Olivier de Sagazan (interviewer: Diana Quinn)
Olivier de Sagazan is a French artist who uses his body as a canvas in his riveting, sometimes disturbing performance art videos. He doesn’t speak English, but we managed to communicate via the internet and here are his answers to some of my questions. Here is Olivier's website and you can also visit his youtube page for more videos like this one:
Please do not publish this interview without permission. Copyright 2012 Diana Quinn. All rights reserved.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself
I was born in Congo, and conceived on a ship travelling between Bordeaux and Brazzaville. All of my life I have felt the tension between Africa and the West, the emotions vs. the intellect, the tangible vs. the visible, nature vs. technology.
2. Where do you live? Do you support yourself by your art?
I live in St. Nazaire, a small seaside town near Nantes, and yes, I make my living by my art.
3. Were you interested in art from your childhood? When did you realize that you were an artist?
When I was little, I just played and invented stories and I still do that today. I was deeply religious until I was about 20 years old, when I discovered philosophy and biology, and realized that we live in a hyper-reality that our ancestors developed to protect themselves.
4. Could you describe your work? You prefer to work through what medium? How? Why?
My work is essentially a hymn to life, an attempt to understand what it means to be alive.
5. What are your most important influences? I see some evidence of Soutine and Francis Bacon.
Rembrandt is my main inspiration, and after him, Bacon.
6. What are your inspirations?
I dreamed of being a dancer, using my own body as an essential element to express my anguish and my fascination with being alive. My performances are another way of channeling this urge. My main inspiration is in looking at nature with the eyes of the biologist I was and the philosopher I am trying to be.
7. What are your greatest challenges?
I work every day and for me it is a way of staying in touch with the world and this "thing" which speaks to me.
8. Do you have any special techniques or tools? What materials do you use?
I use all media, because each of them is a source of inspiration - earth, iron, paint, wood etc.
9. What you are trying to convey through your work? What emotions do you want to provoke in your audience?
I hope people who see my work will say, “Yes I like that, and this is extraordinary.” I'm looking for my art to wake me up, not to numb me to the tragic nature of life – which is often rendered banal by daily routines. We must remain alert and lucid, aware of this amazing thing happening to us. I live in a body, I am a body and soon I will be food for the earthworm.
10. Would you say your work is moving? What do you feel on a personal level, when you create your art?
I try to make it emotional, that is, to provoke us to think and to feel more deeply about the mystery of life.
11. Should art be shocking? Is that a desirable quality?
Art must awaken our senses and our thoughts. But then everything, everyday life, should do that anyway.
12. Could you describe your creative process?
In my Transfiguration performance, where I transform my face, my purpose is to descend into the depths of my being, to bring out what is buried deep inside me. The masks or images that emerge are not merely seen, but felt in a visceral way, and so they create emotion.
14. Do you have a relationship with a gallery? How do you deal with the business of art?
I work with about a dozen galleries and I am always looking for more opportunities to expand further afield.
15. What kind of people connect with your art?
Optimists who know that to understand life one must come to terms with death, uncovering many corpses along the way.
16. Do you work every day?
Yes; vacations are crap.
17. What do you do for fun?
I always work.
18 Could you describe your / your studio / s? Are you orderly and methodical?
It’s a bit of a mess.
19. How do you do to motivate you? What do you do when you collapse?
Every day I motivate myself by saying, “The end of today means makes one day nearer to death.” At the end of the day I am exhausted by what I have achieved during the day, but in the morning I am full of energy because I think, ‘Today I will do something extraordinary!’
20. In 5 or 10 years, where will you be in live?
I have no idea -- probably in the same place and you can ask me the same questions.
copyright 2012 Diana Quinn -- all rights reserved. Translated w/help from Mary Helena and her nephew Tomas White.
LMM Profile Name if you have one? Jon Reischl
Who are some of your favorite artists?Are you influenced/inspired by any of them or by a particular art movement?
