Drake's: You're best known for your bronze sculptures of 'everyday' black men. I'm interested to know why you focus heavily on both black men, and men specifically, as your subjects?
TJP: Essentially it's because I feel that the current (and historic) western representation of black or non-white men is almost completely contra to that of what has become to a large extent the de facto representation of the human race, white men, even if sometimes on an almost imperceptible level. Monumental sculpture throughout history has almost entirely been populated by images of white men, usually of a particular social standing. It has been used to exemplify power, greatness, triumph, and many other 'aspirational' qualities that powerful individuals and nations want to project for all to see. The very nature of object based sculpture makes it occupy space and create a dynamic of scale between the object and the viewer, which has the effect of creating a 'hierarchy of status' dependent on the relative sizes between the two. In placing black men at the center of my work, and therefore the viewers' attention, I'm firstly presenting the underrepresented in a way that subverts the norm. Secondly, in doing so, I'm drawing attention to various long-held beliefs, and the mechanisms behind them, which normally go unquestioned.
I want to critique the presiding image of power, success and achievement, which has seeped into the social unconsciousness, reinforced by a myriad of subtle (and not so subtle) assertions of status and value that are directed at us via media outlets, films, literature, historical accounts, music, and so on. My work challenges the values and authenticity of the traditional monumental sculpture, replacing the subject with a type of person seldom presented as' monumental’.
Drake's: Your sculptures are decidedly contemporary in their subject matter, but your chosen material - bronze - is very classical. Could you tell us about what drew you to bring these two elements together in your work?
TJP: Bronze holds a very particular and enduring significance in the world. As a scrap metal, its copper content gives it some value, but more than that it's physical properties as an alloy have maintained its position as an incredibly successful “technology” for making sculpture for thousands of years. It tends to be expensive to work with and therefore has become associated with aggrandizing those deemed fit enough for such investment, or those wealthy enough to bankroll works themselves. Although my bronzes are also semi-disguised as the kind of injection molded plastic used in mobile phones and other devices, I wanted to take this historically rich substance, with all its connotations, and use it to portray my characters; setting the prestige of the material against the perception of the subjects.
The first ‘figurative’ sculpture I showed was a small plaster head on a scrap MDF shelf, which was attached by one screw to a wall, quite low-down between two large pillars. Of course, this was about presenting the opposite of what was being referenced, with plaster taking the place of marble.