Paul DeMuro

  • 31.10.2012|

By the sole means of painting, Paul DeMuro’s art exerts a real fascination. The eye is drawn into a heterogeneous space that forms a “screen” to representation: images of screens referring only to themselves; bright images composed of empty screens. But the emptiness is constructed in depth. And the light originates in the depth of the painting itself. This quasi-sculptural addition of relief inevitably recalls Rauschenberg’s Combine Paintings; but here the heterogeneous elements are absent, because the painting itself, in the paradoxical exercise of representation without object, works visually as a mirror; and the painted framing emphasizes this. Inscribed in the picture, it induces a false perspective. Here, painting attains its most tactile dimension, which at times is explicitly reinforced by shapes of hands.These “negative” hands of prehistoric paintings remind me also the one enclosed in a rayograph by Man Ray The Kiss (1922). But if a picture by DeMuro were to be compared to a mirror, it would be the Grimm brothers’ “magic” version – a two-way mirror whose particularity is to reflect only some of the light it receives, and to let the rest through, marking the separation of an incident ray into two beams, one reflected, the other refracted. It is through traces of such incidences and refractions that DeMuro reveals a mysterious connection with the intimacy behind the screen – that of the computer or the iPhone. This is a schema that he puts in correspondence with an app based on the principle of inverting the photographic image. According to John Yau: “Hearts, cupids, rainbows and hands - DeMuro incorporates visual clichés into his work, but he never becomes sentimental, kitschy or ironic. This is just one of the remarkable things about his work. His precise synthesis of the tactile and the optical is another. It’s as if he wishes that computers would manifest themselves physically, becoming something more than a screen we both touch and take for granted. [1] Through an intuitive use of color in relief, he seeks to place”the human relation“in a nexus with the machine :”Would it not be hard to imagine the day when a program will arrive that makes your posts, pics, tweets, likes, etc. into a repeating algorithm, thus making your personality, persona and identity go on into the foreseeable future, long after your body dies and rots away ?"
Bernard Zürcher

New York Times


Paul DeMuro (born 1981, he lives in Brooklyn, NY) was raised in Philadelphia. He received his MFA in Painting from Rutgers University in 2010. He obtains the Purchase Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He currently holds a Chashama studio residency in New York.
Selected exhibitions : 2012 Revelations*, Zürcher Studio, New York, NY ; Techno Nature, Zürcher Studio, New York, NY ; Broken Window Plane, Tracy Williams ltd, New York, NY ; Rutgers MFA Open Studios, Mason Gross*, New Brunswick, NJ ; Mythografia, Bull and Ram, New York, NY – 2011 Bleach (with Alex da Corte), Jolie Laide, Philadelphia, PA ; In Between the Sheets, Harlem Workspace Gallery, New York, NY ; Exprist, Columbia University, New York, NY – 2010 De-Nature, Jolie Laide, Philadelphia, PA ; Off The Map, White Box, New York, NY.
*solo exhibitions


It is a pleasure to be able to write this essay on Paul DeMuro, whose work I first saw in 2008 when he was a student in the MFA program where I teach. I became an immediate fan and have continued to follow it ever since. Since DeMuro graduated in 2010, I have included his paintings in two group shows that I organized, Oil and Water (2010) and Broken/Window/Plane (2012), which should suggest how much I believe in his work.

The surfaces of DeMuro’s paintings are thickly painted, forming ridges where one band of color has been laid down next to another. In some places he might apply the paint as if it were malleable substance, like clay. He also collages various elements, including string and strips of artificial fur, to the surface. He covers these collage elements with paint, which integrates them into the painting’s uneven surface.

DeMuro’s synthesis of tactile surfaces with optical effects is directed towards the technology that we have all grown increasing dependent on—touch screens, personal computers, surveillance cameras, televisions and animated billboards. In that world, the bodiless image is central to our experience. This is a phenomenon we encounter in the work of a number of contemporary artists: we see and interact with colored light, but physical forms and intimacy are absent.


Compositionally, DeMuro delineates a linear structure within the painting that echoes its physical shape—these include squares, rectangles and ovals. Inside the linear structure or frame, the artist lays down narrow diagonal bands that gradually shift along a tonal register through incremental additions of white. This gives the bands a glow reminiscent of the dead light emitted from technology’s screens. DeMuro underscores the artificial nature of this glow with colors like pink, violet and copper green.

The bands might start in each corner and meet in the middle, forming an X, or they might form a diamond within a linear square. In each case, they mark a center directing the viewer’s attention, a place where the glow is most concentrated. At the same time, the frame does not clearly separate the narrow outer band from the larger interior area. Instead, it functions like an ineffective border overrun by all manner of things, including the silhouettes of hands, thick ridges and abstract shapes.

The silhouetted hands bring to mind cave painting, the physical interactions between digital touch screens and their owners, and paintings by various modern masters such as Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns. By integrating the tactile and the optical, DeMuro implicitly critiques and interrogates our split relationship with the computer screen and the physical world. By pass various marks across the frame (or barrier), DeMuro seems to be celebrating the unruly possibility of the physical world occupying the digital world of manufactured light.


In the largest painting, Rites of Spring (2012), DeMuro’s title references both Igor Stravinsky’s groundbreaking ballet and orchestral concert work as well as an American post-hardcore band, which broke up after a short time after gaining a reputation in the mid-1980s. Although the band members hated the term, they are credited with anticipating a form of music known as “emo” or “emotional hardcore,” in which the fast, furious beat of punk music is combined with confessional lyrics.

Done largely in different tonalities of copper and Veronese green, the painting contains a large squarish frame within its physical square. The broken outline of a classical column bisects the painting, stretching from outside the frame’s lower band nearly to the top of its interior. A row of silhouetted tulips runs along the bottom edge of the painting’s lower left quadrant, from the corner to just below the column. Superimposed over the frame as well as the area above and below it, an oddly colored, largely greenish, solid-looking rainbow floats as if crowning the capital of the column.

Inside the frame, two silhouettes of hands seem to slip out from behind the linear column, one on either side. The one on the right rises up, its arm marked with bands of paint. The one on the left side reaches down, as if to grab the handle of a pail. At both corners of the bottom of the frame, a hand seems to be reaching toward its counterpart emerging from behind the column.

The hands at the bottom corners of the frame seem to be reaching both in and toward the other hands. Everywhere we look, we see forms and linear structures superimposed on other forms or crossing a boundary line. In this and other paintings by DeMuro, I am reminded of computer screens crowded with opened windows and tabs.


Hearts, cupids, rainbows and hands—DeMuro incorporates visual clichés into his work, but he never becomes sentimental, kitschy or ironic. This is just one of the remarkable things about his work. His precise synthesis of the tactile and the optical is another. It’s as if he wishes that computers would manifest themselves physically, becoming something more than a screen we both touch and take for granted.

DeMuro ‘s distinctive vocabulary comes out of an immersion in a wide and unpredictable range of art, including the Support/Surface painters in France, American Pattern and Decoration artists, comics, Italian Renaissance paintings, Alfred Jensen and Dona Nelson, the latter being his undergraduate teacher. And yet, despite the disparity of inspirations, DeMuro has made his precedents his own.
DeMuro’s paintings don’t look back—they are not concerned with mimesis, citation, and parody—but to the present and to future. They are neither about style nor about being properly postmodern, which is already an out-of-date option. A young artist who has come into his own, DeMuro has done so without aligning his work with any of the repressive academic discourses that have been in circulation for the past twenty-five years. Such independence and determination are rare, and they should be recognized.

This text is published in the exhibition catalogue.