Robert Rauschenberg, Hannah Höch, Marc Chagall, Winston Smith, Stephen Tunney, to name a few. Robert Rauschenberg’s assemblages, his “combines” in particular, definitely influenced my personal aesthetic. Marc Chagall’s gift for finding the poetry in his paint is uniquely inspiring, even if it’s not something I can claim to emulate very well. Hannah Höch, along with artists like Phil Guston and to some extent, Chagall, marvelously handled grave subject matter with a bizarre sense of humor and whimsy. These are the kinds of things that make me want to create images of my own. As far as influential movements, I can credit Surrealism and Dadaism for luring me into art history at a young age. And learning about social and conceptual movements like Constructivism, abstract expressionism and the Pop art movement helped me better understand the relationship between art and culture as a whole.
What are your favorite mediums to work with and why?
I primarily work with acrylic, ink, and charcoal. I often incorporate stain and Polyurethane as well. Oil-based stain and acrylic don't blend and make for some interesting, serendipitous results when worked in certain ways. Frankly, I'm liable to use whatever is most handy at my studio. Coffee grounds, scraps, sawdust… I once did a series of small ink drawings on individually wrapped slices of American cheese. That stuff never molds, you know. After a while it just turns into a hard, orange-colored plastic-y substance. The oils in the cheese came to the surface and interacted with the ink. Come to think of it, that's probably what led to my introducing other petroleum based substances into my work.
Have you had any formal art training and are you currently involved in an Art Society?
I graduated from the College of Visual arts in St. Paul, MN, where I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration.
Do you exhibit your work somewhere?Any current or upcoming exhibitions?
In March and April of last year, I had a solo show, An Evening of the Odds, on display at Nicademus Art in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’ve also recently shown work in several group shows including the Art Through Education Exhibition at St. Paul’s Creative Arts High School, the College of Visual Arts Alumni Exhibition, and the House of Mercy Church. This fall I'll be showing new work at our annual Open Studio party (date TBD,) along with my studio mates. And I am currently working on completing my next show Opportunityland! which will be on display at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, Burnsville, Minnesota, USA, between August 2nd, and September 8th, 2012.
Who do you aspire to be like? As successful as?
I’ve never really thought about it in those terms. I’d really just love to show my work as far and wide as I can.
How would you classify your style?
Some sort of combination of surrealism and expressionism, I suppose. I always struggle with this question. Someone recently asked me what kind of painter I was and I’m sure I offered an overly long, painfully pretentious explanation. It wasn’t until later it occurred to me he was most likely asking if I paint walls or pictures.
Does your art carry a message?
I tend to work in series, and each series is built around a theme or a philosophy. I don't know if message is the word I’d use. Message seems to imply a greater clarity of intent than I would dare claim. I have ideas, which are often unclear to me until I've worked on something for a while, and then step back and really analyze the decisions I've made. This is somewhat backwards but it's really how I begin almost every new series. After I've finished what is essentially a conceptual prototype, I'll begin to make more in the same vein, exploring different aspects of the same ideas. That said, there are a few aspects that are probably present in just about all of my work. My visual style has been described as ghostly, dreamlike and even surreal, however my intent is not to explore the subconscious mind, but rather the cognitive; how we think, reason and remember. I use layered imagery and figural abstraction along with expressive mark-making as a way to visualize and bring some order to the chaos that is constantly going on in our minds.
What caused you to start creating in the first place?
As a young child I loved to draw and my parents and others were very supportive and encouraging, but it wasn’t something I took seriously until much later. If I had to single out one thing that’s most responsible for my expanded interest in art it would probably be “Eddie”, the mascot from the British heavy metal band Iron Maiden. I bought all of their albums (on cassette, back then) and even though I didn’t really care for their music, I loved the cover artwork and would recreate it on folders and notebooks and in the margins of tests. People saw it, told me it was good and midway through high school I started taking art classes. That went well and the next thing I knew, I was applying at art schools, intent on studying illustration.
(Title:Variable Title IX) (Click image to leave a comment)
How long does it take you to complete a work of art on average?
Most of my work is very process heavy, for example my current crop involves digital composition, which is output on paper, then gel transferred to canvas and painted over. Gel transfer is a pretty common technique, but I’m working at much larger scale than is typical (48in x 60in), and tiling the image. Just the transfer process, which (excluding drying and compression times) shouldn’t take more than an hour or so, takes me about 2 hours per square foot. Add to that, 2 hours to build and stretch the canvas, an hour or so to compose the image, and maybe 3 to 5 hours of painting.
