We Can Be Heroes

January 17 - 19, 2020

Leslie-Lohman Project Space (New York, NY)

We Can Be Heroes is an exploration of mythological desire and queer melancholy. Paul conveys grandiose narratives through images of the Hero. The use of this archetype, the idealized form of strength and beauty, highlights the impossibility of attaining otherworldly levels of perfection. Notions of competition accompany this fetishization of the classical male form. It is visually emphasized through grid and square structures- allusions to game boards, checkered flags, and pixels. These designs evoke associations with the early days of computer imagery. Strangely flat, yet slightly three-dimensional graphics reference the onset of the digital age. The artist’s picture plane has contradicting layers of depth and flatness to imitate electronic environments. The allusion to early interpretations of cyberspace arouses an alluring sense of nostalgia.

Through these acrylic and oil paintings, Paul constructs inaccessible portals to an idyllic paradise. The squares, lines and complex layers deliberately eliminate parts of the landscape as if representing an unclear memory. Paradise, Elysian Fields, and Eden are all sanctuaries for the perfect human- only the best of the best are awarded a blissful eternity. Gradients act as surrogates for tropical settings, sunsets, and seascapes. They serve as postcards from a journey that may or may not have been experienced. With the hero comes its antithesis- the villain. Demons and monsters serve as stand-ins for those expelled from paradise, the outsiders rejected from mainstream society.

The paintings subvert this Western disaffinity towards homosexuality by celebrating queer intimacy and a tender masculinity. Paul’s figures are lifted from ancient art, gay erotica, and wrestling competitions. These hyper masculine images are manipulated to appear sensitive and emotive. Vulnerability and melancholia reveal a more human side of these otherwise all-powerful godly bodies. This conceptual thread of longing and tragedy mirrors the melodrama of ancient mythology. Times may change but humanity will consistently face the same trials and tribulations. Paul reinterprets ancient images and unites them with visual material created between the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and the peak of the AIDS Crisis of the 1980s. By combining these eras, he encourages the viewer to meditate on queer history and focus on a neglected perspective. Each painting serves as a memorial to the members of these lost generations. His work is the product of a cathartic process, layered with personal anecdotes regarding loss and rejection. Paul dissects various systems and histories in order to honor and empower queer stories.

The Temple of Apollo at Delphi serves as a framework for this exhibition. Delphi was the holiest place in ancient Greece. It was where the Oracle made her predictions and also the site of the Pythian Games, a precursor to the modern olympics. Along the mountain path were the many treasuries and offerings to the gods. We Can Be Heroes shares this same notion of honor and devotion, performing multiple layers of competition: the strongest heroes, the richest cities, the most exuberant tributes- the best of the best march their way up this holy mountainside in a display of ritualized adoration. With nods to the same motifs of excess, kitsch, and camp often found in ancient displays of worship, this exhibition serves as a contemporary temple devoted to the celebration of queer intimacy, history, and life.