Paul Insect

High-saturation musings on freedom and identity from a faceless art world maverick.

artist wearing a pink mask covering his face with a black hood over the top, as he stands in his studio holding up a large print of two collage faces and bright blocks of colour
surface covered in colourful splatters of paint with a rectangular painting placed centrally
view looking down on the artists studio, in which the artist walks around a collection of paintings and prints laid out on the floor to his right
6 images

Paul Insect, also known as PINS, was born in 1971 in the south east of England. He now lives and works in London.

Collaborations

The artist has collaborated with street art stablemates Banksy and Bast, produced album art for DJ Shadow and received commissions from festivals including Glastonbury and The Lost Horizon.

Did you know?

In 2007, Damien Hirst bought the entirety of Bullion, Insect's solo show at London’s Lazarides Gallery, before it even opened.

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Practice overview

Insect simultaneously hides and reveals his subjects across paint, print, collage and sculpture. Portraiture and abstraction collide in multi-media works where hyper-real faces are masked in swabs of bright colour and bold patterning. The compositions evoke Dada and Pop Art, and make clear nods to Insect’s roots as a graffiti artist. However, behind the energetic compositions and colour palette, a more pernicious sentiment is veiled: the figures seem unsure as to whether they are trapped inside the canvas through force or consent, questioning notions of choice, freedom and identity.

In addition to his 2D works, Insect’s collection of puppets are part of an ongoing collaboration with New York street artist Bast. The duo’s bright, low-fi satire riffs off eminent societal archetypes: the cop, the robber, the pop star, the rapper, the disenfranchised youth. In 2015, at Banksy’s acclaimed and controversial Dismaland, Insect and Bast exhibited Fly Tip Theatre. The work, made entirely out of objects found in Hackney skips, consisted of four puppets that the audience were able to control from a bar above. With dubstep playing in plain daylight as the puppets jolted and thrusted their gangly limbs (comic timing all too familiar to the has-been partygoer or jaded raver), Insect and Bast proffered a culturally nuanced satire, executed with immaculate wit and vision.

As a post-internet artist, Insect critiques digital identity. The stoic gazes of his portraits directly engage with their viewers, as if their own selfhood is bound to the approval of others. While the desire to present one’s best self is perhaps timeless, in an age of social-media such psychological drives are intensified. Thus, Insect characterises our contemporary dilemma: what to post and what not to post. In doing so, he converges our projected identities and lived identities, elucidating how they are becoming ever-more difficult to separate. Exploiting this desire to shroud and to share, Insect’s rich and clever work interrogates the rift between who we are, and who we choose to be.

“There are two sides to people: the side you want everyone to see, and the side you would rather keep to yourself.” Paul Insect