For the third installment of Homework we thought we’d change it up. A. Moret spoke with Gregory Siff in his humble studio space that he calls “the treehouse.” The entire wall is lined with asymmetrical messages and signatures, scribbled in paint left by artists and friends. Since his installation at Helmut Lang, he hasn’t stopped creating new work. Whether it’s apparel for Fred Segal or an installation at Century City for the Reindeer Project benefitting a Place Called Home and Arts for Abused Children, Siff’s creativity knows no bounds.
Installation Magazine: What are you thankful for as an artist?
Gregory Siff: I’m thankful for the good days and the bad days. We can be thankful for all the good stuff, of course, but thank you for the heartbreak, thank you for allowing me to feel what it’s like to not know what I’m going to do with my life, and be stuck with what I have and force me to make something out of it.
That’s the job of an artist- to be present and not always be beat up by everything, and just to say, “how am I going to work with that?” Thank you for my senses, my emotions. I feel that as artists, we really taste and feel, we’re in no rush to run to the next thing and do this and do that, so thank you for those senses.
I’m thankful for the connection that my work has created with the people who see my work. And I’m not saying this is a race, this is not a win or lose game: it’s art. I’m not trying to be the best, I’m trying to express how I feel, and if the viewers finds that in the work, then I’m really thankful that they feel they same way and understand, like they’ve been there before. I’m just trying to capture the moment.
Your style has evolved from your early days of tagging the city with stickers to your current style that employs iconography.
As an artist I’m always finding. That’s another thing to be thankful for, change. Because if you get stuck in one thing, that’s all you are. I feel like the more you paint, the more you adapt to the changing environment. As time passes you change as a person, so consequently your work will change too or otherwise you’ll always be the same thing.
I’m thankful for the always, ever-present change and how things are always susceptible to change at any given moment. Dina, my art dealer at Gallery Brown, always says, “open hands,” so I’m also thankful that I always have reminders to maintain open hands. In life and in love anything can change, that’s how it’s supposed to be. When you really get stuck doing something you love and people like it, it’s cool. Right now I’m doing this kind of iconography and objects, faces and emotions, but I feel like there’s so much more to explore.
How would you describe the arts culture in Los Angeles to someone who isn’t familiar with the arts? Where would you suggest they visit to see art or find inspiration?
Well I’m from New York and there are lots of museums and a lot of art there, but I guess I found my love for art here. It doesn’t cost you anything to go into any gallery in LA and look at what’s on the walls. You can make your way around LA and plan a whole day around art, architecture and the landscape. I would go to MOCA, which is free on Thursdays, and that was one of my first experiences. You can also go down to Melrose and there’s sticker upon sticker upon wheatpaste upon tag upon billboard upon ad and it all starts to blend into one. It’s important to know that you can find a lot of inspiration at the Sunset Strip, and I’m thankful for that. You can walk around and look at the architecture and how everything is the same but is not, it had changed. I’m so thankful for the accessibility of art in Los Angeles. I’ve been to Paris and Amsterdam and London, and they have really beautiful things, but I feel like LA is this all on this one route. Finding appreciation in the walls of Downtown LA, I mean, I’d say be courageous, you could even find the artists you like and send them an email saying “I’d love to have a studio visit.” The worst thing they’re going to say is, “I’m not in town, or no, or yes.”
What about those who are curious about collecting?
For people who want to open their mind to art, I would tell them to go to a coffee shop, that’s what I do. You can go down to Marc Jacobs’ Bookmarc and walk down Melrose, get a flavor of the street, and go to Fairfax and enter Known Gallery and then go to Gallery Brown and look around at some of the masters like Ruscha. You actually find out that if you really want to collect art, it’s not as expensive as you think. But be careful, obtaining works that enrich your life becomes something really addictive. Once you start collecting, you get this amazing feeling, when it’s on your wall, when you wake up everyday and you have that story, that moment in time. People with a big collection have all these different places, they have a full life. People who have art on their wall, it doesn’t have to be a million pieces, it can be the quality piece that resonated with someone, it shows that there’s an appreciation of every moment here as a human being. The past and the future, that’s the legacy of art, that’s why people go to museums to go hang out with Van Gogh at the Getty.
This assignment began with the simple question “why only give thanks one day a year?” We get to do what we love. And while it comes with a price- mainly a tremendous degree of uncertainty- could you imagine doing anything else?
And the thing is, it gets to a certain point where you can’t. I could never go back to a hotel and stand there. I could never go take my degree from Broadcast Journalism and go get a job at NBC again. I’d rather be a guy with a backpack and a rental car and drive creating stuff and not listening to what the construct of being a ‘participant’ in the world says. I’d rather find something real for me, and I’m really grateful for that.
I’d like to say I’m thankful for my own voice, for the confidence and trust that experience given me in order to retain my ideas as I continue to do this more and more. Because that’s something that’s difficult for a lot of artists, they’re like “what do you think of this? is this cool?” The more I paint, the outside voices go away, and my own voice comes out. I’m on a journey and it’s still going.
It’s a brave thing because when you decide to do something like be an artist, there are many different levels of involvement. When you full-fledge commit to something like that, you have to know. You want to make that rent, right? But if you want give the best of you without bending for everything, and being happy and content where you can look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day, you have to commit a hundred percent and learn how to work with different people.
I just have to really be thankful that I’m able to make my rent every month. I’m making enough to do what I love and enjoy my life. I’m thankful for a roof and thankful for being able to do what you love. If I’m not painting, I’m wasting time. So I’m thankful that I’m not wasting any time. I’m thankful for the friends you meet in art because like even in acting, you’re only as good as your scene partner. I can paint and do work on my own, but you learn so much from creating with other artists. So I’m thankful for having those simple things that are very Thanksgiving-like, but it’s as simple as that. The fact that you can press a button on a phone and call someone who loves you. If you got that, be grateful for that. Everyday you wake up you gotta thank God, you gotta thank the universe, thank you for the path.
Featured Image: Gregory Siff painting at Helmut Lang ©Installation Magazine