Daniel Reich Gallery is very pleased to announce Inclinations a solo exhibition of works by Paul P.
Titled after a story about unrequited lesbian love by Ronald Firbank, P.’s latest endeavor is a presentation of nearly thirty works spanning diverse media and settings created between 2005 and the present. Currently a resident of Paris, P. takes the minor practices he employs (pastel, graphite, watercolor, drypoint and modest oil on paper works resembling ballet sketches) seriously. In this regard, P.’s work is at its core defiant. As David Velasco notes, P. adopts a “minority practice” emblematic of fey foppish sentimentality. While P.’s work is notable for its fine beauty; one can surely remember (regardless of sexuality) a time when as a child one transgressed the boundaries of gender and an exasperated parent responded: “Don’t do that!” As regards P.’s art practice surrounding attractive technically superb appreciations of the male nude, we can hear an irate art-critical voice scolding, “Don’t do that!” And yet it is precisely in doing that and in doing it more and again and in developing his practice into a science that P. derives pleasure, amusement and a degree of heroism. Situated in an old convent, P.’s Paris studio in its cleanliness and orderly classification most closely recalls a laboratory especially when one notices his chemist-like ink stained hands. Hence P.’s minority practice belies a missionary vocation. P.’s perfectionist precision is distinct from other emerging and contemporary artists working in the aesthetic vein. For instance, even recent pastel works, softer in connotation than pointed pencil, utilize graphic blocks of color albeit to Byzantine effect. To the initiated eye, P.’s work has aforethought—often unnoticed because aforethought so counters the rapid liveliness of his illusions. While P.’s paintings are much in demand, the aforethought of his project obviates an elevation of pastel, watercolor, graphite, drypoint and lithography. Media, signaling the study, the start and stop of an artist: the experimentation of a Sunday painter or the delight of a stage designer – all concluding in grand un-artworks, are invisible actors in P.’s work. Inclinations qualifies the range, versatility and systematic coherence of P.’s project. As an obsessively repetitive practice with a delineated language and stoic persistence, P.’s work conversely owes as much to minimal restriction and repetition as it does to aestheticism. P. restricts himself to academic rules regarding the use of media (strictly segregating pastel and colored pencil technique), to copying his subjects from a primary source: pornographic magazines or the works of James McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent and others, and to working in small scale. And yet as Collier Schorr notes regarding P.’s transcription: “there is always a third unknown voice…”
As P.’s imaginary world brings to mind the dualities summarized by Vince Aletti: “…life and death, masculinity and femininity, theatrical artifice and blunt reality:” we may accept opulence as the flip side of expiation. For example, the infinitesimal cross hatching with which P. brings relief to a form, denotes an unqualified depth by crossing out the neutrality of the blank page so that the eye hovers between form, depth and the reality of infinitesimally rendered hatch marks. This infinitesimal detail found in a work by P. matches the broadly imaginative nature of his sources. P.’s men originate in figures elucidated by Collier Schorr as “a series of performances… from old pornography magazines, [men] who were chosen because of the type they refer to…” In terms of style, P. is at times the great grandson of Sargent, while at others he a distant relation of the Spartan Eakins. P.’s project initially began as a form of monastic transcription—copying with an eye to the exactitude of tracing images from the “golden age” of late 60s, 70s and 80s gay pornography. As a systemic thinker, P. set his figures against the abstract flourishes and florid backgrounds of the late nineteenth century aesthetic movement in painting. His fusion of elements was amplified by the penchant of 70s décor for the Edwardian and the exotic – an already present tendency that allowed P. to portray both eras as periods of social and cultural flexibility and temporary sexual liberty.
In this context, P.’s naturalistic figures have become vessels for signification and P. is also heavily influenced by the late nineteenth century notion of environmental coloration, whereby the subject is merely a hue informed by the totality of the entire scene. For instance, one scrutinizes the long bangs of a model in search of eyes that implicitly stare directly at you to be met with the viscous inky swirl with which shadow is rendered. P.’s use of drypoint and lithographic printing is in keeping with his copying of magazine photographs. These pre-twentieth century techniques of printing partly allowed for the proliferation and circulation of images and there is something about making a print that suggests putting ones stamp on things. The lithographic outline of a mysterious Edwardian woman beneath a hat touching her chin against a shadowy ground has a curiously uniform surface and this lithographic quality makes her a shadow forever separate from the stone on which she was conceived. So play between sure illusion and noted absence relates to the play between P.’s figures and the images he copies – so that his final product recedes into the imaginary world it recollects.
When writers describe P.’s world, they often look to other writers to capture the richness a precisely rendered piece of paper suggests. In terms of minimal import, a system of marks describing an illusion especially in terms of drawing, drypoint or lithography is very much like printed text and in that P’s figures and mise-en-scenes are themselves informed by literary imaginings it is appropriate that his scenes conjure a fantasma of Herman Melville, Henry James, Harold Acton, Gore Vidal and Oscar Wilde. A clean-cut young man up wading in a river recalls the civil war illustrator turned artist: Winslow Homer, evoking dour New England coldness, puritan chastity and hygienic chill. Other works have the heaviness of a dank corridor like one where two hippies linger in dialogue, their bodies in a state of easy composure. While a figure in cold water proscribes vigor, a couple proscribes contagious languor. A figure emerging from smoky George Hurrell like depths flexes his functional arms to hoist his unseen lower half like a swimmer extricating himself from an inky pool. His body has a thirties social utility in its monumental theatrical solitude. Another figure is not drawn from the pages of a magazine, but from a statue in a Paris park of a mask seller from the period of Napoleon III. Unlike the other figures he is absolutely anonymous. His sinewy legs, pronounced knees and rounded belly are those of a child and his symmetrical face forever frozen in an impish half smile makes him a referent to an ideal. One foot before the other, he is a an imperial foot soldier offering with a raised hand the products of French culture to the world. While many of P.’s portraits are vivid enough to have the uncanny quality of jumping off the page, given that P’s practice is intensely repetitive, it is hard to see his young men as specific and in their anonymity they escape P.’s aforethought—becoming all too human joining many millions of vulnerable naked bodies interred in time, ultimately vessels for history.
P. has most recently shown with Maureen Paley in London as part of a two person exhibition with Peter Hujar and at the Power Plant in Toronto with Francesco Vezzoli.