On the eve of the Artist’s Residency Opening Reception in Manhattan, NY, lifelong friend Trevor Moppin gives an insight into who Paix Robinson really is.
By Trevor Moppin
“Artist. Human. In that order.” is Paix Robinson’s defining affirmation. Those simple words are more than just his brand, they are his philosophy. A painter, poet, dancer, model, francophile, art director, even the word “artist” fails to do justice to the world of boundless creativity he inhabits. Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes in his company can attest to his charming, hustling, irrepressible dynamism. Not to mention his marriage to the color blue.
“Blue is everything. It’s every emotion, every factor and facet of the human experience and as an artist my blessing and curse is to make people feel,” Paix says. “In whatever I’m doing—painting or writing or telling stories through fashion and photography—I just want people to feel and to be given the blueprint, so to speak, to feel everything, for themselves.”
Those who stopped by Paix’s recent exhibition at The Gallery & Studio at Chinatown Soup felt the full range of emotions he teases out of the color. With select pieces based on the sounds and means of the black narrative his work reconstructs the music of jazz greats into a Mondrian-esque geometric puzzle of cerulean: something to be pieced together by his audience.
Ever since our childhood in East Oakland, CA, I’ve always known Paix to be a dreamer. From a young age he connected to drawing and poetry to channel that constant introspection into the material world. The backroom of his childhood home became the focus for his creativity, turning a family storage space into a museum of imagination and candor. Whether choreographing dances to Motown Era b-sides, singing in multiple choirs, performing in over thirty plays and musicals from age 8 to 17 or writing all about it in countless journals—he was always creating something.
As a close friend I don’t question the methods of his madness, which, yes, is a trying act in itself at times. As an innocent bystander I would assume all you are left with is intrigue. On either side, the fact remains that art is simply who he is. I have it on good authority that the only talent unclaimed is playing a musical instrument. He’ll tell you, “I learned how to play my My Heart Will Go On from Titanic on the trumpet in 4th grade and was satisfied with that.”
Despite not actively playing an instrument, Paix draws inspirations from the vibrations and testaments of Jazz, Funk, Soul and The Blues in the hopes that his brush hits the canvas to tell a story to be felt. Aligning with the ideologies of his beatnik icons Ginsberg and Kerouac, Paix creates things of substance to reflect the upset within his generation and that of the world around him. While his paintings and poetry show a joyous combat of the spaces he inhabits, to see him turn those conflicts into art is to bear witness to clarity of thought and precision.
His unapologetically pro-Black voice is born of the institutionalized racism that never goes a day without rearing its head. Regardless of his repertoire in art, fashion and entertainment, as Jay Z puts it in The Story of O.J Paix is “ …still n***a.”
To be a young black man in America with a dream is a difficult and courageous endeavor. Paix has not allowed the echoes of the global Jim Crow to dull his spirit, creative sense of being or more importantly his hustle. And his art is a vibrant reminder that harmony still exists even in the simplicity of blue, black and white.
After studying in the south of France, Paix took hold of his independence and bought a one way ticket to New York City and moved into an apt at the corner of East 4th and Ave B in 2012. He wasted no time in pursuing his dreams and quickly became a force to be reckoned with. He’s worked with former Marc by Marc Jacobs, Creative and Design Director’s Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley, and was a part of Beyonce’s wardrobe team at the 2016 VMA’s. As an Art Director he has pulled together some of the best creatives, designers and top models in New York and Paris with credits that include Vogue Italia and Schön Magazine. He even modeled for Apple in their iPhone 7 campaign.
Standing at 6 feet with blue dreads and a Twiggy-like waistline Paix doesn’t exactly blend in—and that’s just how he likes it. From his bell bottoms, fringe and Chelsea boots to his Black Panther buttons, his DeLorean is always set somewhere in 1972. Whether walking the streets of the Lower East Side, painting in Tompkins Sq Park, or directing a shoot under his boutique production studio, The Studio88, Paix is truly a singularity among the masses.
Just 12 hours before his New York City gallery debut Paix confirms the beer sponsor (Pabst Blue Ribbon) pick up, sends out last minute invites, updates his instagram stories of paintings still in-progress with *Nsync’s first album on repeat and yes, full dance breaks direct from MTV’s making the video. He does it all with a mixture of humility and nonchalance, taken aback by what he’s achieved but owning every moment of it.
He also found time to sit down—his legs crossed and a rolled cigarette in hand—with me for a chat about his work and life.
TM: Most people wouldn’t say a color could define someone. They would overlook the complexity that a color can encompass.
PR: Yeah, I guess it’s plausible for most people.
TM: But you aren’t most people.
PR: This you know to be true
TM: So why just blue then?
PR: Blue is everything. It’s every emotion, every factor and facet of the human experience and as an artist my blessing and curse is to make people feel. In whatever im doing. Painting or writing or telling stories through fashion and photography- I just want people to feel and to be given the blueprint, so to speak, to feel everything, for themselves. And it’s cheaper.
TM: You don’t find working in one color limiting?
PR: Not at all. I find new blues literally every time. It’s like finding something unknown right in front of you.
TM: So out of everything that I’ve seen you do over the years, why has painting stuck more than say dance or theater?
