Left: Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Andre, November 16, 2010, color photograph, 18 x 24”. Right: Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Victor, November 21, 2010, color photograph, 18 x 24”.


Paul Mpagi Sepuya is a Brooklyn-based artist. His forthcoming publication Studio Work documents the art he made during his residency last year at the Studio Museum in Harlem; the book will be available through D.A.P. starting this fall. Select pieces from that residency are featured in the group exhibition “Surface Tension” at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, which is on view until June 24.

I HAD BEEN READING Brian O’Doherty’s book Studio and Cube, and was influenced by his concept of time, for instance how elements of perception and so on can be very different in the studio, as opposed to outside of it. And, the perception of time—my vantage point within its progression—is something that comes across in my works, especially those made during my Studio Museum residency.

My awareness of the studio as a site that informs my work came to the fore during my residency at the Center for Photography at Woodstock in 2010. I developed a routine where I would get up, make work, go over things made before, bike down to the lab, print, do some more editing, bring these new prints back into the space, and then rephotograph them.

During my time at the Studio Museum, a week might pass when no one would come to visit me and then all of a sudden there might be a day when three friends would drop by. In between these periods—before and after people brought objects into the studio or left traces of their stay behind—I observed how their comings and goings slowly began to be reflected in my studio surroundings, and I began to photograph what I saw as this ongoing process of interaction, and accretion, between myself, my friends, and the studio itself.

Speaking of comings and goings, I often hear of situations where individuals meet on the street and say, “I’ve seen that picture of you in Paul’s studio—naked!” Wayne Koestenbaum, for instance, who contributed an essay for Studio Work, had this experience with my friend Victor. Wayne had seen Victor’s image and was, well, taken with it. Some time later he ran into Victor on the street. I guess it can make for an interesting icebreaker.

One of the things about the Studio Museum residency is that you know there is going to be an exhibition at the end of the period. After talking with Naomi Beckwith as well as with AA Bronson, I decided that a publication would be the best avenue to present the experiences that occurred within the framework of “studio time.” Although I had already self-published a zine bearing the same title around the midpoint of the residency, Studio Work in its current book form came about at the end of, and in response to, my time as an artist with the Studio Museum. Ultimately, the book depicts the ongoing, dynamic relationships between myself and the individuals in my life.

— As told to Joseph Akel