Eazl: Helping Through Art and Music 

Art in a Box by Eazl

The founder of the UK-based non-profit, Eazl, Paul Aspell, collaborates with prominent artists and musicians to raise money for various charities and good causes. Eazl, which marked its ten-year anniversary in 2022, has worked with celebrities such as Paul McCartney, Debbie Harry, Brian Wilson, and Elvis Costello. Fine Art Shippers spoke with Paul Aspell about the origins of the non-profit and its upcoming anniversary project featuring Coldplay, Minnie Driver, Boy George, and others, set to launch this spring.

Eazl: Helping Through Art and Music

How did you come up with the idea of starting a non-profit? Why did you choose to focus on art projects?

Paul Aspell: It all started over a decade ago when I set out to find a dear artist friend of mine, Charles Long. I hadn’t seen him in fifteen years. I had moved to a different part of the UK, but lucky for me, he had also relocated and at that moment was living nearby. Charles shared with me a heartbreaking story of having spent two years in a mental health hospital, during which time he had suffered a breakdown and lost contact with his family, who had moved away to Australia. Despite his struggles, he was still painting and had managed to secure a small studio in Hertfordshire. 

One evening, while watching a cooking show, I heard the famous British-French chef, Michel Roux Jr., comment that the food looked like art on a plate. This sparked an idea in my head, and I commissioned Charles to paint Michel’s signature lobster dish in the style of Salvador Dali, the chef’s favorite artist. Excited to share the result with him, we headed to his Michelin-starred restaurant in London. Our suggestion was to create limited edition prints to support Charles. This didn’t work out but Michel offered us his support nonetheless. With his encouragement and the help of some donations, my friend was able to get back to painting again, and I was left feeling inspired to do more. So I decided to start a non-profit company called Eazl, with the aim of raising money for different charities. 

Founder of Eazl Paul Aspell

What was your first project? How did it go?

While I was working with Charles, I also connected with Richard Unwin, an arts writer and journalist, who was interested in helping to develop similar projects. Richard came on board to run Eazl with me and we have now worked together for over ten years.

Our first project was in collaboration with the London charity Upbeats Music, which Charles introduced me to. He was inspired by them and learnt to play the harmonica, which supported his reintegration into the world. I contacted the charity and proposed an idea to create a piece of art on an eight-inch square canvas and to get celebrities to paint the word “upbeat” to raise funds.

During our meeting with the charity, one of the trustees contacted their friend, Phil, who happened to be the manager of Coldplay. To my amazement, Coldplay agreed to participate, and it snowballed from there. We eventually had fifteen celebrities on board and raised a significant amount for the charity. Since then, we have continued to work with various charities on many projects.

What kind of feedback did you get from celebrities you worked with on that project?

They absolutely loved the project because it was simple and beautiful. We sent them big art boxes with paints and instructions, which made it easy for them. Once they finished, a logistics company that came on board for free to support the project picked up the paintings and brought them back. Everyone was so engaged and enthusiastic, even those who didn’t normally paint. I encouraged them to let themselves go on the small canvas and create something unique. 

We had a live auction in London, with the Royal Society of Arts providing the space. A friend of mine who owns a catering company offered to cater for one hundred people for free, which was amazing. One of the paintings, created by the famous comedian Paul Whitehouse, sold for £2000; and he was surprised and delighted by the outcome. Looking back, I always feel humbled and amazed by the incredible feedback and the willingness of people to help.

Art in a Box project by Eazl

I am curious about your background. Is it somehow related to art? 

I consider myself a creative person, but I’m not an artist. My love for creativity and painting comes from my parents and grandparents who were all artists. Before starting this project, I worked in construction doing fit-out work, which involved designing and building loft apartments in London. 

I’ve been able to draw on some of my old contacts, as well as new ones within the art world and beyond to support Eazl’s work. We try to get sponsors to cover project costs, but sometimes that’s not possible and we simply continue because we enjoy what we’re doing.  The individuals and companies that engage with us, including framers, printers, galleries, transporters, and suppliers, do so pro bono. More of the money raised from these projects can then go directly to the charities we support.

Art in a Box project by Eazl

How do you choose charities you donate to? 

As I mentioned earlier, I initially connected with a small charity called Upbeat Music, run by only five people who were doing amazing work. I made a conscious choice to focus on supporting smaller charities. I have met many small charities doing excellent work that all struggle to get funding and exposure. We have also tried to focus on art and music-related charities, but it hasn’t always worked out that way. For example, due to Covid, when everything shut down in the UK and all over the world, I came up with an idea to make teddy bears out of celebrities’ jeans for a children’s charity. 

We had Debbie Harry from Blondie, Boy George, Michael Bublé, and other celebrities on board and a collection of jeans at home, but we needed someone to make fifteen teddy bears for us. I found a lovely 78-year-old lady named Margaret, who made teddy bears. She gave me a contact at a company called Canterbury Bears. I rang them up, we agreed to meet up, and after hearing about the project and the celebrities involved, they offered to make all teddy bears for free. Incredible. I went to see the teddy bears being made; each one was so beautiful. That project was not purely artistic, but it was a great experience. All these ideas just come to me, and I am happy I can turn them into something meaningful, working with Richard who fine-tunes the message and helps to streamline each project.

Teddy Bear project by Eazl

Can you share some details of your upcoming anniversary project, “No Strings Attached”?

The project will go live at the end of April, and I have been working on it since July of last year. While walking near my home with my headphones on, I heard some acoustic music by John Williams, which gave me an idea for the project. I wanted to get the soundboard of an acoustic guitar and have an artist paint a song they wrote or composed on it. I reached out to Gibson, and they loved the project, offering to provide fifteen samples. We now have fifteen artists on board, but unfortunately, I can’t mention names as the project is still under wraps. The paintings are all coming in now, and they are incredible. The project is for a music charity and Gibson’s foundation, Gibson Gives. It’s a cool project that I am excited to see come to life.

Are you going to exhibit the art pieces created for this year’s project? 

We usually have an exhibition in central London. I already have a couple of galleries interested in this year’s project. A great thing about it is that they asked me if they could help me, not the other way around. So it’s now in the making. We will also exhibit in the Gallery windows at Gibson’s London studios before all the paintings are auctioned off. And we are going to host the thank-you party at the Scotch of St. James, an iconic club in London, where The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and other legendary musicians used to perform.

How do you feel about what you are doing?

I find it very humbling and a bit embarrassing to receive compliments. If someone says, “Wow, that’s fantastic,” I always say that it’s the hard work of the entire team. It’s not just me; it’s also Richard and our core, long-term partners, as well as dozens of people who have become involved in supporting each project. However, I do feel very proud of what we are doing from the idea through to the creation. Each project brings a smile to my face. 

Interview by Inna Logunova

Photo courtesy of Eazl

Project images by Harvey Aspell