Artwork by Paul Sunday
Words by Pulkit Mishra
Paul Sunday is a multi-disciplinary artist, making non-objective paintings, installations, conceptual, and abstract photographs, collages and photographic portraits. His portraits of artists, musicians, and actors, have been published internationally. He added painting to his activities in 1995.
Paul’s work incites questions about the experiences we go through as humans. It feels as if Sunday is rhetorically trying to make us aware of the problems around us but also leaves us the answers to the problems somewhere in his art-work.
Sunday currently lives and maintains a studio in Catskill, New York, with his wife, Pamela Sunday, a sculptor. He teaches at New York Film Academy, Pratt Institute, and International Center of Photography.
Paul, you were a fashion photographer during the most important time in the history of Fashion Photography. It is then, when things started turning around for fashion photographers. You have now transformed into an artist, who has seen it all. How did that transformation happen to you? Where did it start?
It’s true, the turn of the century was an exciting time to be a fashion and celebrity photographer. I was very fortunate to be shooting with edgy magazines and major luxury brands –collaborating with many of the most talented and beautiful humans on the planet at that moment! It all felt like a dream. Sitting at the Industria coffee bar next to five supermodels seemed completely normal!
I started painting almost by accident when I made some backdrops for an editorial shoot. I fell in love with the physicality of paint – it was restorative. I began to think in terms of a multidisciplinary practice. Then around 2013, I became immersed in teaching photography. Teaching has given me a more collective vision of creating. In the process of curating and mentoring young artists I gained greater clarity in my work.
Flash forward, I just completed the first year of my MFA, and I’m showing sculpture and installation in addition to painting and photography. I’m experimenting with video and sound art. It’s a radical transformation, and I’m having a blast. Photography has been the perfect platform, a base for all of this artistic experimentation.
As an artist, there is a process that you have to go through, to create something meaningful & impactful. For you, what does it take to create?
Creating has always come naturally to me. I’ve always loved communicating, whether that meant putting on a play or carefully wrapping a present. My primary motivation these days is to get people to slow down, shift their awareness, and notice themselves noticing. The process has changed over the years. I patiently brew ideas now and live with them. The challenge is to bring concepts to fruition. There are too many possibilities, so action, determination, and decisiveness all come into play.
Was this process the same for you when you a fashion photographer?
During my fashion and theater days, I was more motivated by the idea of entertaining an audience. I was trained as an actor and worked in the New York theater world before turning to photography. I thought of fashion stories and celebrity portraits as little slices of performance, split-second dramas. I would get very excited by the prospect of an editorial concept, thinking “–this is uber-cool, people will be transported by this!” And of course, over time, my work became more conceptual. I was interested in surveillance, AI, robotics, espionage, and cyborgs. My friends at mainstream publications probably thought I had lost my mind, but it was a transitional space for me to start thinking like an artist. I loved blurring the lines between art and fashion.
In a difficult time like this, where the world is fighting a common cause. How do you keep yourself motivated?
I am intensely motivated these days. Isolation is beneficial for artists. I’m teaching undergraduates online and finishing up a long paper on Donna Haraway. I refuse to be shut down by this moment. I lived in Lower Manhattan during 9/11, and that was an incredibly harsh experience. It was a horrific time, but living through that has given me the strength to look forward to a better future and manage my responses to crises in a more positive way. Of course, I am extremely concerned for people at risk and mournful for those we have already lost. At the same time, I’ve realized the power of resilience – that in times of tragedy, our response is all we can manage. And I’m very fortunate – I can be present and useful for my students, even during a lockdown. That is a beautiful distraction from worry!
Words by Pulkit Mishra // Pulkit Mishra online here.
More Paul Sunday online here.