Phoenix Artist Paul Elliott on Exploring Drag Culture and Reality TV as Inspiration

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What happens in the studio, shouldn't always stay in the studio. Studio Visit is a weekly series that profiles artists in their studios. This week: Phoenix artist and writer, Paul Elliott.

If there's anyone in Phoenix that dabbles in just about everything, it's Paul Elliott. He's an artist and writer and he works in the costume shop at Arizona Opera Company. He's also a barista at Jobot Coffee, where he recently showed a new body of work titled "Glob 3: Full of Acid." His work and process are just as diverse as his occupations.

See Also: ASU Announces Visiting Artist/Scholar Lecture Series Lineup at Grant Street Studios in Phoenix

Elliott captured our attention this time last year with his exhibition at Eye Lounge, "Glob 2: This D**k Walks into a Bar," a series of photographs documenting the Phoenix drag scene. This body of work started as a personal goal for Elliott. "I've always wanted to photograph people," said Elliott, "I've never really had the balls to do portrait work." All it really took for Elliott was a group of queens who tuck their junk.

These drag portraits also come at an interesting time in popular culture. RuPaul's Drag Race has become even more of a household name since the exhibition. Elliott sensed that the growing popularity of this show would change drag, which was something he wanted to be there for. Now that a drag queen from Tucson will be on the show next year, it could change even further. Though Elliott needed to take a breather from the drag scene, he plans on going back for more.

Elliott is currently keeping busy with a variety of projects that incorporate writing, drawing, and photography. He is working on a story involving a character named Ginger getting lost at the base of the Grand Canyon. Elliott's inspiration for this character came from a story he heard about a woman named Ginger who would send kids to get her gin in exchange for candy. The story itself is based on an episode of I Shouldn't Be Alive, in which a woman makes a series of unfortunate choices and ends up getting lost in the desert.

Elliott's cheeky way of approaching the macabre is reminiscent of drag culture but, for him, the portraits are completely separate from his other work. "[The drag portraits] are a record of what I see and everything else is a record of who I am." His current work that's showing at Jobot Coffee is a series of ink drawings that were made in an attempt to cope with anger. These stark, blob-like drawings look as if they're the residue of simultaneous pain and pleasure. They have a distinctly bodily quality to them and feel incredibly personal.

This deep, personal exploration is something that Elliott plans on continuing. His next big plan is to go through his old negatives, dating back to when he was a teenager in the early 1990s. The prints will be small and intimate -- displayed casually so that viewers could have the tactile experience of sifting through found photographs. Elliott would like to move the work as far away from the gallery wall as possible. "It's not physical enough for me," said Elliott, "I like things getting fucked up, bent, and fingerprinted."

Tell us about your work in haiku format. Stories found in sight. Look at the words. Read into the pictures. Self help.

What artist(s) are you really into right now? I'm terrible about keeping up with the art scene. I tend to look at film, television, and music for inspiration. I've been exploring Lars Von Trier. I'm also having a special relationship with really awful television, I mean AWFUL. Reality television is so mean spirited. I've also become re-obsessed with The Supremes, especially Florence Ballard. I'm always looking for stories.

What are you reading? Helter Skelter. What a nightmare.

What's the last TV show, film, or video you watched? Mob Wives. Gimme Big Ang and do not skimp on the Drita!

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why? I would really like to work with sculptor Patricia Sannit. I've been doing a lot of sewing and would love to work collaboratively on a garment. She's got a sense of style that isn't typical of Phoenix. The last time I saw her out she was wearing a Comme De Garcons skirt that had sweat shirt sleeves hanging off of it.

What was the last exhibition you saw and what did you think of it? I've seen a lot of work at Modified this year that I've really liked. Again, I'm terrible about banking artists names but I do remember the people that put them together. I love what Becky Nahom and Julia Bruck do together and I also saw a really great show curated by Peter Bugg.

Jeff Koons or Marina Abramović and why? Hmmm... I'm more familiar with Jeff Koons and appreciate Abramović but I'm not really partial to either. I know that they've both worked with Lady Gaga.

What's the best advice you've ever received? "Sack up and do it."

What are you currently working on? I've always got something in a pot on some burner somewhere in my brain. I'm in-between projects but have many things planned. I'm organizing my black and white negatives dating back to 1992 to start a found photo project. I'm thinking about writing short-stories based on those images as well. I'm experimenting with a lot of things and very excited.

What's your most valued tool as an artist? Research. Someone can give you a great piece of information but it's useless until you put it to use. It's up to you to figure out what to do with your knowledge. Let's face it -- art world or everyday life, you're going to have to do it yourself.

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