Filipino artists

Paul Pfeiffer continues to break new ground as contemporary art evolves

Jannelle So Productions

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Paul Pfeiffer continues to break new ground as contemporary art evolves
Filipino artist Paul Pfeiffer, who grew up in Dumaguete and the US, talks about how his immigration story influences his art

This story is published in partnership with SoJannelleTV, a magazine show about Filipinos in North America

Paul Pfeiffer never wanted to be seen as just a Filipino artist, but his immigration story has informed his art in many ways.

The 58-year-old multi-disciplinary artist was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but lived in Dumaguete City, Philippines, from ages 10 to 15. He returned to the United States afterwards, graduating from high school in New Mexico, before doing his undergraduate studies in San Francisco and post-graduate studies in New York City. 

“In a way it’s purposeful in that I was never really interested in being known as a Filipino artist per se, but I also believe that there’s something so specific to the experience of living and growing up in the Philippines,” said Pfeiffer in a recent episode of So Jannelle TV, a Filipino-American lifestyle magazine show which airs US-wide on cable channels The Filipino Channel (TFC) and ANC, as well as on local Southern CA digital channel KNET 25.1. It is also available on social media platforms.

“To have early experience of living outside the US really informed my perception, made me realize that there’s ways of thinking about things or social conventions that when you’re just growing up inside of it you take it for granted. But then to step outside of it, to be in a different context, to see how people live in other contexts over an extended period of time, and then to understand how different contexts are related to each other, how the relationships between a place like Hawaii, the Philippines, the mainland US, it’s so deep and rich. All of these things just made me kind of attuned to the idea that there are multiple ways to see things.”

Paul Pfeiffer continues to break new ground as contemporary art evolves

Pfeiffer’s work is on display at The Museum of Contemporary Art – his first solo exhibit in Los Angeles – from November 12, 2023 to June 16, 2024. The exhibit, entitled “Paul Pfeiffer: Prologue to the Story of the Birth of Freedom,” draws heavily from sporting events and popular culture, with photos and videos of National Basketball Association legend Patrick Ewing and boxer Manny Pacquiao among those on display.

Growing up, Pfeiffer was surrounded by the arts. His parents were church musicians, and their trade exposed Pfeifer to nonverbal modes of communication, using sounds, images, and performances. He further explored these concepts while studying at the San Francisco Art Institute which, he admits, he began while not yet understanding the difference between advertising and fine art. That distinction would be further blurred in his own work, where he uses tools that are more traditionally used in the advertising world.

Breaking the rules is just part of being an artist, and Pfeiffer believes that the experimental philosophy that he learned during his undergraduate studies has helped him grow as an artist.

“Art, how I would define it, it’s a place in society in which research and development is going on. Pure laboratory,” said Pfeiffer. “In a way, the privilege of art is that as an artist you’re allowed to break all the rules, you’re allowed to think outside the box and to think in new ways. In fact, what is valued most in the field of contemporary art is the new.”

Paul Pfeiffer continues to break new ground as contemporary art evolves

Host So Perkins brings up how – thanks in part to new technology, which puts sophisticated art tools into the palm of everyone’s hands – everyone can create and share art through their phones. Pfeiffer agrees with her, and says that contemporary art is entering a new chapter thanks to these advances.

“I think where we’re going, whether we like it or not, is into uncharted territory via new technologies and very powerful tools that are more and more right in the palm of our hand,” said Pfeiffer.

“We can use them just to communicate with our next door neighbor or to our relative on the other side of the world. But we can also produce videos and images and images and almost like reframe reality in very powerful ways. What used to be a very contained area called contemporary art is expanding and seeping into everyday life, whether we think about it or not, it’s very influential,” he added.

If there’s anyone who understands where art is heading, it’s Pfeiffer. Instead of using a paintbrush as his primary method of expression, he makes thought-provoking changes to how we experience the world. One photo exhibit called “24 Landscapes,” where he removes Marilyn Monroe from a famous series of publicity photos of the beach, revealing just the sand and ocean. Another is a video exhibit of Pacquiao’s 2015 fight with Floyd Mayweather, where all sounds from the broadcast and crowd are removed, and only the sounds created by the boxers’ punches and movements can be heard.

Through all of his success, Pfeiffer remains humble. When So Perkins reveals that organizers from the museum have referred to him as one of the greatest contemporary artists of recent times, Pfeiffer points out how proud he is to be part of a movement that has taken art through to its next phrase.

“I don’t know about that, but I certainly have been making work for a long time and in some ways I do think that I’m not alone, but I have been one of the artists who has been interested in the emergence of digital media since the ‘90s,” said Pfeiffer. “I’ve been tracking the evolution of social changes that have been so influential, that for me it’s just exciting to be part of a current conversation about image making and society in this era of social media in this era. It’s such a time of possibility, and also of urgency.”  – Jannelle So Productions |

Rappler is partnering with Jannelle So Productions Inc (JSP), founded by Filipino-American pioneer and Los Angeles-based journalist Jannelle So, to publish video and written stories from SoJannelleTV about the journeys, successes, and challenges of Filipinos living in America.

Check out So Jannelle TV daily for stories that make you pause, reflect, and appreciate who we are and what we are as a people. 

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