JP Paul: Anonymous Memories

Anonymous Memories: Nothing That a Lick of Paint Cant Obliterate marks a return to non-digital mixed media work by JP Paul. The series of 15 works depicts pages from a dynamic journal or scrapbook that is constantly updated to reflect the owner's attempts to refocus the current by redefining historical references and influences. 5 works are currently available for purchase at AltSur Gallery.

The series is monotone, minimal and raw. Ripped pages rest atop the remnants of previous whitewashed pages as well as leftover glue that once fastened other layers of pages. Glue becomes the sole survivor of removed thoughts, phrases and images. Tattered sticky labels are typed and fastened atop previous labels.

Dimensions are decidely smaller than previous series as Paul seeks to create a personal scale and more intimate relationship between viewer and viewed.

According to the artist, "I wanted to explore the concept of our lives constantly morphing, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Through these changes, perceptions of our past and future also evolve, hence the constant attempt to reinterpret or reshape our history through certain critical references even if the end game is only a realignment for the future rather than any fruitless attempt to alter that past."

"These journals have a dynamic nature to them, seemingly a life of their own. I see this as an inconsistency with the fill 'em up 'n forget 'em nature of most scrapbooks or photo albums. Clearly there is a motive for storing specific memories in the first place and another very different impulse to redefine or wipe them out entirely. I see this as a universal message about memories. We've all had them, including those we'd like to forget, thus the nod to anonymity and interchangability that I think adds to the personal interaction with the work."

Anonymous Memories can be seen as somber, almost defeatist, but the artist is quick to note that they serve as a positive reminder that no situation is so dire that it can't be remedied. Labels are purposely ambiguous for this reason as each viewer attaches their own relevance.

4 of 15 works from Anonymous Memories



Q & A (extract from chat w/Damien Pent @ Artfronts, originally published on the artist's website

AF - Okay, so we let you out of our sight for awhile and you go off on a few more tangents!  Your new works are decidely analog, physical and materials based. What's with the 180 degree flip, save for the title of course which is so JP Paul as you continue to explore the visual and written arts in parallel.

JP - Haa ! For sure,"Nothing That A Lick of Paint Can't Obliterate" is definitely a mouthful but it does describe the series well in all of its connotations, negative and positve. At it's core, it's very literal, semantic work and I hope thought provoking, a particular goal of mine for everything I do.

AF - You've been a major supporter of digital arts. This is certainly a major change of direction, or don't you see it that way?

JP - It's nice to be back working closer with the arts world after exploring other fields but I don't think this series in itself was such a radical transformation. My works, even the early digital stuff, were always multimedia and physical. They incorporated numerous elements that were never straight printing. All the digital works I brought to market were one-of-a-kinds and printed only by me at various stges of overall production. I know there are skeptics and cynics including some of my closest colleagues who say that digital art can never been one-of-a-kind nor even 'editions' limited to some arbitrary number. I cry "BS!"  I know many artists who use the computer as just one facet of the production cycle and combine them with other layers or elements..Their works, like mine, are one offs in the purest form of the word even though parts of the underlying content may be appropriated repeatedly from reproduceable digital files. In other words, I use computer elements as any other artist's tool. What I don't do is purposely make digital art so that I can slap out hundreds of copies to earn more money per image.

We're not talking dabs of paint over a giclee to give it that hand-touched narrative, nor textured transparent oversprays. Instead there are artists who conceive their work in a form that incorporates both digital and traditional methods and materials from inception. Everything else is just moving tools around like deck chairs. Sorry for the rant. I just feel there are still too many traditionalists in the art world who need to stop dragging their heels over new art forms. 

Why am I talking about digital art and this series in the same sentence, anyway?

AF - You're a wanderer?

JP- Sorry for the tangents. Back to the question. I'm still very involved with digital imaging and alternative arts. My latest series that you mentioned, Anonymous Memories, is not digital because I feel it works better when actual physical layers of torn pictures and papers become the content and the message. I probably could have gone digital, made the works far larger and profited accordingly. I didn't because I want this series to be more personal, more intimate, a reminder that can be placed closer to our most important physical spaces. There was no need to emulate this with digital, in fact I think the rawness, the crude ripping of the paintings' layers and the leftover glue from under layers become major aesthetic and conceptual points of the work.

