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Partners In Art And Heart

Joaquin Trujillo and Brian Paumier meet me in a picturesque garden behind an I-can’t-believe-we’re-still-in-Manhattan coffee shop. The duo make up Trujillo Paumier, editorial and travel photographers who, having just returned from a month of working in India, jump right into preparations for a show at the Christopher Henry Gallery.

Brian explains to me that due to their hectic travel schedule, they have a studio share system: while the guys are off documenting the world, they sublet their place in Brooklyn to friends and fellow artists—likewise, they're currently staying and working out of another friend’s Soho apartment so they can be close to the gallery on Elizabeth street. 

From the "Act of Faith" series by Brian Paumier. Photo: Melissa Bartucci

It doesn’t surprise me that the pair have a strong network of supportive artists; they are warm, laugh often, and tend to finish each other’s sentences—it’s hard not to feel welcome in their company. Joaquin tells me that they’re looking to grow the studio-share idea into something more substantial. 

On Community

Joaquin Trujillo: This is hopefully going to become a bit more concrete in a couple of months. A place where someone like you can come in and say, "Hey guys, I have a project I’m thinking about," and we’re like, well you need this, you should talk to this person—we connect you with this person. The idea of this community is to have a solid group. We’d like to be able to offer a platform for people to be able to connect with each other.

NYC-APs: Community is a big theme in your work. Do you see it coming through in the work of the other artists in your circle?

From the "Muxes" series by Trujillo Paumier. Photo: Melissa Bartucci

Brian Paumier: Well yeah, but it’s not like we’re telling people what to do. It’s more like a collaborative conversation. When we were setting up Act of Faith (2012), a good friend of ours was with us and she would just do things and and we were like—Holy shit, that’s what we would have done! You know what I’m saying?

JT: We had these flowers that I had used in one of my bodies of work, and Brian had used them in his bodies of work, and he wanted them to be part of the installation and she just grabbed them, and had this really long scarf and just wrapped them up and we were like–Perfect! This is the thing about collaboration and being around people who don’t see the same things the way you see, but bring their own thing. But all of us are seeing a bigger thing at the end. We have to be careful, to be honest with you, because sometimes, well, this is not about carrying someone. We’re setting up the platform, but it’s up to the person to really work. We don’t want to make it easy, that’s not the word I want to use, but to let someone see his own potential.

NYC-APs: Sounds like a nurturing environment

JT: Definitely nurturing, but I don’t want it to be like a babysitting job.

NYC-APs: What are you working on now?

BP: We’re getting ready for our show at Christopher Henry opening up on May 9th. Basically, that show is all about what Joaquin and I have been doing in the past 13 years. There’s some stuff that’s going to be under Joaquin Trujillio, theres stuff under my name, there’s stuff under Trujillo Paumier. The installation is going to show what Joaquin does, what I do, what we do together, and how we influence each other. How we have basically been working together for the past 13 years.

Partners in art and heart. Photo: Melissa Bartucci

JT: The gallery used to be a church, so a lot of work is about layers on layers: Mexican layers, Mexican American layers, Italian layers, textures, and to have a show in a gallery that used  to be a church—it is phenomenal! Hopefully when you walk through the show, theres going to be all these little vignettes of little altars, and [you will] really get the experience of what we're trying to say.

BP: It's definitely very biographical. Not only personally but also in the sense of our relationship, by being together as partners and as creative partners too. 

NYC-APs: How did you get started working together?

JT: We went to the same school, (Art Center College of Design in Pasadena), and when I saw Brian’s work the first time my jaw dropped to the ground; his work was representing everything I wanted to do and I was saying, "Oh my god, this is incredible!" I came away hoping I would get there. We went on a road trip together and shot the whole time with 4 by 5—no, 8 by 10.

BP: 8 by 10, yeah.

JT: Yeah, and everyone’s like, oh who hits the shutter. That’s what everyone asks, who hits the shutter! 

From "Los Niños" series by Trujillo. Photo: Melissa Bartucci

BP: Because I guess to them that makes the picture.

JT: For us, even now, it’s like, all these little happy moments, these awkward little things, those little surprises that happen when you’re shooting. It’s just hitting the shutter at the exactly right moment. I don’t know exactly when the moment is—It happens when it happens.

