DP: Were you melancholy as a child? Do you remember some of the events that put you into that state of mind?
PP: It's difficult for me to remember the feelings of my childhood, often they are lost in a great mist of forgetting. And maybe I am fortunate to have that quality. My schooldays involved a relative amount of trauma, but apart from a vague psychological impression most of the specifics seem so distant. I know that I yearned for something more, but I wasn't passionately attracted to much and didn't exhibit any overwhelming creative desires- perhaps I was aware of the limitations of my situation and became a pragmatic survivalist emotionally. Melancholy only visited me after I became more familiar with sex.
DP: Do you think that your interest in vintage pornography had anything to do with growing up at the moment that aids was becoming something that everyone was forced to think about? I imagine that you cannot imagine what life would have been like before aids?
PP: For my particular generation there was never any 'before and after' with regards to AIDS. I was born in 1977, and therefore very much incarnated as the disease, and then the panic, took hold. The strangeness of learning about sex was accompanied by this link between sex and death. Coming out in the early 1990's had a very particular sense of doom and excitement, and several years later when I started to think about making visual art I found that the gay images from the cusp of the epidemic, the time around the year of my birth, brought me all sorts of extra sensations that mixed with and went beyond the erotic. It couldn't be nostalgia, as an artist who lived through two periods might have, and it wasn't wistfulness for an Arcadian period either, as the threat was known to be looming, but something else that captivated me and seemed to have something to do with me. Also, from a purely aesthetic moment there are aspects of the pornography from the 1960s and 70s that are wonderfully rich in their influences, and opened many new worlds for me, from classical Greek statuary, fin de siecle decadence, or even the Edwardian period in it's revival, along with hippy naturalism and New Wave cinema. These images seemed closer to art than what I saw was being produced at the time, and this association sparked my creativity.
DP: Where did you find vintage pornography and when did the idea come to you that you wanted to work with the images from the 60's to 80's vintage gay magazines?
PP: Of course my interest in erotic material began free from any artistic pretenses, but during the course of my looking – through the piles of magazines in the back of adult and gay bookstores, I was struck by the differences that I appreciated. I began to see these minor and sometimes anonymous faces as types of heroes, and began to study them more and more, and a creative seed was sown. In the youthful beginning it seemed daring to make art from ths material, but then the project developed and I longed to make an aesthetic statement that could overpower their erotic tone. In a way I think that has been my initial expression of melancholy. This romantic yearning of why can't this be more! And how do I save this feeling!
Drypoint and chine colle on paper
4.5 x 8 inches (unframed)
11 1/2 x 14 3/4 inches framed
Edition of 5
DP: I know that you are known to work from vintage images but did you ever work from live models and what was it about that process that you did not find satisfying?
PP: I have, in my training, worked from live models, but within the rationale of my artistic project they never seemed to provide a use. I like the distance in time that the pages of a magazine or an art book provide me when looking and working. My studio is a solitary place where I make capricious movements through different epochs, a sort of time traveling, that doesn't have much use for the fuss involved with a live model, but craves an historical narrative. With age and time I imagine that I will see things differently. And recently I've began to draw the figure, but from statues, done from life.
DP: What was your art school background? Did you have classes where you visited museums and copied the old masters? Which artists and writers at that time and now left the strongest imprint on you later on your work?
PP: I studied in Toronto, where there are scarce few old master works for viewing. I do believe in the importance of copying and studying the work of the artist you love and want to understand, as a sort of imaginary apprenticeship, and this I've done from books. Many times I've quoted pictorially from artists like James McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent and Edouard Manet. They used to copy as well from Velasquez or Ingres. The idea of this type of lineage has always semed important to me.
Literature has always provided me with ways to study and explore the visual aspects of my work. Reading Proust changed a lot for me, as I was fascinated by the ways of presenting gender and memory, and the games of inversion and sentimentality, which I imagined the author to play, but mostly because of the great sensation of weight, which he gave to art.
Drypoint and chine colle on paper
8 x 4.5 inches (unframed)
15 1/4 x 11 1/4 inches (framed)
Edition of 5
DP: What is it about the moment when one finds himself/herself between childhood and becoming an adult that fascinates you? How long do you think that period in between the two lasts?
PP: Adolescence is what you are describing, but the even more specific part of adolescence, which I am interested in, is its exit into adulthood, and certainly the psychological aspects of that transition which may appear first. These are not boys becoming men, but rather boys becoming widows, vapors, statues, stage actors or martyrs. With the subjects I choose I always feel that there is a sense that they will not stay the same for very long, and I try to paint their velocity and abstraction. Moments frozen on the precipice of change, is the phrase I often think of, and because of their age and conditions these young men become analogies for the historical periods I either chose them from or place them in.
I can't say I know how long this period of transition lasts but I do think that when it occurs, time doesn't make the same usual sense, and it may seem desperately long when it's actually very brief, and vice versa.
Watercolor on paper
8.7 x 14 inches
DP: If you could choose what century or decade you were born into, what would it be?