Looking back, though, the idea came during a digital moment while we were cataloguing the Perez Franco Estate archives. Carlos kept copious notes and drawings of his worldwide travels and classwork in paper scrapbooks. They created a timeline of his development as a person, a father, an architect and ultimately as the brilliant visual artist that he became. My fear is that these delicate works, some over 65 years old, will deteriorate due to Uruguay's excessive humidity and ozone-layer free sun. We're thinking of digitizing all of the journals to present them in some format. Parallel to this, I noted that pages of the scrapbooks often had photos that had fallen off, descriptions that had been wiped out and replaced or didn't relate at all to the latest image, even sketches that he erased in order to align a new idea. This became the seed for my series.

AF - So the series is essentially an homage to memories of your late father-in-law?

JP. - Not really, no. Perhaps partially in some subconscious way since the idea was fomented after reviewing his journals. There's no doubt that Perez Franco was my primary influence, not only as an artist but as a man and a father figure since I had a falling out with my own father very early in my life. In this series I wanted to explore the concept of our lives constantly morphing, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Call it a realignment with what we were, what we are and how we handle potential dichotomies. The final image labelling is 100% my references based on my recollections, tangents and transitions. Carlos saw life differently than me even though we shared many common values and priorities. To say he is somehow embedded in this work, then yes, that's obviously true.

AF - Okay then, about some of those references? Will you give us some clues?

JP - Don't be lazy! Admittedly, some are very personal, but I think others can associate with them. This series tells larger stories with less verbiage. It's not huge letters and bold words in your face like a Christopher Wool or Barbara Kruger, but subtle statements are still being made. Perhaps it's closer to John Baldessari's 70s work or even someone like a David Shrigley, Banksy or Samo, Basquiat's pseudonym for his early graffiti. Simple communication through sound bites or flash slogans. This itself could be a reflection of what I'm seeing in today's society. As artists and writers we need to get to the point faster since people are busier and have shorter attention spans.

Detail from "Back to the Wall, like a Good Knight"

AF - In particular, I see something sinister behind "Back to the Wall, Like a Good Knight."

JP - You're really going to insist?  We're on the same side here! But sinister, why sinister?

AF - Warriors, then? A battle?

JP - You're British. I'm sure you've visited more than your share of castles, correct?  When you visit the eating salons you often see thin rows of tables hugging the perimeter of the room with only serving tables in the middle?

AF - True.

JP - Okay, the story goes that castles were set up this way because the knights would always sit with their backs to the wall to avoid being attacked from behind while eating. I see this as one possible origin of the term "being backstabbed."

AF - I believe you've approached that idea before in the 20/20 series with works like 'Who Has Your Back', 'The White Stallion' and in this series, 'The Return of the White Stallion', yes?

JP - Correct. Look, we've all been hurt by supposed friends and enemies who hit us when we least expect it. I too have unintentionally inflicted my share of pain to people dear to me through mistakes any of us would prefer to take back.  While the idea denotes ominous situations, it's also a reminder to watch your own back because others won't.

AF - I believe in the past you've also mentioned to me a particular personal affiliation with knights?

JP - Knights and Pirates, yes. You had to bring that up, didn't you?

AF - No, you did through the work!

JP - Fair enough. Do you believe in reincarnation? The belief that you've had other lives through thousands or hundreds of thousands of years that somehow contribute to your current self?

AF - Go on...

JP - You're baiting me!

AF - Nothing you didn't do as a journalist.

JP - Touché. Over time I've felt that I've been a knight in one life and a pirate in another. I feel it through places and music and  situations. Large anthem-like music, minstrels, court jesters, bloody battles. These images are constant for me. Sitting with my back against a wall makes perfect sense. The memories seem fresh and current. They elicit emotions similar to what a person might feel upon return to the place they were born or raised, somewhere cherished and memorable. I was overwhelmed in every castle I visited in England as well as the hallowed halls of Cambridge. I walked down the streets of the old pirate town of Port Royal in Jamaica with my head on a swivel, somehow equating the street urchins to the next generation of pirates. That's all I can say. Next question?

Detail from "Chipping away at the next ones."

AF -  "Chipping Away at the Next Ones."  Same thing?

JP - Dual interpretations depending if you're a glass half full or a glass half empty type of person. There are paranoid people who live in constant fear of what MIGHT happen and spend their lives fretting. Contrarily, the overall message of the title work of the series is also at play in this one, i.e. Forget what's coming, accept certain events as inevitable but prepare yourself to deal with them so you won't be blind-sided. Just another simple life tip that I've learned the hard way.

