If you’ve only been following my work for the last few years, you may not know that I originally cut my teeth in photography largely based in portrait work. Over the years as my expression became increasingly abstract, I not only abandoned portraiture but also removed those portfolios from my website menu as they no longer reflected my aspirations as an artist. However, remaining curious and open are major tenants of my artistic practice. When my friend, Papay Solomon pitched me his vision for a collaborative project in January of 2021 I enthusiastically agreed to join him.
I first had the pleasure of meeting Papay Solomon in January of 2019 when he inquired about hiring me to photograph his paintings. We met for coffee to discuss his needs and I immediately felt a kinship developing as our conversation organically strayed from the task at hand towards art and life in general. Over the last several years we have shared many wonderful conversations over coffee or in his studio about art, life, culture, and what it means to be human.
Papay is a Liberian-American hyperrealist figurative painter who uses his artistic voice to elevate the stories and experiences of his fellow African Diaspora. He graduated in 2018 with a BFA from the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts at Arizona State University and wasted no time getting to work. His paintings are already highly sought-after by collectors and museums around the country.
This ambitious project, commissioned by The Something Machine in Bellport, New York, would feature a larger-than-life double portrait, Papay’s first undertaking at that grand scale. He brought in fashion designer Ndifor Chesi to create custom fashion pieces featuring designs and materials that speak to Papay’s Liberian and West African roots, and filmmaker Brandon Salaz to document the project. After I finished photographing the reference portrait that he would paint from, Papay and his friend and model, Tessa agreed to indulge my curiosity, resulting in the images posted here. We grabbed some leftover fabric from Chesi’s custom fashion designs and pinned it to the wall as a background to further emphasize the beautiful patterns featured in his work.
Even though I have no plans to pursue portrait work in the near future, it was delightful to dust off those studio skills and take on a new challenge. I am grateful for Papay’s friendship (and Tessa is just the most kind, lovely human being) and professional collaboration, and so excited that the art world has his voice. See more of his work at www.papaysolomon.com and watch Salazar’s film documenting Papay’s As We Are project at The Something Machine.