Paul Paiement: Nexus
May 6 through June 17, 2023
Metropolitan Pavilion, Booth C11
May 17 through 21, 2023
By STEPHEN WOZNIAK, May 2023
"You might say the distinction of the artificial from the natural is a very artificial distinction. The constructs of human beings are really not any more unnatural than beehives and bird nests. They are extensions of ourselves."
– Alan Watts, philosopher
“Destruction, after all, is a form of creation.”
– Graham Greene, The Destructors
“You have to be optimistic. I still have doubts and conflicts, but the bottom line is, I believe in the future.”
– Frank Gehry, architect
Paul Paiement is a positive person. He seems to believe in humanity – even during this overwhelming epoch – when many of us often do not. I wonder if it’s his familial obligations, sanguine sociability, heavenly promises, earthly incentives or built-in biochemistry? It’s probably none of those things. Paiement is certainly a creative creature to hold an assured belief in our next steps, whether loosely based on our – often erroneous – last steps or feckless faith of the unknown ahead. You have to be inherently creative to intuit our as-yet place in the world that, as Paiement will say, we are already a part of. While I have interviewed Paiement and gathered this much from our talks, I think his artwork speaks louder than words could ever do.
A collection of thirteen Paiement works can be seen in the remarkable solo exhibition, Nexus, at Tufenkian Fine Arts in metropolitan Los Angeles now through June 17. In his new series, the artist deftly employs the use of languid aerial perspective, here-and-now representation, cut-above abstraction and special overlay techniques to expose the tangled relationship between the commonly held view of nature as a far away foreign land and the idea of human, battle-winning exceptionalism.
Neskowin Creek, Oregon, something Paiement created last year during a ten-day residency in the coastal namesake community of the work’s title, is an interesting piece that brings up many of the artist’s concerns. It initially looks like a traditional or – dare I say – academic, forested, spring landscape painting. As you walk by, however, the frayed paint border shows, revealing a woodsy, veneered panel below. The thick, earthy impasto medium catches a glint of the warm, artificial exhibition light, while also depicting daytime sunlight in the painting. But wait, what’s that rectilinear shape floating in the middle distance? It’s not quite a silhouette, as it’s painted over with a somewhat different, shifted landscape – perhaps in another season. As you follow its outline, you start to see an A-frame house-like form, which casts a very real shadow from its relief edges, fixed above the painting. As I learned from the artist, it was one of about a half dozen plein air pieces – the first in his career – created intuitively, requiring his “be here now” response to quick-shift changes in the weather, light and atmosphere. To me, it speaks volumes of and asks questions about perception, determinism and human interference. What is our perception about our participation in the natural world? If we are a part of nature, why do we create destruction of the planet while preserving our places to live in the form of greenhouse-violating urban dwellings or even eco-friendly country cabins? Are our “compromised” technological decisions – like all events in the universe – causal and, well, inevitable?
An early Nexus series piece, Chamberlain, South Dakota, is one of the first in which architectural forms were incorporated into the work. Paiement says he was inspired by the relief sculptures of Italian Renaissance artist Lorenzo Ghiberti, which led him to effectively break the “fourth wall” picture plane and incorporate such forms that are both routed into and extend from the work surface. It is as if the title characters from Shakespeare’s Richard III or the classic comedy feature film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off remind us of not only their role and voice, but that the whole creative endeavor they’re in is an invention, a story or a sham, even. Two friendly, billowing trees that flank the frame in Chamberlain, South Dakota lead us to these key players – one, a long, frosted, green, Plexiglas generic building silhouette on the left and the other, a negative space office park on the right. Sitting on or cutting into cultivated rows of farmland wheat – yet more of our astute adaptation or, perhaps, crass manipulation of the land for survival and profit – these apparitions and outlines tell us they might crop up next after harvest season. But who’s to say? It could happen with the finger snap of a deep-pocketed development investment leader. Or not. If we can imagine it, it can happen. But we can also fantasize it’s coming and going without building it. Works like this give us pause to think it over, to imagine it both ways – and perhaps ways we didn’t imagine. It sort of reminds me that art is a sounding board for many of our bad ideas – but lots of good ones, too.
All of the work in the show is stunning, resplendent and rather elegant. Paiement says this is essential to viewer engagement. You have to love it on first look in order to listen to it speak. And, as I indicated before, it has a lot to say in its very own way. But it has a lot to show, too. All of the works – I’m careful not to use the word “paintings” too often – take viewers on a beaming, seductive, yet topsy-turvy journey through the lands and forms from which we have emerged and continue to contribute to. I wouldn’t assert that humankind is creating the evolutionary process of the planet, as Paiement says, but I believe we are certainly contributing to it in an unmistakable and, perhaps, inescapable way. And his art shows us just that; in the placement and treatment of every painted leaf and every Plexi piece that opens the conversation directly to viewers.
As Paiement’s work verges on the sculptural, I have to make mention of the artist’s process. He creates his “paintings” based on field trip photographs that he takes all around the country – from the breezy Pacific Northwest coast to murky subtropical Florida marshland. He then digitally designs and CNC-routes 3-D Plexiglas or wooden veneer overlays of architectural structures. These are often airbrushed with translucent acrylic color and applied to each work as a sculptural element above the detailed 2-D representational painting. This contrast, some might say, symbolizes both idealized and actualized human innovation and invasion set against the long tradition and values of the classical Western landscape painting. The scale of the works, paint handling, physical application and machine carving have increased and varied significantly with the work in this show since the series started almost a decade ago. While there’s a long history of this special kind of careful, cut-up collage work dating back to Braque and Picasso a hundred years ago – even with some of the same materials – nobody has quite performed and applied it as beautifully as Paiement in recent decades.
Paiement’s artwork is truly relevant right now. It identifies – and perhaps even reconciles – supposed key differences between our precious organic natural world and the artificial constructions we create within it. It also almost reverses the common narrative that humans routinely destroy the environment by presenting “manmade” features, such as skyscrapers, vacation homes and industrial parks, which – in Paiement’s art – are deceptively integrated into their serene and realistic landscape surroundings, yet still beeline their case to viewers. Since seemingly too much urban architecture abounds today, we often subconsciously assume that its wall-to-wall displacement, occupancy – and providence – is our birthright and, conversely, our death right. But we are not doomed, as such; Paiement’s work reminds us that we still have a chance at doing good, expanding our horizons and getting it right. Maybe there’s no such thing as “getting it right.” Perhaps, it’s just an attempt at positive positioning. Well, even in our necessary, heroic or disastrous attempts to build out this world, “it’s all perfect,” as the Zen masters and students would tell us. Paul Paiement might just positively agree.
To see the new Paul Paiement Nexus solo exhibition, go to Tufenkian Fine Arts at 216 South Louise Street in Glendale, California on view through June 17th. His work can also be seen in the Volta New York Art Fair from May 17th – 21st at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Booth C11. WM
Stephen Wozniak is a visual artist, writer, and actor based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited in the Bradbury Art Museum, Cameron Art Museum, Leo Castelli Gallery, and Lincoln Center. He has performed principal roles on Star Trek: Enterprise, NCIS: Los Angeles, and the double Emmy Award-nominated Time Machine: Beyond the Da Vinci Code. He co-hosted the performing arts series Center Stage on KXLU radio in Los Angeles and guest hosts Art World: The Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art podcast in New York City. He earned a B.F.A. from Maryland Institute College of Art and attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. To learn more, go to: www.stephenwozniakart.com and www.stephenwozniak.com. Follow Stephen on Instagram at @stephenwozniakart and @thestephenwozniak.view all articles from this author