Paolo Arao Interview - The Hopper Prize

Paolo Arao

The artist discusses music as an introduction to art making, re-connecting with his Filipino heritage, pushing a rich textile history into a contemporary context & discovering new artists beyond social media.

How did you get into making art?

My introduction to art making began with music. I played the piano at a very early age and through high school. While I was in high school, I attended the Governor’s Magnet School for the Arts as a music student. This experience exposed me to other disciplines and students in the visual and performing arts, dance, and theater. When I went to college, I was awarded a scholarship to Virginia Commonwealth University to study music performance and composition. Half way through the first semester of my first year, I decided that I wanted to make paintings. I applied for the fine arts program at VCU and switched majors my second semester. I earned my BFA in painting and printmaking. The decision to switch concentrations cost me my music scholarship, but I’m thankful that I made the right decision!

What are you currently working on?

Although I have a background in painting, I have been working with textiles the past several years. I’m currently preparing for two upcoming exhibitions, making new sewn textile pieces for both shows. The first is a three-person show at Steve Turner Gallery in Los Angeles opening in late November. I’ll be showing alongside Erin O’Keefe (NYC) and Rhys Coren (UK.). The second exhibition is a solo museum project opening in February 2021 at the Columbus Museum in Columbus, GA. For this exhibition I am curating a selection of drawings from the Museum’s permanent collection and making new sewn paintings that are in dialogue with the drawings. My paintings and the drawings I’ve curated will occupy two gallery spaces in the Museum. Additionally, I’ve been experimenting with handwoven textiles. I first began working with textiles via weaving and it’s a way of making that I’m revisiting. I’m using a variety of looms (frame, rigid heddle, and a floor loom) to create handwoven and sewn pieces, combining multiple processes and incorporating them into future work.

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?

In the work I’ve made over the past couple of years, as well as my current and future work, I’m re-connecting with my Filipino heritage, reading books on textiles from the Philippines, and studying their woven structures. There’s a rich history of indigenous textiles from the Philippines that I think most people are unaware of. It’s a way for me to honor and respect my ancestral heritage. But more importantly, I’m interested in re-vitalizing and giving visibility to a rich textile history, while pushing it forward into a contemporary context that’s in conversation with hard edge painting, Op Art, the Fiber art and Feminist Art Movements, Pattern + Decoration, Supports/Surfaces and American quilt making traditions like Gee’s Bend and the Amish.

I’m interested in re-vitalizing and giving visibility to a rich textile history

Paolo Arao

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?

It depends on the project and the context. Often it’s a combination of both.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

With the onset of COVID, my typical studio day has been re-shaped. In the past few months, I’ve established a daily ritual which I’ve faithfully maintained. I’m an early riser so I wake up around 5:00 am every morning. Without going into too much detail, I read, meditate, walk/run, and write every morning. This ritual helps to center my focus before heading to the studio and prepares me for the work day ahead. I’m in the studio between 6-8 hours a day. When I arrive, I spend a very short block of time devoted to administrative work, emails, etc. After which, I try to disconnect from my devices in order to focus more deeply on my work. I like to break out the work day into chunks of time with specific mini-goals that I aim to accomplish. I’ve learned that I work better in focused blocks of time. Some days are easier than others.

Who are your favorite artists?

There are too many to name here and I know I’ll forget someone! Also, this list is constantly evolving depending on my interests. With that said, the artists who are on my mind recently include: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Anni Albers, Sheila Hicks, Kerry James Marshall, Alan Shields, Miriam Schapiro, Sol LeWitt and Joe Overstreet.

Where do you go to discover new artists?

Beyond social media, I’ve discovered new artists through artist residencies that I’ve attended. Oftentimes those artists will introduce me to the work of other artists. Residencies have played an invaluable part in not only the making of new work, but providing the opportunity to meet new artists and expand an artistic community.

Paolo Arao is an artist based in Brooklyn who was recently shortlisted for The Hopper Prize. To learn more about the artist:

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