Working with self-imposed structuralist plans, Paolo Arao set out to create a new 18 x 15 inch painting in a single session each week during the 2017 calendar year. The result is a body of 52 dynamic paintings that explore the idea of queer imagery without the depiction of the body.
The gallery is pleased to present all 52 paintings in their entirety, some of which are done directly on canvas or linen while others are pieced and sewn together. They have been hung in grids throughout the gallery creating a week-to-week fluidity. The installation serves as a calendar of sorts, where no piece is more important than the next but each contributes to a continually evolving queer narrative.
In her catalog essay “Yearbook Paintings: Queering Abstraction” (Paolo Arao – Yearbook - 2016) Olivia Murphy writes:
“David Getsy proposes a theory of queer formalism, stating that although forms themselves may not be inherently queer, the relationship between forms can be. He goes further to posit that queer formalism can ‘examine the ways in which forms exceed boundaries; how they behave differently in different contexts; how they are being deployed against their intended use; or how they disrupt the ostensible meaning of a text or an image’s claims to naturalism (in style or content).’ [“Queer Relations” ASAP/Journal, May 2017]”
Establishing a structural challenge with a few rules gave Arao a heightened sense of freedom that can be found in the presence of overcoming an opposition. Arao’s identity and life history became a reference for his weekly exercise in pushing the boundaries of his visual language and through different themes and variations, the artist also identified connections between a nomadic life growing up in a military household, moving from location to location. Each painting’s title begins with a number for each respective session followed by a description in parenthesis, alluding to personal or queer narratives that further challenge viewers looking for a “straightforward” meaning in a title.
His approach to image making resonates within changing meanings of queer identity, also seen in the work of artists like Elmgreen & Dragset, Robert Rauschenberg and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Paolo Arao brings an innovative in-tune sense of painting in a time of fast imagery and employs a personal vernacular of abstraction to challenge structures of gender and identity by bending or queering the geometry in his chosen motifs and color sensibility.
Paolo Arao (b. 1977, Manila, Philippines) has had solo exhibitions at Jeff Bailey Gallery in NYC and Franklin Art Works in Minneapolis. Residencies include: Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, The Studios at MASS MoCA, Fire Island Artist Residency, the Bronx Museum of Arts, the Wassaic Artist Residency and the Vermont Studio Center. He received a NYFA Fellowship in drawing in 2005. His work has been recently published in New American Paintings, Maake Magazine and Esopus. He received his BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently a Keyholder Resident at the Lower East Side Print Shop in NYC.