Gregory Siff: When You Were Little You Used to Color
4am Arts & 287 Gallery, Chelsea
June 7-14, 2018
By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, June 2018
Last month Brooklyn-born, Los Angeles-based artist Gregory Siff had an exhibition in Chelsea -- his first hometown solo show, not only since he moved, but ever. Even in the midst of his meteoric rise to acclaim and prolific popularity in the art and fashion worlds, this was still kind of a big deal. It meant a lot to Siff -- an artist already known for relying plentifully on nostalgia, memory, and emotionally candid autobiography as the inspiration and visual content of his elaborate yet haiku-like narratives. An avid reader with a love of humanistic poetics, his texts as well are both simple and poignant. It’s like someone set Proust on rapid-fire mode, one summer in Coney.
Along with a compendium of single-image paintings, new sculpture, a site-specific mural, and other materialist experiments, one large, kaleidoscopic rosetta stone painting contains in its variegated color field the entire contents of the neighborhood candy store. Despite the fraught, energetic gestures and amped-up colors that invigorate many of his compositions, his imagery itself is simple and direct -- line-drawn figures and emblems of lost American youth like ice cream, hamburgers, cereal at the kitchen table, popcorn, pop-rocks, plastic toys, convertibles, roller coasters, and candy candy candy. So much candy.
In previous shows Siff has looked at the role of food and shared playtime in the soul of an adult, figuring out how to combine paint and glitter with painful loss and come out the other side with joyfulness intact. In When You Were Little You Used to Color, we see the artist deliberately taking a full inventory of the stuff of childhood, and what it means. The works depict the treats, but their real content is the state of innocence, wonder, free-range imagination, safety, simple joy and freedom to dream that childhood is supposed to be about. Actually, their deeper content is the melancholy and magnificent quest to recapture and protect that state of mind as we grow older and move into a world that is less safe, less joyful, and perilous to creativity. This quest, Siff feels, is the job of the artist, it’s his job. Why, he’d like to know, don’t you color any more? What, he is asking himself and us all, has been lost? How, he encourages us to inquire, can we get some of that back? For Siff and for anyone who wants it, this show is one way to answer. WM
Photo of Gregory Siff (top) by Steve Erle
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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