PR: [ sighs] Ugh. Well they say you never use your degree so I guess on track. I had my post adolescent idealistic phase so now I conquer adulting. Serious answer, I do everything. Literally all my things all the time. Out of all of the things creating content seems to be what stuck to me. It wasn’t a choice as much as it is a response. That’s why I love New York you can do everything and as long as you want it and do what it takes it to actually have it, this city will let you know real fast what works for you and what doesn’t and never will. Like fanny packs or cargo shorts.
TM: So Paris V.S New York?
PR: I can’t. That’s not a fair question for me and you know it. Paris gives me past life homesickness type feelings. Everytime I’m there whether it’s for business or just sitting upstairs at Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore for hella hours I feel closer to myself. But like a memory or a dream. For right now in this time period New York is a good base. But they don’t compare. Both of them are foundations to my being. Artistically and the daydreamer-over the top-punch drunk and wayward sense and just as an earthling. I draw from both. Paris is my bedtime lullaby and Manhattan is my wake up call. I’m not trying to go to sleep right now. Gotta stay woke. Too much to do.
TM: What do you hope to gain from this residency? For yourself or professionally.
PR: Those two are linked as well. Because who I am is what I do I have the privilege of gaining experience, inspiration and time for each. Using one to push the other and find happiness in the balance. This new chapter of my potential is scary because of the responsibility I have to my craft and the audience that chooses to pay attention to it. Its also hella cool in all the ways that make creating art in basement studio of a gallery in Chinatown just sound cool. And I want money. I got bills bruh. Off the record..(pauses)..wait that’s not right is it? I’m suppose to say it before. F***.
TM: (laughs) I think you’re good. I believe it’s safe to say that all artists want to make money for their work. Isn’t that the point?
PR: No. Not for me. And not even in the bongo drum, stream of consciousness free for all-” I just want to create and spread love and understanding man” kind of way. I really have no choice in the matter. If I wasn’t painting it in a gallery or modeling clothes or taking pictures of diverse and beautiful faces I would be doing it in my room in my underwear or in the park or on a fire escape somewhere being hella weird. I can’t help it. It’s just like food poisoning only the poison is life and art is my regurgitation. But you can’t just walk up to people and say “ Your energy and face is amazing, can I take your picture I want to shoot you” or paint in your room for hours with no intent or idea to make it something because then you’re just a creeper. Plus I’m trynna keep my lights on-can’t paint in the dark!
TM: Okay first of all, you’re totally a creeper.
PR: I Know. My secret insta account @subwaysleepercreeper is literal proof of said accusation.
TM: Okay, so not so secret anymore.
- Damn. I’m really bad at this.
TM: And I’m positive you would paint by candle light if necessary.
PR: ‘Tis true. But my intent does not stand on the financial. I’m more so finding ways to sustain life as a tax paying citizen doing what I would do on an island by myself. And like I said, I literally have no choice in the matter. It just comes out. Like vomit.
TM: Was it that realization that gave you the idea to brand yourself under the handle @artvomit?
PR: [ Imitating Jim Carrey in Liar Liar] “Ding Ding Ding, let’s tell her what she’s won Johnny!”
PR: (Laughs) For all the reasons I just described I have a hard time taking myself seriously when it comes to talking about my talents. Most if it is your average human insecurity and the rest is because it’s so natural for me to do and be all this stuff that talking about it under the context of self branding, marketing through social media and curating your personality in the visual sense, which is important especially for artists, just feels trite and pretentious and I literally can not. My momma didn’t raise no foo.
TM: That I also know to be true. But you have to give credit where credit is due. And like you said, the lights have to stay on.
PR: Ugh, It’s the absolute worst.
TM: Do you think it’s possible to be altruistic, exist within the professional art sphere and be successful at both without “selling out”?
PR: Yes. I think it’s easier now more than ever before in history to achieve that and make money.On your own terms. I try to use the tools that I see manipulated only for personal gain to promote awareness and honesty. Social media and specifically Instagram have made it so easy to just be you and allow people to decide for themselves whether or not they f*** with you. And because of the influence that exists within a consumer driven society companies and people in place of power will reach out and use those who have gained a significant following with no choice but to endorse them. When the market allows. And right now. Everything that I am is hella marketable. Gucci’s latest spring campaign is proof of how media and white america want the insert- “cool, skinny black boy with natural hair-here “ these days. Its awesome but also just a form of exploitation.
TR: You don’t feel like you play into those exploits? It’s so easy to manipulate the tools of social media and create a facade that only exists on a phone or tablet screen.
PR: Which is exactly why people and artists like myself have such a hard time using things like IG. That world is so oversaturated with falsities and nonsense that it really is disgusting evidence of how far down the “ in the future everyone will be famous for 15 mins” rabbit hole we’ve gone.
TM: So how do you do it?
PR: With honesty. Always. Even in an ocean of diarrhoea the truth will rise to the top. And I have to believe that who I am, how and what I choose to share with the world or the thousands of people who choose to “follow” me can see the honesty in my ways. Even if they don’t, I know the truth and that’s all that matters.
TM: What would you say is your truth?
PR: My truth is what I leave behind. It’s in the million or more words I’ve written into poetry attempting to testify to the human condition. It’s in the stories of images that have been published in magazines and websites. It’s in my paintings. All of it.
TM: And what does all of that say? How would you describe your truth to a blind man that can not see or read your work for himself?
PR: My work says “ All you need is love” and imagination is the key to understanding anything and everyone. It says “ Hi, I’m human and so are you. That “ I am he as you are he and you are me and we are all together”