chemist at Midwest Research Institute in 1983 and moved with his wife, Mary, to a small farm in Vermillion, Kansas.

Paul Seiwald was born January 7th, 1930 in Eudora, Kansas. In the 1950s, he enlisted in the United States Army where he achieved the rank of sergeant and was awarded two Bronze Stars during the Korean War.

Paul passed away June 8, 2023 in a care facility just a few miles from his farm and was inurned in St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Lillis, Kansas.

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