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Paul P. has said that, with his art, he is “haunting ghosts.” He begins with people, moments, or objects from the past and reanimates them, making new stories from old histories. The work on view in the Biennial, ink drawings and a writing desk, began with three quite disparate sources: Nancy Mitford (1904–1973), one of the six famous Mitford Sisters, an English novelist and member of the Bright Young People; Jean–Baptiste Carpeaux’s sculpture Bacchante with Lowered Eyes (1872), from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection; and Table with Folding Shelves (1872), a desk designed by E. W. Godwin, also in the collection of the Metropolitan.
P.’s drawings, done in situ at the Metropolitan, highlight the likeness that he perceives between Mitford and the bacchante. These “marks of time recorded” merge two far-off moments in time with his contemporary existence. The desk, on the other hand, was created as an imaginary writing desk for Mitford, based on a British design influenced by Japanese aesthetics. P. has said his desks are “the idea of a writing table, an immaterial island, separated from function.” Like all of P.’s work, the desk—made for someone who has died and designed for a museum, where it can never be used—is a fiction constructed from facts. Crossing media and blurring boundaries, P.’s delicate hand turns faithful drawings of a sculpture into lively, loving portraiture, craftsmanship and utility into sculptural ineffability, and historical personage into mythical tale.
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