BAHM: 2.9.17 Paul Mpagi Sepuya
Paul Mpagi Sepuya is a Los Angeles based artist who works in photography, installation and publishing and brings a refreshing ingenuity to portraiture. He holds a BFA in Photography and Imaging from Tisch School of the Arts and an MFA from UCLA. His work is an investigation of the mechanisms of photography; the function of the studio and portraiture and self-portraiture as it relates to a queer, erotic gaze. Sepuya has shown his work internationally, participated in a number of residencies and published several books, most recently, STUDIO WORK in 2012. Figures, Grounds and Studies is on view at Yancey Richardson Gallery through March 18, 2017.
In speaking of his process, Sepuya notes Brian O’Doherty’s concept, “collage of compressed tenses [within] studio time,” or the conflation of many instances in time and space onto one photographic surface. Depth and texture are achieved by photographing into a mirror and layering the image with fabrics and printed materials so that it becomes hard to discern what or who is actually present in that moment. They bring a hyperawareness to the act of looking, or the artist’s gaze, and through extension, the gaze of the viewer, without sacrificing the agency of the overtly sexualized male sitter. The torn portraits echo the legs of the tripod in a literal translation of the triangulation of desire. While many of the portraits reveal little more than fragments of bodies, they have a ruthless truthfulness to them, purposefully vague and unquestionably intimate. Where the tripod might be interpreted as a surrogate for the artist himself, the insertion of his hand into the frame reads more as a gesture of revision and control or the gaze of the artist that constructs and directs the image making process.
Much of Sepuya’s work addresses self-documentation and an awareness of the studio space and its functions. More opaque images such as A ground (2015) render the complex layers of the studio as an internal mental and emotional state, the labor or self-representation. But this is perhaps most apparent in his series Studio Work 2010 – 2011 and his installation, Studio Work (2013) at ArtSpeak Vancouver which function similarly to his fragmented photographs. They work as records of visual, intellectual and physical consumption and more largely as the space in which the photographic interactions take place, the social realm of his work.
A Thousand Words: Portraiture, Style and Queer Modernism by Jaime Hovey
Untitled Proofs: Paul Mpagi Sepuya's Tumblr blog
Freunde von Freunden Interview and Photo Essay