Interview with Paolo Arao

Paolo Arao makes sewn paintings that are rooted in geometric abstraction.


Paired with bold color, the works exist in a space between flags, quilts, and abstract paintings. When these textile constructions are stretched over a frame, there is both tension and softening to the shapes within them. Mending the lineage of abstraction through the use of textiles, Arao makes work that explores the elastic nature of queerness and is reflective of his Filipino-American heritage. His interests in color, labor, and materiality are interwoven. Made with hand-dyed and commercial fabrics, re-purposed clothing, and weathered canvas drop cloths, the works often carry physical traces of the bodies that wore them. Color is vital to the work and Arao describes: “My relationship to color is not passive. It is political, it’s personal, it’s emotional, it is felt and it is in my very being.”

We reached out to Paolo to discuss his work in our current group exhibition, Index, his studio practice, and upcoming residencies and exhibitions that he is looking forward to.


Tell us about your work in this exhibition?

The pieces on view are from two distinct bodies of work. Crush On You is from a series of seemingly identical diptych paintings called We Belong Together. And the second work is a triangular textile construction made up of ten sewn “pennants” that’s part of a series called Birds in Flight.

Paolo Arao, Birds in Flight (No.4), 2019


Paolo Arao, Crush on You (Dyptich), 2019


How does this specific work relate to and fit in with your practice in general? 

My work is rooted in geometric abstraction, and I’m mending this lineage of art making through my use of textiles. Crush On You and Birds in Flight are prime examples of my work in textiles both on and off stretcher supports. In my work, I am weaving multiple narratives, exploring what queerness can look like (without the depiction of the body/bodies) while also bringing visibility to my Filipino heritage. Color and (a)symmetry play important roles, acting as formal analogs to explore and address notions of queerness and cross cultural identities.


What does a typical day in the studio look like? Has your work or studio environment changed at all since the onset of COVID-19? 

On a typical day, I spend between 8-10 hours in the studio. Since the onset of COVID-19 I’ve had limited access to my studio and have been working from home. Over the past several weeks, my studio practice has been confined to a small, simple frame loom that sits on my lap. Since being in quarantine I’ve been weaving on a daily basis, making sample studies and thinking about ways to incorporate these handwoven textiles into future work. I’ve recently moved into a new studio and I’m slowly setting it all up. I’m definitely eager to get back to a more regular studio routine and to see how the new work will take shape.


What are you working on currently? What is on the horizon in terms of upcoming exhibitions, residencies, or anything else you are looking forward to? 

I am making work for an upcoming three-person show in November (with Rhys Coren and Erin O’Keefe) at Steve Turner Gallery in Los Angeles. I’m also excited about an upcoming solo project at The Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia opening in February 2021. Working with Jonathan Frederick Walz, Director of Curatorial Affairs and Curator of American Art, I’ll be creating a new series of textile pieces and presenting them alongside a personally curated selection of drawings from the Museum’s permanent collection.


Paolo Arao is a Brooklyn-based, Filipino-American artist working with textiles. He received his BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Arao has shown his work widely and has presented solo exhibitions throughout the US. Residencies include Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, The Museum of Arts and Design (NYC), the Millay Colony, the Studios at MASS MoCA, Vermont Studio Center, Lower East Side Printshop Keyholder Residency, NARS Foundation, Wassaic Project, BRIC Workspace, Atlantic Center for the Arts and the Fire Island Artist Residency.  He is a recipient of an Artist Fellowship from The New York Foundation for the Arts. His work has been published in New American Paintings, Maake Magazine, ArtMaze and Esopus.


Paolo Arao’s work is also currently on view in the exhibition VA Made: Meditation Across Media through September 13 at The Branch Museum of Architecture and Design.