April 18 - May 24, 2013
Andrew Roth is pleased to present “Escritoire Nancy,” a collection of new paintings and drawings by Paul P.
These works originate in the artist’s decade-long, ritualized exploration of Venice: The same neighborhoods always seen in autumn and winter. All of the paintings but one depict a view of Venice (the other is of Venice Beach, California), eschewing the expected Venetian scenes and focusing instead on a very “interior” handling of exteriors, moving inward from the artist’s earlier illustrative scenes of gondolas, canals, and the lagoon.
The oil paintings on canvas are extractions: one painting, for example, features a red-and-gray-painted stucco wall seen from a gently sloping perspective, cropped to the point where the image appears only as a field of color. Most of the paintings are small and intimately scaled, in an earthy and vibrant palette, showing windows, hanging laundry, shadows — the everyday elevated to the level of poetry. At their most elemental, the paintings are reduced to a single tone, as is the case in a larger, russet work; but the deep, rich colors of the glaze-painting lend the images a complexity that diverts them from minimalism.
Created with a fountain pen and washes of blue-gray ink, a series of drawings, executed en plein air, show vantages of a 19th-century sculpture, located in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, of a young satyr on his stomach, furry legs apart and draped with a pelt, as he teases two bear cubs with pieces of honeycomb. Although the sculpture is not itself Venetian, it embodies, for P., a frank-yet-playful, near-mythical eroticism that he imagines as once inhabiting the alleys of Venice or the sun drenched boardwalk of its Pacific cousin.
A more mysterious series of drawings in ink — dots, dashes and curls that are renderings of the effects of light on water — emphasize the importance of being there. The drawings’ lines are an immediate record of time’s passage, and their particular marks and method of composition reference writing and writers, especially the more secretive work of the homosexual author during the last century.
Long attracted by the allure of late 19th century Venice, P. noted that, “The city sparked a transition in my work, which builds itself on a practice of systematic repetition. The desire that typified my earlier figurative work now locates itself in these landscapes and architectural details. I see sex and clandestine exchanges being intrinsic to Venice and all of its shapes, and perhaps to all of my work.” The artist evokes Venice as a place of permissiveness and abandon, known to force the unraveling of the North American and English consciousness leading from irresistible desire towards death. This dynamic has been embodied in Baron Corvo’s The Venice Letters, The Desire and The Pursuit of the Whole, or perhaps most famously in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.
The exhibition’s eponymous piece, Escritoire Nancy, is a sculpture designed for the mid-20th century novelist and essayist Nancy Mitford, who summered in Venice and belonged to a famous family of sisters who, through their breadth of character, seem to have touched everything that defined the last century. Escritoire Nancy consists of a mahogany desk and stool that P. sees as bound tangentially but poetically to his other work in its associations with history, correspondence and reportage, literature and aestheticism. The shifting, almost hand-drawn lines of the furniture take their inspiration from the work of E.W. Godwin, a 19th-century English design reformer, aesthete, and collaborator of Whistler’s, and one of the first in England to incorporate Japanese elements into his work. The desk also serves as a foil to the more fatal mythology of Venice — Mitford’s novel Love in a Cold Climate, featuring perhaps one of the first ever truly happy and unpunished gay characters in popular literature.