“One of the first things I’ve ever painted was on construction paper. It was a family portrait, with me, the house, mom, dad, and the dog. And that was to get a good grade on a school project [Laughs]. It didn’t really become a thing for me until my mom and I started going to museums. I remember seeing Van Gogh’s Irises and hearing somebody talk about the symbolism of the flowers. I was like, ‘This is more than just decoration—it has meaning. That’s when I started thinking about my life and when I was like, how can I say things about who I am through my work? That’s how it all started.”
Friend of a Friend: How do you manifest yourself in your work?
Gregory Siff: Everything I do is a real memory, a real thing that happened to me, a real person, a real story. For example, I was working on this piece called My Father’s Son—it’s on a large canvas. But it wasn’t turning out right. So I started dancing on it, and writing my fathers name on it over and over and over again, and now I’m really connected to the piece all of a sudden. Now, to me, it symbolizes dancing with someone you love.
FOAF: Where do you create your work?
GS: I paint at the studio. In the beginning I used to paint in my apartment. I feel like if you paint where you live, you're going to break through a bit more. Because as soon as you wake up, work is right in your face and you have to do something towards it. When I moved to the studio, practice was hard for me in the beginning because it felt like work. But I could work bigger, and I could do so much more that I wouldn’t be able to do in my home.
My process for creating work is; you have to show up every day and make something, even bad paintings. The bad paintings turn into great ones. They really do. You can’t expect it all happen overnight…some of it comes so easy that you can do them in five minutes, and some of it takes a lot longer. You have to show up and be present and work no matter where you are.
FOAF: How do you know when a piece is finished?
GS: I love this question. Life magazine asked this to Jackson Pollock, “How do you know when you’re done with anything painting?” and he goes, “How do you know when you are done making love?” I know when it’s done when there’s a point of no return. You’ve said what you had to say.
FOAF: What artists inspire you?
GS: I have a lot of favorite artists. I’m into Jackson Pollock in my most recent work because I’m moving to this abstract moment—Franz Kline, de Kooning—kind of masters of the abstract and expressionism because the painting looks how you feel it should look. Abstractions have to come from a real spot in your life.
FOAF: Growing up in Los Angeles and now working here, how do you feel like your work has fit into the growing art scene?
GS: I think there’s a lot going on in Downtown LA—what’s happening with The Broad opening, and Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, and we have the Royale Projects right down the block, the MAMA Gallery, MOCA. The art in Downtown Los Angeles has been here for years but now it’s really coming to a head. And there are more people living here which is great.
In LA, there are fewer rules in art. In New York it’s more rigid. In Downtown LA there are so many murals. There’s so much street art. There’s fine art at the galleries and then you go into a coffee shop and there’s 10 different flyers that promote people doing their thing. I've meet people everywhere who come to gallery and say, "I’m a filmmaker. I’m an artist. I’m a photographer." And everybody’s got this creative thing going on. It’s very collaborative and exciting.
FOAF: Charity is also a big aspect of your work.
GS: Yes! There’s this program here that I’m working with. I met a guy and he was like, “ Do you want to paint with the kids at Mondays at the Mission?” The kids have difficult home backgrounds, I can go and create with them. So that’s one of the things I’m doing, and it doesn’t take a lot, but it’s so worth it. I feel like you’re only here for a short period of time—you have to share your time with others.
If I’m not painting, I’m not a painter. I have to be doing it, in any way I can. If I just sit here and look at these paintings I've done for a show and then not make another painting until they all sell, you can’t have that. You have to always be creative. You’ve got to always be in the process.