Paul Blanca – Closer
(organized by Gabriel Rolt)
4 February – 11 March
A Juan Project is proud to Present ‘Closer’, a solo exhibition by Paul Blanca.
Paul Blanca is considered one of the key artists of Dutch photography and has played a prominent part in the artistic scene of New York and The Netherlands for more than thirty years.’Closer’ his first new solo exhibition in 5 years, consist of nine new self-portraits.
Self-portraits have always covered a special role within Paul Blanca’s oevre. In the early 80’s Blanca became famous for his strongly emotional and often violent self-portraits, frequently compared with the work of Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989 ) and Andres Serrano (1950). Some of his most famous 80’s works include ‘Self-portrait as Bull’, where Blanca presented himself disguised as a bull with an erect penis, ‘Self-portrait with Micky Mouse’ features a large depiction on his back, inflicted with a razor blade of Mickey Mouse with his thumbs up and a big smile, and ‘Self-portrait – sewed lips’ where the artist sewed his lips together. Blanca’s consistent employment of the specific genre of self-portraits shows a deep interest towards the body,-his body,-but also a will to understand, a restless search towards the many different facets of his identity. Blanca’s works almost seem to be challenges, exploring the artist’s physical and psychological limits as a search towards self-knowledge.
After having abandoned photography for five years to care for his sick mother, Blanca now employs the medium to re-see himself and study who he has become. In ‘Closer’ the camera lens is the mirror through which the artist analyzes this changed persona, sometimes by adapting scenes from historical stories that made a deep impact on the artist, other times by metaphoric interpretations of the artists life experiences and even reliving this past works through his re-invented self. Fiction and non-fiction become intertwined by the presence of the artist who fulfills all the roles of the author, narrator and the protagonist.
In ‘Self-portrait with Crow’ an ominous bird, with unfolded wings violently prearound Blanca, who seems both aware and neglectful of its presence and potential danger by turning his illuminated back towards the viewer, and walking off into the shadows behind him. This allegory of life and death and the romanticism of the tragedy within it seems to be a perpetual theme in Blanca’s work. ‘Self-portrait with Crow’ recalls the image of Blanca’s well known 1980’s work ‘Self-portrait with Chickenheads’ where the young artist shyly looks away from the camera while wearing a morbid crown constructed from beheaded chickens. While Blanca’s self-portraits, especially when using dead animals or including self-torment, seem harsh or shocking at first sight, they never fail to express heartfelt emotions and embody a poetic aura.
Blanca’s portraits also reflect symbols of acceptance: he shows himself pure, calm and majestic in his fragility. In ‘Closer’, Blanca finds himself in an embrace of found serenity – the artists naked body interlocked by two young female figures, allegories of eternal beauty. This pursuit towards everlasting beauty is a pivotal element in Blanca’s oevre and is already present in some of his oldest series, like the 80’s ballerina’s portraits. The true center of attention, however, remains Blanca himself; like Narcissus’ perpetual selfreflection, Blanca’s search towards identity is a quest for him only: he is the anti hero and the only protagonist in his self created greek tragedy.
Paul Blanca (1958, Amsterdam)
In his younger years as a self-taught artists, Paul Blanca started experimenting with photography. In the Dutch artistic scene, Blanca met the world famous choreographer Hans van Manen, who because of their mutual interest in photography, became his close friend and tutor.
Van Manen included Blanca in one of his choreographies where he performed as a kick boxer surrounded by ballerinas. In between performances, Blanca started to photograph his colleagues which led to his first exhibition at the age of 21. Here Blanca met Robert Mapplethorpe, with whom he travelled to New York. Mapplethorpe quickly introduced Blanca to the high society of New York in the 80’s including Willem de Koning, Jasper Johns, Keith Haring and Grace Jones. Blanca had his first exhibition in New York and Mapplethorpe became his artistic mentor and close friend. Mapplethorpe later stated that ‘’Paul Blanca is my only competitor.”
Blanca’s last solo exhibition was at Museum de Fundatie, Zwolle (2011). Recent group exhibitions include Galerie Gabriel Rolt, Amsterdam, Museum Arnhem, Fotomuseum Den Haag, Museum Jan van der Tocht. Blanca’s work is included in mayor collections and well known museums including i.a, Bill Katz collection, Robert Mapplethorpe foundation, The Getty Museum, Het Stedelijk Museum, Museum Voorlinden, Gemeentemuseum den Haag, KPN collection, Agnes B, Cees Dam and the Groninger museum.