SELECTED TEXTS

The Nation : “Playing With Mirrors,” by Barry Schwabsky

[excerpt]

Photographs, and photographs of photographs; cameras, and cameras pointing at cameras; models, and models posing as models: A kind of brooding over these—and the conundrum of whether, by distancing and framing portions of reality, photography thereby deconstructs itself—typifies a technical formalism that has become widespread of late. Artists in this cohort are not so much concerned with making photographs as with examining them in their manifold and contradictory capacities as objects (sheets of chemically treated paper), manifestations of social praxis (ways of relating to other people and the environment), and immaterial entities circulating freely in the world (as digital information).

Rather than offering viewers immediate access to information about the world or simply how some given portion of it looks, artists working in this mode see the techniques, conventions, and history of photography as an interpretive grid that makes some things harder to see and other things easier. They consider that their work can only reflect on the world by looping back on itself—by rendering visible its photographic character as a pre-interpretation of the world that it claims merely to show. Only by pinpointing the fact of its own fictiveness does this kind of work gesture toward some significant aspect of the world beyond. That’s how it happens that an artist like Paul Mpagi Sepuya, whose photographs are as insistently reflexive and formally refined as any being made today, can nonetheless proclaim that in his work, “the sum total of content lies outside of the conversation about art. It’s better served by gossip and friendship.”
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ARTFORUM Critic’s Pick : “Figures, Grounds and Studies” by Ian Bourland

Paul Mpagi Sepuya is self-consciously part of a deep lineage of queer cultural practice. His process journals reveal his engagement with Bruce Nugent and other gay writers from the past century, and his intimate color portraits call to mind earlier photographs by Lyle Ashton Harris, Peter Hujar, and Rotimi Fani-Kayode. The writer and critic Hilton Als included Sepuya in his 2016 exhibition on James Baldwin, poetically situating him as one of Baldwin’s creative “children.”

This exhibition includes a handful of such portraits: black and white men, at times draped in rich fabric and posed in a formal studio setting, à la Baroque painting. But most of the pictures here are fragmented—collages of Sepuya’s large-scale prints: torn, overlaid, and rephotographed. Works such as Mirror Study (Self-Portrait)_Q5A2059, 2015, rather overtly suggests process—from the messiness and fractured nature of the self to the archival aspects of artmaking, down to saving and indexing files on a computer.

But for all their layering, Sepuya’s photographs have a distinctive unity, derived from his shooting into a mirror and drawing his varied source materials together onto a single plane. In these studies, figures are never complete, and we are asked to consider the lineage of studio portraiture itself—its artifice and self-performance a form of analogy to the more quotidian masquerade of everyday life, of looking at our reflection and searching for a sense of cohesion. Sepuya’s camera resists such cohesion and adds contemporary resonance to the traditional, canonical, and subcultural alike.

– Ian Bourland

https://www.artforum.com/picks/id=66973

The Brooklyn Rail : Paul Mpagi Sepuya “Figures, Grounds and Studies,” by Phillip Griffith

The relational spaces opened by the images in Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s Figures, Grounds and Studies are a happy disturbance to the homogenizing squares and grids of social media and dating app profile photos. Most of the images in this exhibition involve the photographing of mirrors with cut-up fragments of other photographic prints taped to them; others feature bodies hidden and revealed by heavy drapes. The photographs scramble our efforts to parse what is figure and what is ground, and the encounter of different skin tones, of bodies differently marked by race but apparently sharing a gender, complicates our identifications with the images and their figures.

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Hyperallergic : The Solitude and Sensuality of an Artist’s Studio, by Zachary Small

Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s exhibition at Yancey Richardson Gallery illuminates the intimate terrains of the artist’s studio life.

An artist’s studio contains more than the materials necessary for work. More often than not, the studio is a site where the personal and the professional collide. Deconstructed, fragmented, and floating, Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s photography reveals the solitude and splendors of his studio practice. The sense of isolation in Sepuya’s work is countered by the sensuousness of naked bodies and evidence of recently departed visitors — the ruffling of bed sheets, the bouquet of red roses.

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The Autonomous Limbs of Paul Mpagi Sepuya, by Lindsay Garcia

Published on the occasion of the exhibition Fragmented Gaze, curated by Loren Britton

Everyone who enters an artwork-laden space enters with their own fragmented gaze. Our personal baggage, the genealogy and genes of our families, and the history of our multitudinous cultures, classes, races, genders, and sexualities—all these factors, and others, lead us to see the works from our unique point of view. An African-American queer artist hailing from the precipices of the Los Angeles art scene, Paul Mpagi Sepuya offers a deliciously ambiguous point of entry into the history of photography, the hyper-sexualization of black male bodies, and the art studio as muse. Through layering modes of representation and a subtle color palette, Sepuya is able to create compositions that force the viewer to question commonly held assumptions about the figure of the artist, queer gaze, and photographic conventions. (more…)

James Baldwin / Jim Brown and the Children, by Hilton Als

There is too much to say and I don’t want to say it.