What about colors/themes? Is there a predominant color or theme that runs through your work?
I have a lot of recurring imagery. Gears and machinery, buildings and cityscapes, the juxtaposition of body parts with objects. The obscuring of hands and parts of the face. I really enjoy putting things on people’s heads that shouldn’t be there. A recurring conceptual theme of mine is the transitivity of context and I routinely try to create work that can be interpreted in completely different ways depending on the circumstances under which it is encountered. I’m also very interested in the perception of time and how it relates to our construction and recollection of memories.
(Title: The Public Works) (Click image to leave a comment)
What advice would you offer beginner artists?
Surround yourself with creative, motivated people whom you respect and admire.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on a series called Opportunityland, dealing with issues of alienation, assimilation and the bizarre presumption of normalcy that defines both.
Do you have a studio space? If not, where do you work? IF so, do you keep it clean and tidy or is it a complete mess?
I share a large workspace in an old warehouse with three other artists. By studio standards, I think it’s pretty tidy. By any other standard, it’s an absolute mess.
To leave Jon a comment on his LMM page click HERE
LMM Profile - click HERE
Gary's website - click HERE
YouTube channel - Click HERE
Gary Garrett is a prolific plein air painter living in Jacksonville, Florida. He
spent 35 years as a commercial graphic designer but now spends his
days outside painting in many mediums, especially acrylics. He is a
member of the First Coast Plein Air Painters, which promotes plein
air painting in the Jacksonville Florida area. Gary is also an
active member on LMM.
LMM: Tell us a little about yourself.
Gary: I was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, and still live here. My family still lives
here although we live in different quadrants. My wife, Alison, and
I have two children and have been married for 39 years. We met at
Jacksonville University where she studied to be a teacher and I
studied art under Memphis Wood, Gene Robarts, Tommy Mew, Mun Quan
and Barry Barrett. I went into commercial art working at WJKS-TV17,
WJXT-TV4, WTLV-TV12, Baptist Medical Center and The Trophy Center.
I now work in the framing shop at Hobby Lobby, which is only a mile
from my house. Not having to drive downtown and back has allowed me
to reclaim two hours a day for painting. It also gives me a tap
into what the public is actually buying.
LMM: Describe your art. What media do you best like to work in? How? Why?
Gary: I choose my medium based on how I think I can best put forth my idea at that time, but my favorite
medium is acrylics, then oils, oil pastels, watercolors, pen &
ink, pencil and soft pastel. I like acrylics -- especially the new
ones coming out now-- as they dry fast... and as I paint fast... it
allows me to apply it thickly or thinly and to apply glazes on
location, plein air.
LMM: What are the challenges to painting outside? Advantages? Disadvantages?
Gary: I love painting outside. You can see more with your eyes than a camera can capture. There is also the
atmosphere. which makes its way into the soul of the painting...one
thing lacking in the studio. One major disadvantage to plein air is
chasing the light... as the earth does not stop moving to allow you
to complete your painting. Shadows and colors are constantly
moving, so the painting must be completed within two hours and
preferably less time. Painting plein air acrylics allows the
painting to be dry before it reaches my car to go home, but
adversely dries quickly in hot or windy days, so a misting spray
bottle is a must to keep proper moisture.
Gary: I have a half-box French-style plein air easel that my wife gave to me in 2008. I have four small “two-pack”
coolers, each fitted with my usual array of brushes and palette
knives, but one carries oils, one carries alkyd oils, one carries
my older professional acrylics and the last one carries the
acrylics I currently use.
LMM: What materials do you like to use/brands/specifics?
My favorite brand of brushes and acrylics is Hobby Lobby’s “Masters Touch” series. For oils and watercolors I like Winsor
& Newton. For canvases, I prefer Dale Rowney for their
smoothness, and for Oil Pastels, I like Pentel and Munvo.
LMM: What is your set up for plein air?
Gary: Well, ,I prefer acrylics for plein air. But it dries fast, which forces you to make quick decisions and paint with large
brushes. However, that is a good thing, as the light changes
fast, and in an hour or two, you are looking at a whole new
scene with different shadows and colors.
