Paul Stopforth

For some people at Harvard, artistic inspiration comes from far away. In the VES studios on Linden Street, Paul Stopforth paints with the colors of the South African sky. But in the neighboring rooms, thesis students working on their final projects inspire him by their presence.

“Being able to work in a space where so many people are engaged in working in this way makes a difference to how one feels about actually going to the studio,” Stopforth says. “It’s not isolated. It’s not out there somewhere in the city. In that sense, it is very much a part of Harvard.”

Stopforth did not leave South Africa until his late 40’s, and his experiences there still greatly impact his artwork.

“I’m an immigrant,” he says.

Between his time in South Africa and his career at Harvard, Stopforth feels as though he has “two histories, which to some degree is enormously rich.”

He spends his weeks serving as Head Tutor of the VES department and teaching two popular drawing classes, and his weekends working exclusively on his artwork. He also uses his vacation time to paint. “Thank god for the summers,” he says.

This summer, Stopforth hopes to spend two weeks working on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held during his incarceration. Because his work is so tied to a specific place, Stopforth has found that his work is sometimes inaccessible. “It is often not that easy for Americans to reference. I am something of an outsider for art in America or art in Boston,” he says. “As an exile or an immigrant, that is something that one constantly has to work with.”

Waking up early in the morning and often working in his studio late into the evening, Stopforth manages to find time to create art that makes strong statements about issues of apartheid and other injustice in South African society. Despite a lack of time for his own work, Stopforth praises his students as his greatest inspiration. “I have never worked with students whose enthusiasm is so extraordinary,” he says. Unlike students at many art schools, Harvard students don’t arrive with preconceived notions of being an artist, a mentality Stopforth says “gets in the way of actually making art.” Instead, VES students at Harvard have a “genuine engagement” with their work.

“The kind of energy and enthusiasm that students themselves put into their work” inspires Stopforth late into the night.