An interview with John Paradiso by Paul Shortt
John Paradiso makes works that blend craft, masculinity, and sexuality together in fiber artworks that address male identity. His work confronts viewers with beefcake men, pansies (men and flowers), and found text that challenges conventional notions of masculinity. The heavily stitched men in his work often confront and stare back at you while exposing and opening themselves up to the viewer’s gaze, presenting both the labor of the male model and the labor of the artist.
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to meet John and later was the artist in residence at 39th Street. Gallery. This interview and studio visit took place in September.
For many years you made work about AIDS and HIV and the balance of life and death that comes with such a diagnosis. In your artist statement you mention a shift towards making work about life in general. Did this shift coincide with HIV not being a terminal diagnosis with drug combinations extending the life of HIV patients or did it come from a feeling of needing to shift artistic focus?
It did have a great deal to do with the protease inhibitors; they changed the landscape of AIDS. My work has always been about identity issues, and continues to be today. During those years many friends had died of AIDS related illnesses, my boyfriend in the early nineties was a Person Living with AIDS and I was the studio/personal assistant to the painter Robert FARBER. (My ex is still living but Robert died in 1995.)
In your work you combine masculinity, sexuality and craft in a way that subverts traditional craft norms. How long have you been using a craft dialogue in your practice?
I guess it officially started with my first completed quilt in 2004. It is a way for me to talk about the fluidity of masculinity visually and by using tools seen as less masculine.
Can you talk a bit about the recent show you co-curated in response to the Pulse nightclub terror attack?
It was important to do something in response to this tragedy and a call for artists to respond seemed like a good idea. The submission went national (all by word-of-mouth) we received work from as far away as California and about half the artists were from outside the DMV area.
Group shows with many artists from many places can be allot of work, but these artists were really great to work with. Although this exhibition had a heavy theme, it was quite beautiful. The work was well received, it was special.
How do you balance managing a gallery with your own art practice?
I live and work in the Gateway Arts District, there are hundreds of artists, and many run art related venues and are working artists as well. It’s a way of life out here. The best part is, as a visual artist, all the programming I do at the gallery I would attend anyway. I am inspired and energized by the artists I work with and the art they make.
Luckily for me the 39th Street Galley is not a commercial venue and I am able to manage it as a part time employee. Although we do sell a reasonable amount of works, our goal is to be a resource for artists and the community.
This however makes my personal art career part time as well. But I work on my art everyday. The gallery is two doors from my home and my studio is a block from the house, so I save time by not having a commute.
What upcoming exhibitions to you have?
The show in the 39th Street Gallery runs till mid January and the next show in Mid February is The University of Maryland Art Honors students.
I’m in a show in the Marlborough Gallery at Prince George’s Community College called Creative Corridor: Artists of the Gateway Arts District that runs January 19-February 23, 2017,Artist Reception is February 9.
For more Info on John visit his website: www.john-paradiso.com