My plein air setup is a halfbox French easel and an over-the-shoulder cooler containing 4 palette knives, 8 brushes:
script liner, 1/4", 1/2", 3/4", 1",2",3", & small fan.
Paint colors: white, cadmium yellow medium, yellow
ochre, crimson, burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, cerulean blue. I
also carry a spray bottle and rinsing container. Working fast adds
a dimension of energy into your plein air painting. With a limited
number of brushes, you need to use them in as many ways as
possible.. mush them, dag, then stomp them into your work...
I quite often kill a set of brushes on one or two paintings.
LMM: How much water do you take with you?
Gary: I take a pint of water for the painting and a pint for me to drink. I have a tiny collection of “sampes” of sunscreen,
bug spray, Benedryl (anti-ich) and sanitary wipes. Oh – and
paper towels – they are very important. I also carry a few plastic
bags for trash and to enclose my wet palette. Oh, and I always try
to leave the spot on which I painted—exactly as I found it!
LMM: What advice do you have for artists trying plein air for the first time?
Gary: For those starting plein air -- try taking your setup into your front yard and paint something there. That way you can work
out what brushes, paints and equipment you think are necessary to
complete a painting. I recommend an 8”x10” canvas as a good starter
size, but use any size you feel that you can get more than halfway
done within two hours. If you get frustrated with it, stop,
grab a new canvas and begin again. Then, back in your studio, look
at what that particular painting needs and rework it until you are
pleased with it. Keep in mind that your painting is a poem, not a
police report, so do whatever you think looks best for your
painting, regardless of whether it still duplicates your source.
Use your source as inspiration. Many viewers of your work will have
never seen the actual location from which you painted. And always
keep in mind – plein air is a challenge and lots of fun!
LMM: Do you have any particular themes?
Gary: I prefer to paint the landscapes around me. I love the play of light on trees, buildings and open fields
and I try to paint light and depth into my work. I also like to
paint with a lot of color.
Gary: My earliest drawing experiences were sitting on a small hill at my grandmother’s house overlooking a cow
pasture. She showed me how to draw four legs on a cow! My mother
was an artist in her own right, although she always downplayed her
skills to promote mine. She gave me my first watercolor set at age
5... I was hooked!
LMM: Did you have any formal art training?
Gary: I have a BFA from Jacksonville University having studied under Memphis Wood, Gene Robarts, Tommy Mew, Mun
Quan and Barry Barrett
LMM: Can you describe your process?
Gary: I work background to foreground and dark to light LMM: Do you teach? Gary: Not recently, but do want to get
back into it LMM: When you do teach, what are you most trying to
convey? Gary: Design, depth and color. How to take a mundane scene
and create poetry on canvas.
LMM: How did you start selling your work?
Gary: I started at art shows, but lately, the entry fees are so high that the only folks making money are those
organizing the shows
LMM: What is the art scene like in Jacksonville?
Gary: Jacksonville has a tight art circle ... and if you are not in the right circles here, you just won’t
sell. Money is tight, and made tighter by attitudes of the buying
LMM: Do you have a relationship with a gallery?
Gary: Yes. Trends, a small gallery on the south side. My first featured artist show is now ending there, but it was
not the financial success for which I had hoped. But it did
increase my visual presence among the elite.
LMM: How do you deal with the business side of art?
Gary: I hate the business side of art. I wish I could just paint and pass the paintings along. I will always donate
paintings for auctions to help non-profit organizations as it helps
their causes and increases my presence as an artist in the
LMM: Do you make a living from your art?
Gary: No... It barely covers its cost -- if even that.
LMM: How do you decide what to charge for a painting?
Gary: I try to charge by the size... plus the fee the gallery charges. Some I mark higher if I personally really
like the particular painting.
LMM: What is your vision, or the take-away message or feeling from your art?
Gary: My mission is to immerse the viewer into my work through color, texture, design and feeling applied to
everyday scenes and objects. I want the vitality in which it was
painted to show.
Gary: The folks who collect my art are mostly other artists and a handful of patrons who venture outside
Jacksonville’s known art circles and purchase what truly excites
them. I take comfort in the fact that Van Gogh only sold one
painting during his lifetime.
