By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, JUL. 2016
This is a show that is proud of its scars, celebrating its growing pains as Gregory Siff embraces and enacts transition as both an organizing principle and as a matter of technique. In Portrait of an American Ice Cream Man, the artist achieves an inextricable fusion of formal and conceptual articulations, embodied in a collection of impressive images and objects whose particular approach to process-oriented gestural materialism yields a surprisingly emotional, stylistically diverse, and yes, transitional, array of results. Under the watchful eye of his greatest influences (Hockney, Ruscha, Warhol, Basquiat and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke), the new work is at once unfathomably complex and impossibly simple. It taps into both nostalgia and recent art history, and is dedicated to taking a thorough inventory of both.
In the last few years of touring the globe, and remembering his roots like a mantra, Gregory has come to increasingly understand the archetype of the creative journey and has here used it as both a narrative/allegorical metaphor/leitmotif and as the actual literal materials in the works’ mixed-media content. Paintings employ some combination of oil, enamel, ink, acrylic, graphite, spray-paint, marker, and collage. Neon light, steel, and glitter also make appearances; alongside sculptural components and a handmade artist book that is both a challenge and delight and comes in the format of a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Of paramount significance throughout Gregory’s career had been the central role of text in various guises. He includes various relationships to gestural abstraction as the texts themselves perform mark-making. Sometimes it is literal and borrowed as with collage, sometimes evocative and poetic as with handwritten original prose or even in the work’s titles. His periodic table installations require the physical element of the overall composition of the arrangement, but each square tells its own tale.
Gregory has always been charmed by ordinary found objects and their talismanic powers (books, clocks, flags, bottles, automobiles, carnival tokens, menus, sugary treats, etc.) — and the willingness to make art out of whatever is lying around remains a curious and fearless aspect of his work. His experiments with unconventional materials and interdisciplinary collaborations — fashion and design, food and drink, performances, videos, murals -- have yielded memorable, high-profile events, but what “Ice Cream Man” makes most clear is that above all Gregory works tirelessly to become a better painter, becoming more nuanced, looser, and yet more intentional all the time. It’s not that the work is less spontaneous, rather that its gestalt is more conceptualized; his process remains fluid and intuitive but it exists in the service of more epic, literary ideas. Siff synthesizes the diaristic, personal, universal, archetypal, and aesthetic into powerful individual works that also function as facets of a single narrative vision. WM
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.
She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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