AF - "Sorry for Leaving My Fingerprints" seems a little depressing.

JP - Of all the works, probably more so than any, but it's a sincere, heartfelt attempt to admit and correct, Sometimes we don't notice that we may cause harm to others. When we finally realize what we've done, it's too late. Again, the duality. Is the speaker apologizing for past errors or is it a forecast?

It takes an observant and compassionate person to see beyond oneself and a strong one to admit mistakes. One thread in all of my work is the sense of community solidarity versus individual achievement.  This piece is one more reminder that life is bigger than ourselves.

AF - I'm getting the feeling that the messages you're relaying are very much in line with your entire body of previous work even though the materials and tools are different.

JP - That's part of the plan, sure.

AF - Can we continue?

JP - Haa!  Would you stop if I said no?

AF - Carry on we do then! "Now You Just Want to Scrape Away the Bad Bits" sounds so British! One interpretation is that it's snarky and self-deprecating, almost devious when taken in the context of a journal page that is already chewed to death from numerous rounds of application and scraping. As in... what more could possibly be accomplished or extracted from this wretched mess?

JP - Not much I can add to that, really, except to say I'm reminded of the old phrases like "Beat me, whip me" or "Dont flog a man when he's down." It also reminds me of a somewhat politically-correct art teacher trying to remain positive but still not quite able to avoid thowing the dart. To your point, I demonstrated these works to an acquaintance who also happens to be a traditionalist hyper-conservative painter. His comment was, "What do you mean Bad Bits? It's all bad!"

Again, the duality. Being happy in life is hard, constant work. It's not always pretty but through perseverance we can come out the other side. Perhaps it's a call to surround oneself with the right influences, or possibly to accept compromise when knowing that nobody is perfect. I hope viewers consider these ideas rather than simply call it dross. I've never said that my work is for everybody.

Detail from "Now you just want to scrape away the bad bits."

AF - FInally, at least for the small selection you've introduced so far, is the series signature piece, "Nothing that a lick of paint can't obliterate." From what you're saying so far, I'm seeing that this too can be taken in more than one way.

JP - There's defiance and there's hope. I don't necessarily believe in a world of self determination because I've lived in both developing and developed countries. I've seen it all and I'm no longer as naive as I once was. Unfortunately, many people are doomed to a specific fate regardless of what they do, But we can affect our lives to a large degree through the choices we make. We can make our own history. If I didn't believe this I would have given up long ago.

AF - So who is this work for?  Or, who might be inclined to buy it?

JP - I see this as two very different questions. The audience is persons who know or at least immediately see what I'm trying to express. For those who don't know me personally, they can "feel" through the work what I've expressed and how they identify with similar references in their lives. That's who it's for.

As for who will buy it? Anybody who likes semantic, conceptual, minimalist, direct-to-the-point work that deals in the now while referring quite prominently with the past and the future. People will say this is strictly early 21st century contemporary art and that's fine. But I want to believe that there's a timeless quailty to this as well.

I'm not into showmanship. This is the most subdued work I've ever brought to market.  I'm also not trying to impress people with painting or drawing skills. Again, that's obvious, no? Nevertheless, I believe the work says something important about me, about our society and our choices. I'm not trying to game anyone. I sincerely believe the ideas and messages are something we should all buy into regardless of how cynical some have become regarding contemporary art in general and minimalist art in specific. Whether that warrants purchasing a piece for your home is the decision that viewers must make with this and any art.

AF - I agree, and thank you for this introduction. Best of luck with this series.  I notice only 5 works on the AltSur site. I was led to believe there were 15 in total. Holding back on us?

JP - I confess!  Actually, 5 are going to patrons who have supported me since early in my art career. They're kind enough to purchase something from most series I create and always get in early... touch wood!  The other 5 are reserved pending agreement with a North American gallery. They're similar to these five but significantly larger. Uruguay is a small but vibrant art market. It's not necessary that we have too many works here since the season is very short, albeit intense. And as we move to a more internet-centric global model, this becomes even more imperative that fulfillment is quick and cost effective.

For more information about existing & upcoming work, please contact us.

 © All images copyright JP Paul

Posted by Damien Pent