LMM: Who are your influences?
Gary: Van Gogh, Monet, George Innes, David Dunlop, Gary Jenkins, Pat Mahoney, Randy Pitts, Eleanor Blair, and
most of all -- all the artists posting their work on LMM.
LMM: Do you like to work small or big or both?
Gary: Both! My works range from 2” x 2” to 6’ x6’ and my favorite size is 22” x 28 inches.
LMM: Do you work every day?
Gary: I try to paint something every day, but some days don’t allow time for it -- and some days are spent
just preparing canvases, or framing the works for the gallery.
LMM: What do your inside workplaces look like? Are you organized? Messy?
Gary: “Quite messy, but I know where everything is –it’s sort of a “funky schway” thingy.
LMM: How many pieces do you make a week/month/year?
Gary: It varies but it averages about 10 pieces a week.
LMM: How do you stay motivated? Or what do you do when you get in a slump?
Gary: In a slump, googling a subject can help inspire me. Also, just looking at the various styles and
methods and mediums on LMM provides inspiration. Seeing something I
am framing at Hobby Lobby, such as the oil paintings on wet-dry
sandpaper, and wanting to try it myself.
LMM: Do you have any other artistic endeavors or hobbies?
Gary: Yes. I build guitars, both acoustic and electric, and repair all stringed instruments. I also write
music and poetry, but neither recently.
LMM: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Gary: Well... at 61 years old.... Hopefully alive! But, truthfully, I would like to see my work accepted by the
artistic circles in this area... but if that does not happen, I am
happy to know that my works please me and some day may be
appreciated by all. I will not let a painting go until I am
completely happy with it and will rework a painting many times over
until it feels right with just the right balance of design, texture
LMM: When did you start using old photos in your work?
Greg: I started several years ago when my dad handed me a box of
the old family photos and we laughed because we had no idea who
they were and we were going to throw them out. So I said that we
couldn’t leave them in the box and I brought them back to life, and
that is kind of my direction.
LMM: Is there a particular era that you like, or are drawn to.
Greg: I use photos an awful lot and the photos made in the early
part of the 20th century – referred to as cabinet photos – those
black and white photos that are developed and put onto this
cardboard stock – those little photos I particularly like and I
have a good collection of those. The people are long gone and I
have the freedom to really push with those photos. I feel that I’m
enshrining them in my own way and sometimes in a very comical way.
Maybe in a way if they were alive they might not appreciate it. But
I take liberties with those really old photos and have fun with
them. It all comes down to play. If you sit down and play, you’re
going back to your childhood, and there are things that come up
that are just darned funny. There are some pieces that are so
laughable – so funny, that I keep them, I don’t sell them.
LMM: How do you make your assemblages?
Greg: I’ve noticed in my approach that it’s important that I get
the box or shrine ready first – that’s a real important. Even if
it’s an empty box, an empty shrine, that’s an important part of the
first part of the process for me and once I have that box or
receptacle ready, then I can start on the project itself. There are
people who would never think of doing that. So I have a big
collection of boxes and frames and stuff like that and I mix and
LMM: Do you have any special tools or techniques. I know that you
like to use silicone glue.
Greg: I do use the big old tubes in the caulking guns. I set the
caulking gun and tubes on the table with a little bit of paper
underneath, and I squeeze the caulking gun and the glue comes out.
I’ll catch it on a little tool, like a nail or something, and
transfer the silicone that way. When you’re just squeezing it out
of the tube you get this mass of silicone coming out. But I buy it
that way because it’s so much cheaper.
LMM: Do you have any particular themes? You like to pair unlikely
things, like a tight-lipped, strict looking woman with an old
Greg: When people ask me what my pieces mean, I tell them that the
pieces are really all about exaggeration and incongruity. Those are
the two words I use; there really isn’t a theme. The laxative thing
– I just happened to have the boxes and had to use them. Plus, the
design of the labels – some of the designs are really well done and
fun to play with. So it’s fun to take an uninteresting piece and
push it and see how far you can go. Some of the cabinet photos –
the faces are just dead. They are people who look as if they have
no joy in their lives whatsoever, so I do what I can to bring joy
to both of us – them and myself.
LMM: Were you interested in art from an early age?
