Full of life, prepared for doom; this was the pervading atmosphere in which gay men in Toronto lived during the mid-90s, as I encountered it. I walked in – so to speak – on tragedy, but an exhausted state of tragedy penetrated by exuberance, ambition, and the bathos of ongoing daily life. As the losses of AIDS compounded it became a collective loss, yet the broken hearts and the bitter waste of lives remained and remain acutely personal, untouchable. I was born in 1977, and my self-awareness developed in relative lockstep with the ravages of the epidemic. I had missed the halcyon days of gay liberation, and was sheltered from the initial waves of chaos that had ensnared so many. My particular generational aspect was of coming after, incarnated along with the newly dawning reality. Recently, I came across my 8th grade yearbook and noted how many of the dedications expressed, mostly in rhyming couplets, variations of: “don’t get AIDS (but hope you get laid this summer).” The link between sex and death was unassailable, and any acted-upon desire seemed a tacit agreement with fate.

The fantasies and foreboding of my teenage compulsions suffused my suburban bedroom. When in time I discovered the gay village downtown, its climate – that admixture of energy and doom – felt as if I were, at last, breathing my native air. The village rag, Xtra!, littered my backpack, the spaces under my bed, and indeed my psyche, throughout my high school days. The final pages of each issue were a multitude of short obituaries titled Proud Lives, laid out in columns, accompanied by stamp-sized portraits. The penultimate pages were escort ads with business card-sized photos, which functioned as free porn. I reconciled both sections naturally and without analysis. Eros and Thanatos, youthful beauty’s destructive end, permeated the present just as it does queer history, as I was learning. During my last year of high school, a kid who liked comic books – I did not – turned me on to David Wojnarowicz’s Seven Miles A Second, which had just been published and was available at the comic book store in the mall. I was consumed by its sexy, hellish vision. Around this same time, looking through piles of magazines in the back of adult and gay bookstores, I was struck by the profound erotic variety in pornography from the early 80s and the pre-AIDS 70s, versus the contemporary iterations which seemed homogeneous, even philistine, in their narrow range of voyeurism. I was too young to feel nostalgia for this era, so I begun to see the anonymous faces and minor stars as heroes; as remote and worthy of adoration as the ancient Greeks felt their gods to be.

In 1997, at the age of 20, in my second year of art school I made Snapping Off; a rare video in my oeuvre, which has never screened outside of one lone Video and Performance class. Still, at the time, video was to me the most promising route for disgorging my sensibilities. I didn’t yet believe that art making should take time, and art making held a mythic, even spurious, relationship with livelihood. It seems like fiction to recall that I paid only $80 a month for the bedroom that provides the video’s setting (though $80 wasn’t always that easy to come by). Although Snapping Off seems like a slacker provocation, it was one of my first expressions of melancholy, a base Romantic yearning. It is a picture of me flailing, groping for some channel of communication. I had fled the suburbs, religion and family: I was the son of born-again Baptist minister; he himself had fled Peru as a teenager, and his own demons. The snapping rhythms were my attempt to send, receive, and respond to messages from a homosexual past I felt buzzing through me. Semaphoring from my side of the river Styx.

Paul P. first became known for drawings and paintings of young men that re-imagined found erotic photographs along nineteenth century aesthetic modes. The artist’s interest in transience, desire, cataloging and notation has expanded to include landscapes, abstraction, and sculptural works in the form of furniture. Solo exhibitions include Queer Thoughts, New York, 2021; Morena di Luna, Hove, 2020; Cooper Cole, Toronto, 2020; Maureen Paley, London, 2016; Massimo Minini, Brescia, 2011; The Power Plant, Toronto, 2007; Daniel Reich Gallery, New York, 2003.