Director Ryan Fenton-Strauss’ very personal documentary, Paint As You Like, centers on a fifty year exploration of his father’s work as a painter. Fenton-Strauss, the son of painter Michael Fenton, has both a filial and artistic connection to his father, deepening the narrative of the piece beyond a traditional biopic. This personal touch is apparent throughout the documentary’s hour-long running time, as an artist’s life is recounted with careful attention paid to the triumphs and trials Fenton faced throughout his career.
Director Ryan Fenton-Strauss Searches to Define A Lasting Impact
Early in Paint As You Like, director Ryan Fenton-Strauss speaks over clips of home video. “I imagine this film playing as a tribute to my father,” he narrates. Viewers are treated to a clip of his father, Michael, leading a tour of their home’s attic. A wall is lined with canvas upon canvas, wrapped in brown paper for safekeeping. “A big pile. Make a nice bonfire, wouldn’t it?” his father jokes.
That realization--that someday Fenton’s life’s work could all disappear--speaks to the fragility and ephemerality of art, a theme explored by Fenton-Strauss again and again as he catalogues his father’s life. In a way, Paint As You Like is as archival as it is exploratory. Its mixture of interviews, photos, old family movies, Fenton’s paintings, and hand drawn animation serves as a multifaceted approach to preserving his life and his work.
Paint As You Like Has Universal Touchstones and Questions
Central to Paint As You Like’s storyline are several questions which transcend mediums and are faced by artists young and old. Fenton discusses how his personal definitions and ideas surrounding success and failure shifted across his lifetime. Part of the film focuses on how Fenton’s early-career successes gave way to less artistically leaning aspirations.
When he was just 25 years old, Fenton had the opportunity to sell one of his first paintings to the Cleveland Museum of Art. Although a promising beginning, when he began to lose momentum he eventually settled for a life as an academic and family man. Even non-artists can relate to the choices Fenton had to weigh between career and family, dreams and what is more readily attainable.
At the end of the day, however, Fenton-Strauss realizes that what constitutes a meaningful life and a meaningful work of art are two in the same. Both success and failure aren’t far from each other, he reflects near the film’s closing. Drawing a parallel between his father’s work and his own pursuit of filmmaking, Fenton-Strauss even admits that whether or not his film is worthwhile is in the eyes of the viewer. After spending time learning about Michael Fenton’s life, though, the question of the documentary has a clear answer. For this viewer, the film and Fenton’s paintings both have merit.