On The Work At Hand

JT: The main wall is going to have the work of Brian Paumier and Joaquin Trujillo individually. It’s going to be shown saloon style and, for us, this is a really good representation of who we are and how we influence each other through color and texture and people.

NYC-APs: I recognize some of these pieces; these are coming together from existing series?

JT:  Well, Los Niños has been a twelve year project, Flores now has been a four year project, Act of Faith came out of Brian’s work with his MFA, and other walls are gonna be a little bit Trujillo-Paumier. The one with the watermelon, that was from a photo shoot for Afar Magazine.

BP: Shot in Minsk, Belarus, we were inside Lee Harvey Oswald's Apartment. The man who owned the apartment, he offered us fruit, and we're just trying to shoot the whole apartment to get the shoot list. But then Joaquin's like, Brian turn around! And he's staring at that shot and we're like, Holy shit, that’s… fucking gorgeous! 

Joaquin Trujillo with a tapestry of works at Christopher Henry Gallery. Photo: Melissa Bartucci

JT: And the one with my arms, this was shot for the New Yorker. It was a food story in Mexico and this dish is a chile relleno, Oaxaca style: is like a thicker style and it's one of my favorite dishes that my mom makes. I'm like, Oh, hold on Brian, I put my hands down, take the picture, send it to the New Yorker with a bunch of stars like, this is my favorite image—and they run it. So it's like for me, a humongous thing.

NYC-APs: It's interesting to see what personal things come out of your work assignments. I see the tattoos of your parents—I know it's you and it becomes a very personal piece, even though it came out of an editorial assignment. 

BP: And it was awesome to take that magazine to the tattoo artist and he’s like, Oh shit, that's my work in the New Yorker! And it's like this whole collaboration that made that image.

JT: Everything we do is a collaboration.

BP: But there's things that I personally wanna work out; things that Joaquin wants to do, but we're always working together— we're always sharing ideas. Pretty much everything is a collaboration, but there's different paths for things. And there's things that Joaquin will be working on, like on the Flores, and it's all him but, you know, maybe I'll say something and he's like, Oh yeah, that's great, or I'll say something and he's like, Oh, you know what, I don't think so. So it's not like rainbows and unicorns all the time—sometimes we're at each other's throats.

JT: We're not holding hands or skipping on our heels—sometimes we're like in the mud, wrestling.

Christopher Henry Gallery—what used to be a church. Photo: Melissa Bartucci

BP: And now we're shooting in a lot of other countries where we don't speak the language and we have a lot of guides and a lot of producers and things like that. Joaquin and I will go at each other sometimes, and it's just our natural everyday process, and they're looking at us like, Oh, are they gonna kill each other?!

JT: And then right after we’re fine, we’re like, That's amazing. When we fight, we're fighting about…

BP: We're fighting for the image.

On The Church

NYC-APs: Altars seem to come up in your work quite a bit, but we don't hear much conversation about those elements. Why is that?

BP: I think people take them for granted,

JT: It's like a portrait of us. Brian was in Catholic school all the way through 12th grade. I only did one year—after the priest hit me in my hands I ran away home and then never went to Catholic school again. 

BP: A lot of things deal with the placement, or composition, or the concept of an altar. We've been traveling in India; we see these same exact composition setups, like installations, in these markets, or stores—you could change out the religious icon and it's the same thing. Devotional art is devotional art.

JT: [Growing up] it was throughout the whole house. You lay in bed, there is Jesus; you come to the kitchen, there is another little person. It's like: it's one thing to be Catholic, but like Mexican Catholic…

From the "Muxes" series by Trujillo Paumier. Photo: Melissa Bartucci

BP: Or Italian Catholic.

JT: Back in the day a lot of the art used to live in churches—commission work. A gallerist friend in London, he comments to Brian, "This Act of Faith, this body of work: this is the church of Brian." And the thought of this—it's really awesome in a way because the church of Brian is open to everyone. 

NYC-APs: I guess you can’t get more community than that.

Christopher Henry Gallery – "Yo Como Te Recuerdo (How I Remember You)" by Trujillo Paumier – May 9th to June 23rd – Wed-Sat: 11am-6pm, Sun: 12-6pm [Price range of works: $900-$8,500]

Article by Meredith Caraher