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Marvellous Mechanics: Paul’s Story

Automatist, Paul Spooner, has been in the trade for 45 years. But why does he do it?

“I want to get laughs, but I don’t want to be there when there’s an audience.” While other artists like Fi Henshall are powered by the desire to tell stories, or like Carlos Zapta wish to inspire creativity, at the heart of Paul’s creations is comedy.

Paul’s own story is full of these comical twists and turns. Despite having an engineer for a father, Paul went to art school. And then, having received an education from three titans of the art world (Harry Thubron, Jon Thompson, and Tom Hudson) Paul didn’t become a ‘proper artist’. Instead, he took up the then almost extinct profession of automatist.

After moving to Cornwall, Paul met Cabaret Mechanical Theatre artist Peter Markey. He introduced Paul to the organisation and Paul began creating works for the shop. Since then, he hasn’t stopped making mechanical creations, made mostly of wood. 

“I make machines about things I find funny or absurd, hoping that others will feel the same. Even if I am a little annoyed when I start making something, the feeling has usually worn off by the time I’ve finished. Better for me to start with an idea that strikes me as wonderfully funny, hoping that some vestige of that survives the making process.”

But of course, at the centre of it all is connection. “If I look at something that’s been made in Cyprus in 2000BC, I feel a connection with that member of my species.” It’s that connection, through craft, that spans space and time that truly calls to Paul.

Watch Paul’s story…