Greg: Well, I’m doing stuff now that I never really got to do as a
kid. My childhood was in a little town in North Dakota and in
school, art for us was often colored construction paper, scissors
and glue, and, if the teacher was really daring, which we all hoped
and prayed she would be, she would bring out finger paints once a
year. I was praying that there was one day each year when we’d be
able to do that. Maybe it was because of a lot of different reasons
– lazy, indifferent teachers, and it was easier for them to pull
out construction paper and scissors and glue and crayons. I don’t
remember having good substantial teachers as a kid.”
LMM: Did you have any formal art training?
Greg: I’m self taught except for some ceramics classes I took in
college. My stuff was weird and way out there, but I did very well
with it. It was one of those things that was really artistically
motivating for me. It was my first step into really getting my
hands into art at a different level and it was a motivating kind of
experience. The instructor really liked my pieces, but I couldn’t
really see it for the life of me. I didn’t want to professionally
go the art direction with my life – I didn’t really know what to do
with it -- and I wanted to continue with education.
LMM: When did you become interested in making art?
Greg: I came to it really later in life. I had very little
direction at all – personal direction – until about 15 years ago,
when I moved to Oregon. I met someone who invited me to be part of
her art group and I said sure. It was a small group of people who
got together on a monthly or bimonthly basis and they would do
collaborative art projects, like pass-along projects. There was a
couple in the group who had originally lived in New York City and
they had their own gallery in Little Italy or somewhere, and he had
mentioned that one of the pieces that I had started reminded him of
the artist Joseph Cornell, and I had no idea. Not a clue. So I did
some research and it was like instant recognition of – this is
where I belong, or something like that.
LMM: Is your art group still together?
Greg: That group kind of broke up; we went as far as we could in
those few years and we all realized that we wanted to work on our
own for a while. It was a natural course of events and we wanted to
move in our own directions, and everyone in that group moved on and
is now kind of doing their own thing. We have had some discussions
about getting back together.
LMM: Can you describe your process:
Greg: The process is really just sitting down, once I get the box
or the shrine ready. It’s really sitting down and having a play
time. I don’t have any lofty artistic objectives – I wish that I
could say that – I wish that there were something artistically fine
that could say, but it’s a lot like a kid with a box of tinker
toys. You sit and construct until you have something built. But
other times I plan ahead of time what might work really well.
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I have
several pieces going at one time and it looks like an assemblage
assembly line, but oftentimes I’m sitting around and waiting for
paint to dry or glue to dry. I like having things in a variety of
LMM: Where do you get some of your cool materials?
Greg: I go to a lot of yard sales, estate sales, garage sales, and
there’s a recycling center here in the Portland area where the
industry throws away its recyclable plastic pieces or whatever, and
there’s a place where parts from old torn down houses end up. I use
a mishmash of plastics and fabrics and little rusted motors – so
that’s what I’m looking for. I went through a phase when someone
had these disgusting plastic flowers that people used to make
arrangements with, and I took those apart. I like the really
disgusting stuff. When I go to an estate sale, the first thing I do
is head to the basement, to the darkest corner, where they have the
things that no one is going to buy.
I also like vintage papers -- old newspapers that are brown and
crackling from age, and I use those very carefully. I also have
some old atlases with these wonderful maps in them that I use. Also
old books with vintage machinery schematics in them are the kind of
thing I really like. I don’t work on canvases -- I use boards and
wood and I tear apart the covers of books which are made out of
railroad board. That is good to use. It’s a good heavy duty board
and that becomes my canvas. I’m always on the lookout for
interesting things to use. Today at the flea market I got a couple
of little bisque dolls and a couple of doll legs for a couple of
dollars, which was just a steal. So I have a box of doll stuff.
There are some assemblage artists who use dolls, but I like to just
whip out a leg or an arm.
LMM: What’s the best thing you ever found?
Greg: One thing was – when the filmmaker was following me around,
he saw my tubs full of stuff and he asked me where I got it all,
and so he went with me to some garage sales. I found this vintage
anatomy book that was just perfect, with these color anatomy plates
in it. It was perfect. It summed up my hunt for objects to use. I
used the anatomy pictures in several of my boxes. Another time, I
went to a flea market that’s held every Sunday morning and there
was a guy there selling who must have bought out an old drug store
and he had these old vintage tins – laxative tins, and I bought all
of that stuff for $1 or $2 apiece.
