It’s not difficult to see why beloved Los Angeles-based multimedia artist Gregory Siff has become an integral and inspirational part of LA’s blossoming contemporary art and street art scenes. His distinctive style merges the fearless energy and impact of abstract art with raw and intimate undertones, creating work that is both lighthearted and intuitive, playful and probing. His vivid, colorful paintings are steeped in symbolism – they evoke feelings we didn’t even know we had, memories we didn’t realize we had forgotten. His work is powerful and his passion is palpable. We’re incredibly drawn to his thought-provoking art and have interviewed Siff before, but with his latest solo exhibition, “Portrait of an American Ice Cream Man” currently on display at 4AM Gallery in DTLA’s Arts District, we knew we needed to get the lowdown on the artist’s latest and most dizzyingly delicious project to date.
“Portrait of an American Ice Cream Man” is a vivid and visceral collection of Siff’s childhood memories centered around the exciting anticipation and restorative joy of ice cream, with Siff’s beloved ice cream man Gus serving as the titular inspiration. The exhibit embodies a sense of carefree nostalgia for the simpler times, yet the duality of Siff’s work is underscored by the looming, ominous uncertainty of adulthood on the distant horizon. The result is a vibrant and dynamic testament to the beauty, curiosity, and innocence of childhood, immortalized with Siff’s powerful trademark intimacy and openness. The collection is rounded out by more large scale works inspired by journals Siff kept while traveling recently, which gives the exhibit the feeling of a coming of age journey, a celebration of the people and places that have powerfully and positively influenced him as a man and as an artist. We spoke to Siff about the inspiration behind the collection, the 10th anniversary of his iconic project “The Marshmallows,” and his work bringing people back to “living in wonderment.”
Live FAST: Hi Greg! What is the inspiration behind your latest show, Portrait of an American Ice Cream Man?
Gregory Siff: The inspiration behind Portrait of an American Ice Cream Man is one of you holding on to the past and bringing it forward and growing into a new man. The show is an autobiographical self-portrait of the life of an artist and who he becomes and what he gives.
LF: Your work embodies a lighthearted joy, yet is steeped in symbolism. What does ice cream and Gus the Ice Cream Man represent to you? Why was it important to immortalize that feeling?
GS: I felt that in the modern-day digital age and the time of instant gratification without perspiration I wanted to remind people of what it was like to be a kid: to hear the bell on the ice cream truck and to run to it with the wonderment of what you would buy and what it would taste like and then buying it with cash my hand and the reward of receiving that ice cream. Ultimately I wanted to bring people back to what it meant to live in wonderment. The more I paint, the more I feel like the ice cream man. The more I give out my paintings to the world, the more happiness I share and the more that comes back to me.
LF: You compare the healing properties of ice cream and a good painting. Is art, and the experience of making art, the adult version of chasing after the ice cream truck?
GS: The adult version of chasing after the ice cream truck is the reward of making the peace, the enjoyment of hanging on the wall, and the energy it gives off. If you find yourself falling in love with the painting and forget all of the day-to-day troubles and things that make the world hard, then that’s what a chocolate milkshake can do just as easily as a good painting.
LF: The exhibit covers everything from vivid childhood memories to more recent work inspired by journals you kept while traveling – do you feel like this show documents your coming of age, both as a person and as an artist?
GS: The more adventures I take, the more experiences I can process and turn into paintings that make meaning out of my life. The more living, the more paintings, the more interesting the work becomes. If I just sit around and try to make dope, pretty decorations the less engaging and memorable the work will be. I choose to live.
LF: Your style combines the impact and raw energy of abstract art and street art with intimate and personal undertones, specifically in your powerful use of text within paintings – what inspires this openness?
GS: Whatever I’m going through in life ends up on the canvas. In the show there is a piece called “The Periodic Table of You” – it is 118 18 x 18 canvases that make up a periodic table that represents people, places, moments, experiences, and memory. Most of the text in the show are in this work. If you find yourself in any of the elements that I have painted then you have found pieces of me. I took a standard periodic table formula and turned it into an autobiographical overview of the most important and significant elements of my life. I hope you see yourself in me.
LF: What is your favorite piece in the show?
GS: My favorite piece in the show is “Prayer.” It is an abstract piece that I created with only three colors of KRINK ink. The blue red and yellow ink from their markers were pressed by my hands into the canvas until the stretcher bars revealed the impression of the wood and made swooping brushstrokes into how I felt. It is the most honest and fastest painting I did in the show but the most powerful. I’m so happy that I was able to create this.
LF: Tell us a little bit about the 10th anniversary of The Marshmallows – what does it mean to you?
GS: In 2006 and 2007, I was invited to bring my project The Marshmallows to the Deitch Projects Annual Art Parade curated by Jeffrey Deitch. It was my first introduction into the fine art world and I built masks and marshmallow sculptures, which were given out to the crowds in Soho among other celebrated artists in the downtown New York art scene. When I moved to Los Angeles, I drew on the faces of real marshmallows and left them in all of the museums that I visited. If you follow my work you would find these marshmallows tucked into the corners of MOCA, MOMA, The Hammer Museum and others. In celebration of the 10 year anniversary I created marshmallow sculptures out of clay and acrylic paint and left them at the Broad Museum and Hauser Wirth and Schimmel Gallery, and carried on the tradition of discoverable art in high places. It’s a lot of fun. The website www.themarshmallows.com still exists from 2006.
LF: What’s next for you?
GS:I have a show this summer in the Hamptons that I’m really excited about.
LF: We asked you this the last time we interviewed you but it’s always interesting to see how it changes: how fast do you live?
GS: Lately I’ve been living so fast I’ve forgotten how to sleep. I don’t ask questions or hesitate and I go with my gut when it comes to love and paint. Let’s talk in another couple years, you badass motherfucking rebels.
“Portrait of an American Ice Cream Man,” is presented by 4AM Gallery at the Marshmallow Gallery in LA’s Arts District until July 31st – don’t miss it!