by Arthur Peña
June 04, 2013
Arthur Peña: I recently saw a video of you in your studio speaking about the role that technology plays in your work and I noticed that the word “portal” was painted on your wall and I immediately went to Cronenberg’s Videodrome. Is there anything to this connection?
Paul DeMuro: I have not seen the film from beginning to end, but I often think about the people and their relationship to technology. I think we are at a similar place as we were at the rise of industrialism at the beginning of the 20th century. Like it was then, there are new technological advancements on the horizon, and we cannot begin to grasp how those advancements will be utilized and processed, and how they will shape the future and human evolution.
If all things are cyclical, I think we are in an adolescent phase. There is a lot to be excited about. We are communicating in ways that were once not imaginable. We are pushing away from something that previously helped define us, but it is hard to name. I work with this in mind.
AP: Communication and its varied technological advances is an interesting issue to be working from. I say this in regards to the fact that you are making paintings, which at its core, is probably the most basic of all communication. How do you reconcile the vast difference between new technology and paintings?
PD: I agree that a painting as a communication tool is very basic. It doesn’t seem able to compete with the velocity of other mediums. But this may be its value.
I guess I don’t try to reconcile the differences. Instead, I just think about how my paintings are representational. Painting is good for representing light. At some point I realized that a large part of my work was responding to the amount of artificial light I expose myself to. The bright but dead light coming from screens and the amount of time we spend in that light is very specific and recent.
AP: I very much enjoy this idea that paintings “slowness” is its value. I’m sure that there is some research on this but I’ve found myself thinking how people must have had better night vision only a century ago. Our eyes, or at least the way we see light, must have changed and adapted to our current “dead light.” It would be interesting to think that the way we see light from paintings has adapted as well. If this is the (hypothetical) case, how do you think your work uses light differently from previous ways of painting?
PD: How people who rely on backlit screens see light has changed or is in the process of changing. That is just the tip of the iceberg; everything is changing, and fast. I wonder how or if we can keep up.
My studio is sparsely lit with just one overhead florescent light. There are no windows. This environment helps me. I want the paintings to be the source of light in a physical space. I want a steady glow from them.
AP: Would you say that you want your paintings to be comforting? I remember Stanley Whitney, who I think has a great amount of his light in his work, saying that if his painting was hung next to a window, that there should be no difference between the two to the viewer.
PD: Well, the idea of sunlight coming from a window may be less subjective. There are all kinds of good feelings evoked from that atmosphere created from strong bright naturalistic light. Not sure if the glow from a computer screen could be read as comforting or not. There are a lot of ugly feelings conjured up from the information read off of a screen.
AP: Can you talk about your choice to work with “red”? Color wise, it’s the rock star of the group. Were you looking at red’s relationship to the light spectrum?…..
PD: I have not done any scientific research about the color spectrum. I used red for this group of paintings because it is the inverse of the turquoise group I did for my last exhibition. What I mean by “inverse” is that according to my cell phone camera, red is what happens when I take a photo using the “negative” setting. It is a digital function reproducing the chemical function of traditional photography.
Also, I have been avoiding the color for a while. Red is heavy. I think that might be because of the strong connection the color has to the body. It is important for me to find ways to bring the body into the work. Scale and color do this, in different ways.
AP: What is it about the body that you feel responsible to?
PD: I like when being present with something makes me feel energy, like in my guts. This has to do with the way the body reacts. That reaction is as important as and works with any cerebral idea in my work. I also want to make light look touchable. Thick light.
Responsibility might be a strong word. I said it was important to bring the body in, but it is also easy. It is hard not to include an idea of organic material when using oil paint, as it is such a gross substance. For the way I am good at using paint it is a given.
AP: This makes sense and brings us back to Videodrome; the body and technology. Are you excited about how these two conditions will further intertwine in the future?
PD: It is important for there to be artists who try to observe what the future looks like. I feel that there is an energy rising, and that is exciting. For people this is the fastest time ever. That is so exciting but that also makes me feel unsure. I have a lot of skepticism about these conditions further intertwining. I don’t know if it will be a good thing or not. How can we tell? It seems like we have a lot of new technology that we have not seen the horror of yet, and we have always managed to weaponize technology in the past. Early modernism was filled with awe at new advancements, but many of those advancements had a dark side, and even led to terrible atrocity. We are putting a lot of faith in technology as a way to extend evolution past the body. I see a lot of backlash against technology when it comes to what it does to the purity of food or the environment. It is harder to put a finger on what it does when it comes to being human or whatever.
Paul DeMuro (born 1981) was raised in Philadelphia, PA. He grew up Catholic in a row house near four different cemeteries. He has been included in group exhibitions at Novella Gallery (NY), Columbia University (NY), Bull and Ram (NY), Open Space (NY), Tracy Williams ltd. (NY), The American Academy of Arts and Letters (NY), Jolie Laide (Philadelphia), and Gallerie Zürcher (Paris). His work has been featured in The New York Times, beautiful/decay and Title Magazine. He had solo exhibitions at Zürcher Studio in New York in the autumn of 2012, and Gallery Zürcher in Paris in the spring of 2013.
Arthur Peña (born 1982, Dallas, TX) is a painter and contributing writer to New American Paintings, ART HAPS, and curbsandstoops.com. Peña received his MFA in Painting from RISD in 2012, his Post-Baccalaureate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and his BFA from the University of North Texas. His work has been exhibited in Chicago, Providence, New York, Massachusetts, Detroit, Philadelphia and Dallas and he is represented by Oliver Francis Gallery. Peña teaches at UNT and Mountain View College, and he currently lives and works in Dallas.