On view at Jack Shainman Gallery is an exhibition by Paul Anthony Smith entitled “Junction” (April 4–May 11). For his first solo show with the gallery, the Jamaican-born artist is presenting new picotage on pigment prints that explore how, and if, a photograph can retain the reality of its past. The exhibition confronts the complex history of life in the postcolonial Caribbean, shining light on its people, their cultural politics, and the hybrid identities that are created between the old world and the new world. The show continues the artist’s thread of navigating personal topics, like memory, migration, dislocation, and globalization.
Whitewaller spoke with the artist about his new show, his unique picotage works, and what a day is like in his Brooklyn studio.
WHITEWALLER: What was the starting point for this new body of work?
PAUL ANTHONY SMITH: The starting point of this body of work began a few years ago. It stemmed out of being an immigrant trying to understand my surroundings, specifically within the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, which I now call home. The work examines the multicultural Caribbean influences that have taken root since the seventies and eighties and have grown into events such as the West Indian Labor Day parade. I have also explored the rich and complex histories of the postcolonial Caribbean and its people, who often are marginalized at the intersection between cultural politics and individual, pedestrian identities.
WW: Can you tell us about your process with picotage? How do you relate what’s happening on the surface to the story of the image printed?
PAS: When employing this technique, it’s a bit aggressive and tactile. I relate this to a coming-of-age story, getting tattoos, piercings, and other forms of ritualistic body modifications. With picotage, I utilize a needle-like tool to puncture the epidermis of the photographs, revealing the white underside and paper pulp. The image then obtains an almost lenticular graphic illusion of moving parts. The images are of celebratory moments, capturing the open nature of individuals performing in disguise.
WW: Were there any new themes you explored in these works?
PAS: In the new works, I’ve explored modernist architectural elements, which function both as a time stamp and a veil. Some of these architectural influences are shared between New York and Caribbean nations and are still very present today.
WW: Were there any new techniques or mediums you explored?
PAS: Right now, I’m using spray paints and oil sticks that have continued to push these new works forward. This will continue to evolve, and I’m currently in the process of making that happen, which may be after the show.
WW: Was there a particularly challenging piece in the show for you?
PAS: They are all challenging. Some may be more difficult than others, but they all challenge me.
WW: Can you tell us about your studio space? What is a typical day in your studio like?
PAS: I’ve occupied the studio I work out of for the past three years. It’s located close to home in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. It’s not large but afforded me the time to produce a substantial amount of work for my upcoming show. I usually get to the studio around 10 a.m. and I’m here into the night, sometimes 9 to 10 p.m., or even later.