Studio Visit: Paul Paiement, Synthetic Hybrid Spirituality

Paul Paiement. Photo Credit Gary Brewer

Studio Visit: Paul Paiement, Synthetic Hybrid Spirituality

By Gary Brewer


“Through the process of coevolution human ideas find there way into natural facts: the contours of a tulip’s petals say, or the precise tang of a lonagold apple…the offspring of the ancient marriage of plants and people are far stranger and more marvelous than we realize. There is a natural history of the human imagination, of beauty, religion, and possibly philosophy too.”

Michael Pollan, “The Botany of Desire”


“Cartesian space” had a physical dimensionality…Perspective, as a rectilinear, geometrically isotopic system, fit perfectly into this rationalized model of space.”

Anne Friedberg, “The Virtual Window; From Alberti to Microsoft”


Reconciliation is a form of spiritual practice; to reconcile opposites, differences, and perceptions. For Paul Paiement it is a philosophical conundrum from which his visual language arises. Paul’s paintings hybridize the ‘man made’ synthetic elements of ‘culture’ with the natural world and by so doing arrive at deeply felt paintings that explore the space between those two worlds and visualizes them as part of the same natural order.

Despite our seeming separation from nature we are very much indeed ‘nature’. Humans are animals whose needs for survival, relationships, love and beauty define our activities, our language, our inventions and the buildings and cities we design. But at the same time our perceptions define the way that we interpret information and our thoughts shape those perceptions. Single point perspective is an invention, a way to order our senses and to perceive the world in a specific way; a way that matches the utilitarian and purpose driven design of our buildings and roads. It enforces the Cartesian impulse of the rational mind seeking order in place of the perceived ‘chaos’ of nature.

In Paul’s current work he is spending countless hours on beautiful paintings of landscapes from locations that he captures in photographs; sublime images that suggest the Romanticism of Caspar David Freidrich. They are composed and crafted with the deep love of a painter who is passionate about painting, about touch and materials. On top of these he is placing silhouettes of buildings, finely cutout in colored and clear plexi-glass. The interplay of the transparent overlay with the open areas where the paintings are left un-obscured is finely balanced, the play of the architectonic shapes in perspective against the Romantic landscapes are carefully composed. Of these works Paul says, “I feel we are living in a time similar to the Romantic generation. Their impulse was inspired by, and a response to the rapid changes of the industrial revolution. Those poets and painters, Emerson, Caspar David Freidrich, the Hudson River Valley School, were seeking a rebuke to the modernization of life. We live in a similar time where so much change is occurring at such a high rate of speed that there is a similar impulse to look to nature. We are in the middle of something and we do not know where it is going. It is an exciting time to be alive.”

Paul Paiement. Photo Credit Gary Brewer

In his paintings he is seeking to reconcile the landscape with its natural order of elemental forces shaping the irregularities of the mountains, valleys and meadows with the logical perspective of human-made structures, buildings, homes and spaces; the constructs of ‘human nature’ in balance within nature. They are poetic metaphors about our innate need to create spaces to inhabit within the natural forces around us, of how we shape nature to suit our needs and the idea that nature may interact with us to promote its needs. In Michael Pollan’s “Botany of Desire” Mr. Pollan makes a fascinating case for the idea of co-evolution and in some ways Paul’s paintings touch upon this concept.

These paintings are not political in nature, though Paul’s says ‘that if someone sees it that way, run with it, it is yours to use as you wish’. He believes that if metaphors are deep enough and true enough they will have the space to encompass varying interpretations, that they ‘contain multitudes’. In my mind these are optimistic paintings, they celebrate the brilliance of nature, of culture and human invention. Rather that stopping the clock and going back in some ‘golden age’ musing, these paintings assert a radiance and joy of both nature and human nature. In his insect paintings the joy is palpable, smart and elegant. The colorful permutations and juxtapositions of natural shapes against manufactured forms is a delightful interspecies dialogue. They celebrate both the ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ inventions of form.

Paul Paiement. Photo Credit Gary Brewer

There is a spiritual aspect to these unions of architectural silhouettes superimposed on the natural world and of his paintings of insects where the natural and synthetic fuse. As Paul put it, “It is an assertion of an existential fact that we live here, that no matter how hard we try we leave our foot print on this earth and that we have to acknowledge that, to accept this reality as it simply is.” In Paul’s universe these things co-exist as facts, neither good nor bad, they simply are. His paintings seek to reconcile these seeming different worlds into poetic hybrids where natural forms morph into synthetic ones where the space within a natural setting is complimented by the rectilinear silhouette of a building in which the single point perspective is not a contradiction or a conqueror, but is another aspect of  ‘nature’, of our ‘human nature’. Our minds have created the formal logic of rectilinear design for function, and that has its place in the natural order of things as much as the geometry of ripples emanating from a pebble dropped into a pond. There is an almost Buddhist sense of perspicaciousness in this acceptance of things as they are, that these seeming opposites are in fact a part of the same ‘whole’.

“Noun and verb, abstraction and representation”, these are words and concepts whose meanings are interchangeable. It is the dialogue between these interchangeable worldviews that Paul explores in his paintings, installations and ceramic sculptures. These philosophical and conceptual musings could be words without meaning, but in the hands, eye and mind of Paul Paiement he reconciles theses ideas into psychologically complex paintings, his sense of design is exquisite the transitional zones where an insects body morphs into some man-made element, a smart car or a helicopter, are metaphorically rich. His paintings are serious philosophical assertions, deeply satisfying and at times playful and eccentric, but always compositions with a very high level of craft to fuse these dialogues between abstraction and representation into deeply resolved paintings.

Paul Paiement. Photo Courtesy of Paul Paiement.

Painting is a language whose internal logic is a forceful communicator of ideas. In its resolution it has a conviction and power that makes philosophical ideas a physical fact. The facts are metaphors, nimble enough to adapt to changing times and perceptions. In these paintings Paul is saying something that is relevant now and will be relevant far into the future; of how do we see clearly, how can we understand the world, nature and our innate needs. In Paul’s worldview it is an exciting time to be alive and to engage deeply with life in all of its permutations.

Paul Paiement’s work can be seen in his upcoming solo show at the Museo Regionale della Ceramica, Deruta, Italy, September – October, 2017

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