PP: It's strange because I can't really imagine myself in any other context other than the present, and you might think that because of my proclaimed interest in certain other periods that I would fantasize about living in them, but really these historical infatuations make sense only in constructing something contemporary that I can express. Although, if I could choose something for fun, I suppose I'd like to be an English eccentric with a folly tower, or an older Nancy Mitford in a snug house in Versailles, or to live in a part of Emmylou Harris' universe of songs. But when I think about it, all of these people were still keenly mining the past to define their art and themselves.
Pastel on paper
11.6 x 8.27 inches
DP: You've had great success with so many gallery shows, who would you say 'discovered' you?
PP: Certainly the most potent instance of recognition for my work happened when I met Daniel Reich, my art dealer in New York (although really I am indebted to a whole chain of people for their very early support). It was in 2003 and his gallery was very new, and at that time it was still located in his small Chelsea studio apartment.We are close in age, and were both starting out , and over the years we have had the lucky opportunity to grow up simultaneously, and a lot of good things have come of it.
Pastel on paper
14.7 x 8.86 inches
DP: How do you approach your work with landscapes differently than your male figures? You were in Venice but was it at that time that you started the work or was it afterwards and more from memory?
PP: I approach making landscapes in a not so different way from the figures. I had been using the effects of paint already to go beyond representation, to imbue mood or atmospherics, or you could even say weather, in the way I portrayed my figures and faces, and so murk and mist already contained a figurative essence for me, so when I began to undertake making landscape pictures (especially of Venice considering it is a city of such legendary personality, and not without sexuality) the figurative element still seemed strongly suggested. There is a freer, less constrained way of depicting a landscape than there is of drawing a face and that offered up wonderful impressionistic and even psychedelic possibilities in drawing.
Some of the Venetian works were done on site, sitting on bridges or embankments, while others were formulated back in the studio from my pictures, from other artist's impressions, and from imagination and memory. I want the real and the imagined to mix in an uncanny yet very sound way.
Watercolor on paper
9.6 x 6.7 inches
DP: Your work is about the bloom of youth, are you as interested in decay? Venice is a city that we always think of in a state of decay, is that one thing about it that attracted you?
PP: What I do is very much about types of transitional periods, uncertainity, and a kind of movement of time that projects simultaneously backwards and forwards. The bloom of youth is always beautiful, but is only interesting to me when it suggests the other side and with the male figures from the sources I use there is a revised way of looking at them that includes the specter of upheaval and change, possibly doom or possibly love, but also the way I render them aesthetically helps them transcend their contexts and resemble art. Venice, the sinking city, seems inevitably doomed, but has an amazing persistence and improbability. I am attracted to its decay, but also it''s frozen-in-time quality.
Drypoint on paper
7.87 x 5.7 inches
DP: How do you approach the different medium in which you work? What kind of restrictions do you impose upon yourself?
PP: I work in a variety of classical techniques, oil on canvas, drawing in pencil, pastels, watercolour, dry-point etching and lithography, and for each one I use, I manipulate the materials and qualities special to them. I do not create any mixed media works.
watercolor on paper
6.1 x 3.9 inches
DP: Can you talk a bit about the different work you are showing right now in both the Daniel Reich Gallery in NYC and the Marc Selwyn Fine Arts Gallery in LA?
PP: The show in New York is titled 'Inclinations' after the novella of the same name by Ronald Firbank, about unrequited lesbian love. Firbank's writing gives a glittering, fantastical sensation full of suggestiveness, sort of like a goose down deshabille worn to church-so much so that the storyline is of little importance compared to the colourful wording. The winking quality of 'inclinations' was what seemed perfect for borrowing for an exhibition of many works of small scale, in many media, of the greatest variety that I've ever collected in an exhibition-images of Venice, nudes from magazines, women drawn after Whistler sketches, studies from statues from the Jardin de Luxembourg -all mixed together making a universe that contained many types of sexualities and aesthetics in an ambience that was both frivolous and somber.
The exhibition in Los Angeles differentiates itself as a landscape show. It is titled "Venice, Venice" and while it contains a minority of figurative works, the rest are all images of Venice, Italy or Venice Beach, California. It is about the fantasy and very beautiful reality of these places, their amazing light and marine atmospheric qualities, and also their position as locations in many of my fixations – Venice, Italy, for the artists Whistler, Sargent, Turner and Proust, and Venice, CA for much of the sexual liberation and carnival of the other period that interests me.
Pastel on paper
12.8 x 7.48 inches
DP: You worked on the Dior campaign but you never met Hedi, at least not before or during the work? How did that come about? Where did he first see your work and how did he approach you? Did you meet him afterwards?
PP: Yes, I've since met Hedi, but at the time of the collaboration I was living in Canada. I was an admirer of his aesthetics and silhouettes, and I suppose he had seen my work around in Paris or New York, and the gravitation responsible for bringing us together on this project was a common sensibility, one which made the work for the campaign, even though it involved a series of complex drawings, seem effortless to do.