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Artist Feature

Every week an artist is featured whose single image was published by Der Greif. The Feature shows the image in the original context of the series.

Matthew Papa - Song to the Siren

Nov 27, 2019

Song to the Siren is the culmination of work I made while studying at ICP-Bard for my MFA. The title is borrowed from an 80s cover by the band This Mortal Coil. The song evokes the Greek myth about the hazards of desire and nods to my youth when I began taking photographs. During my studies, the serendipitous rediscovery of a box of old photos, letters and ephemera provided a wellspring of inspiration and were the impetus for many of the works in this series. I used my past to make sense of a future I never expected to have.

 

In Song to the Siren, the body is a fulcrum bearing the weight of fear and desire. Formal nudes are juxtaposed with fragmented, ambiguous bodies, unsettling easy visual pleasure. Props in the form of masks, stockings and leggings bring a sense of theatre to the images where the self is inevitably performed. Sexual longing radiates from the photographs but is often tinged by the anxiety of power, emasculation and death. Being human is fraught with risk and uncertainty, a bind this work embraces.


Artist Blog

The blog of Der Greif is written entirely by the artists who have been invited to doing an Artist-Feature. Every week, we have a different author.

Fantasy, Man

Dec 03, 2019 - Matthew Papa

1

Finally a room of my own,

To play in darkness,

With color, with light

 

(with me)

 

The magic of this had not escaped me.

 

 

2

I dig,

Dig in the muck of my erotic spectacle.

Am I here?

My drool betrays me

But does it really?

Do I own it, or does it own me?

 

 

3

My body,

My physicality,

Has become an affront.

Again.

 

The irony of this had not escaped me.

 

 

4

What a funny little trick you played upon me.

Like a dog I chase my tail.

But I’m more clever than you think.

This is a dizziness I can get used to, 

     babyyyyyyy.

 

 

5

“Protect me from what I want.” 

Easier said than done, Jenny!


Fragment 2: Blood, sweat and tears

Dec 02, 2019 - Matthew Papa

I remember waiting for him to come home from work. We were always so excited for him to play with us. The first thing he would do is go to the basement sink and wash his greasy hands with an oil-based creamy soap. I’ve asked all of my siblings the name of this soap but no one seems to remember. It came in a tin can like shoe polish and it had a very particular, cloying smell. Leslie and I would go down there with him. He’d remove his shirt; underneath he always wore a v neck white undershirt. I remember marveling at him and can still remember his musky, sweaty smell. Recently, I realized that I smell just like him. I think I am the same age that he was then.

 


Fragment 1: Midwestern fuckery

Nov 29, 2019 - Matthew Papa

The first time I was fucked was in my royal blue, ’79 Chevy Nova late one summer night in my parents’ driveway. It was just before my eighteenth birthday with my friend Monty, a redhead like me but with blue eyes and a way better body. Having both recently come out, we had pent-up sexual frustration like a ripe zit waiting to be picked. It wasn’t planned so we didn’t have Vaseline or anything to help get him in me. So we got his dick in the old-fashioned way, with spit and some grit. 

 

I remember he was seated on the passenger side and I mounted him; it must have looked like any number of scenes from the soap operas I watched voraciously as a teen. I don’t, however, remember anything about the sex except for the moment when he pulled out and his dick was completely covered in my shit. He was disgusted, I was mortified and to make things worse there was absolutely nothing in my car to wipe him off… no tissues, no rag, no nothing. 


Eyes of longing

Nov 28, 2019 - Matthew Papa

In elementary school, my class went on a field trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts. I remember being a little intimidated and not quite knowing what to make of the things I saw. I felt quite small in this grand, expansive building with high ceilings. When we made it up to the floor with modern European paintings, I was suddenly jolted to some kind of recognition when I encountered Self-Portrait with Carnation by Otto Dix .

 

Relatively small at 19-1⁄2 x 29 inches, it nonetheless had a tremendous effect on me. Dix used oil and tempera on panel, an early Renaissance technique which lends richness and depth to the subject portrayed. Centered against a bright cyan blue background, a young male figure stares out at the viewer with an intense, confident gaze. He is handsome with angled features and a severe bowl haircut. He is turned slightly away from the viewer and holds a pink carnation in his beautifully rendered right hand. The textures of his corduroy coat invite careful looking, as the wide-wale in the fabric hints at the form underneath. By using this old technique to paint a modern subject, Dix has created a tension in the image that I felt but didn’t understand.

 

I can’t say for sure what it was about this painting, but it made me profoundly aware of myself and my own feelings. Most of the things I encountered that day garnered just the few seconds of my attention required to take them in. That was not the case with this painting. I wanted to stay looking at it and I enjoyed the feeling of being apprehended. Perhaps it was primarily my desire that kept me looking—already at this age I had inklings of my attraction to other boys, but I think there was something more in it than that. Also around this time, I had become aware of my own artistic inclinations. I began drawing with the seriousness of a person much older than me; I rendered an image of a cat so faithfully from a how-to drawing book that my siblings all asked for their own copy. I was likely identifying with the subject who was also the maker of the work .

 

This image always stayed with me. I am drawn to the confrontational and unsparing style of Dix’s portraits which is sometimes described as cruel and harsh, but I disagree. On the contrary, the vivid depiction reveals the particularities of the subject and it is our own judgment we project back onto the painting. In these works, the complexity of human life is not white-washed. Revealed are the struggles and miseries that define what it means to live.

 

In my portraits, I often depict my subjects gazing directly at the camera, and in turn, the viewer. When I am shooting, I don’t limit myself and have the subject look at me and look away. Often when going through my negatives, though, an image with a direct gaze will emerge as the winner. It is a conscious decision that I make in order, I believe, to recapture what I felt beholding and being beheld by Dix’s self-portrait. In making a portrait, I don’t think I am revealing someone’s soul. But it is important to me that my subjects are rendered with agency. Revealing their particularities makes them feel like real people.