Heavy Metal Painter is a brilliant little documentary that should hold the interest of art enthusiasts as much as metal-heads and makes for a fascinating story whether you embrace the metal scene or not.
Paul Gregory, co-founder of the now massive Bloodstock Festival, is the Painter of the title, and the story follows his journey to festival curator via his years as a magnificent canvas dauber and gallery owner.
Hailing from the beautifully shot Derbyshire, we see Gregory honing a craft that came from his love of horror movies, painting graphic images onto large-scale canvasses with outstanding effect. His skills are breathtaking, particularly when he finds a niche in creating works to accompany the writings of Tolkien. Endless vistas, towering dragons, intricately detailed Hobbits, and beautifully painted skies evoke the magic of the books, and even on the small screen, cannot fail to make the viewer catch their breath. The directors of the documentary capture the paintings in vivid detail and fill the screen with spectacle; to see this projected onto an IMAX screen would be an overwhelming experience.
Gregory comes across as a thoroughly likeable character who has a bond with his children that is quite unique (more of that in a bit); he is also committed to art. We see this when he swapped his home for a caravan in the 70s to finance the opening of a small gallery in Spondon.
It wasn’t long until people started to notice his work, and he found a solid agent in Sotheby’s art dealer, Peter Nahum, who proudly showed us his archive of Gregory’s epic framed canvasses.
In 1984, Gregory provided artwork for Saxon’s Crusader album, satisfying his dual desire to create awesome art and become involved in the world of metal. His work unsurprisingly led to further projects with Uriah Heep, Motorhead, Molly Hatchet and Mastodon, among others.
The documentary falls into two halves – once Gregory’s status as a master painter is established, we cut to footage of the Bloodstock Festival in 2005 at the Derby Assembly Rooms. At that point, it was a low-key indoor event that was nonetheless vital for metallers to convene and rock out. As the years rolled on, it became clear that the venue was way too small and an outdoor setup would allow a much larger audience, and this is where the second phase of Paul Gregory’s career kicks in.
Once Gregory’s co-founder bails from the project, he recruits his two daughters and son, and the festival becomes a solid family affair.
Interviews with many familiar faces from the metal world convince us that the Gregory family are sweet and totally in this for the right reasons. Then, the link is made as we see Gregory setting up his own pop-up gallery of work on the festival site. The story comes full circle, but it’s still an ongoing project.
This desire to keep his work current and exciting is immortalized in his epic work, Mordor Festival – a giant painting that shows a festival audience, made up of family and friends that Gregory continues to add to each year.
Despite the graphic nature of the artwork and the weight of the music genre, this is a documentary with great warmth and heart and adds strong visuals to a very dramatic musical landscape.
Director: Rouzbeh Heydar, Kevin Rasmussen, Jordan Tuff
Producer: The Art of Heavy Metal
Starring: Paul Gregory, Peter Nahum, Biff Byford
Production Company: The Art of Heavy Metal
Release Date: October 10, 2023 (YouTube)
Run Time: 41 minutes
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