The experience of making visual things, or creating an environment in which artists get to speak, is a part of life I prefer not to crowd with words. Words are my job. Words pile in on one another and involve various qualifications, elisions, the disaster and tension inherent in being stuck in one point of view. (more…)

From the Singular to the Indexical in Contemporary Portraiture, by Courtney Malick

For the past 14 years Paul Mpagi Sepuya has lived in New York and worked as a photographer whose focus was pinned tightly on portraiture. Not only did Sepuya think of his photos as portraits, he was, in the beginning, serious about shooting “straightforward” portraiture, as in taking a singular image of a person as a way of, at least within that moment, fully capturing their exterior and even their identity. However, unlike other portraitists, Sepuya found himself returning over and over again to the same subjects at different points in their lives. Not only that, but his process seemed as much based on happenstance as it did on investigation. He would rarely organize a shoot or a sitting within a particular place, but instead would randomly run into people he hadn’t seen in a while and arrange for a shoot on the spot. In this way, a fluidity that is not very characteristic of much portraiture seeped more and more into Sepuya’s practice, until it eventually became clear that to take one picture of one person and present it as conclusive was not only false but futile.
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The New Yorker : A Room of One’s Own

Don’t let Gagosian’s recent show on the same theme—the studio as photographer’s muse—deter you from this savvy exhibition, which delivers a more up-to-date take. Fine works by Mickalene Thomas, Anne Collier, and Leslie Hewitt suggest how a space can shape a process. To make the largest piece in the show, Paul Mpagi Sepuya photographed a mirror whose surface was partially covered in a fragmentary self-portrait, creating a confusion of layers that snares your attention. Both Saul Fletcher and David Gilbert create environments for shifting installations of art and objects, treating the studio as a 3-D collage.

Kings County Exhibition Catalogue : At Home in Brooklyn, by Teju Cole

On their way to the moon in late 1972, the crew of the Apollo 17 space shuttle took a photograph of the earth. This was the famous ‘blue marble’ shot. It was the first time we saw our planet in its entirety: a serene blue circle against the blackness of space. Here, in one picture, was the totality of human experience.

The four artists in the exhibition Kings County grew up after 1972, in a world that, globalized for centuries, had now seen itself as a contained whole. These artists share with each other one particular crossing point: each of them is an instance of what happens when Africa meets Brooklyn. Africa is physically enormous, and Brooklyn, by comparison, tiny. But the energy flows between the two are substantial. This is worth thinking about, not only because it gives a picture of the world right now, but because the works of Wangechi Mutu, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Paul Mpagi Sepuya and Meleko Mokgosi suggest a special potency in this particular crossing point. (more…)

Art Review: The Expanded Photograph, by David Everett Howe

[an excerpt]

The work of three American artists shows how photography is breaking the limits of the frame and the constraints of the medium to become an artform that is site-specific, as concerned with overall context and the space of its own existence as any other. Is this another instance of the ‘postmedium’ age we’ve all been promised, or merely a recognition that the specifics of the medium are more wide-ranging than we previously thought? (more…)

My 1980s and Other Essays: Eric’s Stubble, by Wayne Koestenbaum

I live with Eric. No, I live with a photograph of Eric, taken by Paul Mpagi Sepuya,whose work is easy to love and difficult to theorize. I bought Eric’s image at Envoy Gallery in 2007 because I felt sexual desire for what the photograph seemed to represent. Eric has conspicuous stubble; his gray-green eyes refute the stubble or establish a dialectical relation with it. Eric’s eyebrows are thick, (more…)

Artforum: 500 Words, by Joseph Akel

I had been reading Brian O’Doherty’s book Studio and Cube, and was influenced by his concept of time, for instance how elements of perception and so on can be very different in the studio, as opposed to outside of it. And, the perception of time—my vantage point within its progression—is something that comes across in my works, especially those made during my Studio Museum residency. (more…)

Studio Work Exhibition Catalogue: Looking at Studio Work, by Naomi Beckwith

The first Paul Mpagi Sepuya works to capture my attention were a series of photographs exploring the notion of “home.” Paul attempted to define “home” in an accumulative way, by shooting landscapes, family members, and domestic spaces, and by collecting family ephemera that, when all pulled together, would perhaps give shape to the places and things that shaped Paul. In the years that followed, Paul’s photography rarely veered far from anyone’s home: many of his projects record his community of friends and lovers and their friends and lovers, almost exclusively shot in their bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens.

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Evidence of Accumulation Exhibition Catalogue: Paul Mpagi Sepuya, by AA Bronson

Sunday, May 15, 2011, 11:33am: It is a grey moody kind of day here at Fire Island Pines, and I am having trouble writing this essay, which has been percolating in my mind now for several weeks. I am sitting in my shorts and a sweater, trying to pretend it is warmer than it is, and I have promised myself that if I write the introduction at least, then I will take a break and plant some geraniums in two cast-iron planters outdoors. I have chosen geraniums because they seem to thrive on neglect; hopefully this essay too will benefit from my procrastination.

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In Conversation with Alex Bacon

Alex Bacon: The first question that comes to my mind is why you chose the different formats you did in terms of organizing and printing the images? Because you’ve chosen to frame some of the images, and you’ve chosen different sizes. I’m especially fascinated in a way with these ones which are tacked to the wall. But maybe we could start by talking about why you chose to print the images and frame and display them in this way? (more…)

Artcat Zine: Paul Sepuya’s “Alexandria” by S.C. Squibb

In his recently closed Alexandria, artist Paul Mpagi Sepuya juxtaposes pages of text torn from novels with abstracted figurative photographs. The pages are taken from Laurence Durell’s Alexandria Quartet, from which the exhibition gets its title. Each text was selected specifically to avoid plot details and focus instead on emotional resonance. (more…)

T Magazine: Beloved Object & Amorous Subject, Revisited, by Armand Limnander

It’s hard to bring a fresh perspective to photographic portraiture, but Paul Mpagi Sepuya proves that sometimes the simplest approach yields the most rewarding results. (more…)

An introduction to Beloved Object & Amorous Subject (Revisited), by Nicholas Boston

I first discovered Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s work in 2005 when I came across the premier issue of his self-published zine series, SHOOT, at Printed Matter, Inc., in New York. I visited his website and was absolutely enraptured by his portraits, which to me just screamed, “Tell All!” [maybe a description of what caught the eye?] I emailed him to ask (more…)