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By Dez’Mon Omega Fair
Interview by Conor Riley
Photographs courtesy of Paul Mpagi Sepuya

UCLA’s Graduate Open Studios on Saturday offered a range of creative expression; from hand drawings to installation and performance all sinuously warehoused in Los Angeles’ Culver City. Racks of large scale paintings and makeshift walls narrowly guided viewers to each space.Here are a few of our favorites, Kim Truong, Anabel Juarez, Carla J. Harris, Brittany Mojo, Audra Wist, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya. We recently caught up with Paul, a longtime friend of OAK, to talk about his work, UCLA open studios, and moving back to the West Coast after 14 years in NYC.

OAK: You grew up on the West Coast, but lived in NYC for 14 years. What was the transition back to California like for you?
PAUL MPAGI SEPUYA: I grew up about an hour outside of LA, and Southern California has always made me feel comfortable in a way that nowhere else has. I love New York though and always will, but I felt more and more a draw back to California. But it’s both familiar and new, never having lived in Los Angeles. Growing up in proximity and then visiting over the past decade and a half from New York, my experience was always one of desiring the thing that was not yet possessed. Having to own and be responsible for a car is the strangest part of the transition!

OAK:What do you find is the biggest contrast between NY and LA? How do you think this informs your work?
PMS: The biggest contrast is the way people move through the environment, and the cruising nature of everyday street culture in New York. I hadn’t realized how much my work had taken that social experience for granted. Los Angeles is a much more private place.

OAK: What can you tell us about your latest series of work shown at UCLA Open Studios?
PMS: [It is] recent work from the past two quarters, since January. I have been working on a group of pictures tentatively called Figure / Ground / Studies, one of which was shown in progress at Paris Photo LA last month as a finalist for the Introducing ! Young California Photographers Award.

OAK: Do you have any rituals before, during or after while you’re working? What are you listening to?
PMS: Make coffee. Stay social. I usually keep my door open or take breaks to stroll around the building and chat with whoever else is around and see their work. After an evening crit or seminar, a few beers or going to the nearby bars is essential. If I’m listening to anything really it’s one of the Southern California Public Radio stations like KCRW or my Spotify selections.

OAK: A lot of your work includes portraits, but many are amalgamations of different images, sometimes including your actual camera. Can you elaborate on what inspired this type of collage?
PMS: These images are all analogue constructions in the studio, and it is very important to me that they are not digital manipulations of image fragments. That the clues all add up to a sculptural engagement with the space.

OAK: Who are some of favorite artists/photographers?
PMS: Right now I’m thinking a lot about Moyra Davey, David Hockney and Barbara Probst’s photographs, niv Acosta’s performances.

OAK: What is something you think we’d be surprised to find out about you after seeing your work?
PMS: I can’t even imagine what that might be.

OAK: What is your favorite part about living in LA? What do you miss about NYC?
PMS: I love the landscape more than anything in Los Angeles. I miss New York thunderstorms and, ironically, the summer beach culture.

OAK: What do you look for in a subject?
PMS: I prefer friends.

OAK: What are your plans for this summer?
PMS: Lots of work! I’ll be going to New York for a group show opening in late June, and then to Houston for the most recent installation of my 2010-11 project STUDIO WORK at FotoFest Houston opening July 9. I’m a co-organizer of the fall Southern California MFA group show at UCLA, so will be busy with that along with also co-organizing the MFA program’s visiting artist series for the 2015-16 year. And then there’s thinking about thesis… There won’t be any vacation!
Additional photos from UCLA Open Studios by Dez’Mon Omega Fair