LMM: Is it hard to find good stuff like that?
Greg: You have to go to 10 garage sales in order to find one good
thing. You have to be tenacious about it and have to do a lot of
looking. Besides garage sales, there is a rebuilding center that
has old junk and a recycling center, so there is a lot of
opportunity in the Portland area. Those collectible things – a lot
of that is not always in my interest because it’s almost too
perfect for what I want to use. I have a lot of that stuff already
so it’s not always my first choice. By perfect I mean the
collectible kinds of things stored in people’s attics that are in
such pristine condition that they don’t match often what I’m trying
to construct or the stories I’m trying to tell.
LMM: How did you start selling your work?
Greg: About 10 years ago I started off on my own and I continued
with boxes and assemblages and they were very private kinds of
things. I made them and didn’t share them. They were a private,
satisfying enterprise – even my family didn’t know about them – and
I didn’t show them to anybody. I really ended up with so many. You
can make art and end up with a whole lot of stuff and I was finally
able to let go of some of them. About eight or 10 years ago I took
my stuff out to an art festival – an art walk. I did it every
month. (The Alberta Street art fair) goes on for 15 blocks on the
last Thursday of each month. Artists can set up anywhere for free –
park their car and set up a table. I thought I’d give it a try and
I was willing to share some of my work.
The first evening was very hard because I was going public with my
work, but they were really well received. I sold several boxes that
night and made contacts with other artists along the way. So I did
that for several years—going out once a month in the warm weather
with by table. The big thing wasn’t selling the work, it was the
contacts with other artists and people who know my work and knew
Joseph Cornell. During one of those sessions, a local filmmaker
asked me if he could do a video of my work and my process and I
said I’d think about it. He had a website and he didn’t want any
money for doing it. He had bought several pieces and wanted to do a
video for YouTube and for his own portfolio and he is very good and
very professional – it’s his living and he teaches film in one of
the neighboring colleges – so I said sure. Those interesting kinds
of contacts propelled me into the art world, if there is such a
LMM: What is the art scene like in Portland?
Greg: There are a number of artists working and selling – everybody
is looking for a venue to market their work, which is one of the
things about the Alberta Street art fair – it’s a way to
shamelessly promote yourself and a way to be discovered. Of course,
there are artists who are discovered and artists who are not
LMM: How did you transition from the street fair to a gallery? It’s
called Cannibal, at 518 Northwest 21st Ave. in Portland.
Greg: There’s probably not another gallery like it in the world. A
fellow teacher had come into the school where I was working and she
was telling me about the wall hangings that she had made and she
was showing them at such and such a gallery and she told me to take
my stuff there. So about a year later – it really took me a year –
I went over to Cannibals Gallery and I met the owner-curator and I
really liked her and I explained what I was making and she said,
“Sure, bring some work in.” A week or two later I took some stuff
in and she took virtually all I had at that point, and from there
we’ve been kind of a team. I’ve been there two full years with
(owner) Pamela Springfield.
LMM: What is your relationship with the gallery?
Greg: The gallery doesn’t take in artists on a contractual basis;
she asks that you be part of a family of artists, so I don’t have a
contract with her. I work on stuff at home and bring it in and she
takes everything I have. I’ve sold a lot of stuff at her gallery.
It works on a system where if a customer wants a piece, they buy it
and take it on the spot. It’s not one of the more sterile kinds of
galleries where an artist is given one month and then you go home.
It’s more open and relaxed and fluid. Her gallery is not a typical
gallery where there might be ten pieces scattered about; it’s more
like a museum. It’s very interesting, and I probably have maybe 20
to 30 pieces there at a time.
LMM: How do you deal with the business side of art?
Greg: I don’t have a business. Pamela likes it so that if you’re
part of the community, you work exclusively with her. We have an
unwritten agreement that I won’t sell anywhere else. I want her to
stay in business, and if she’s in business, then I’m in
LMM: So it works a little like a collective?
Greg: She asks that we work as a community. When people have stuff
that they want to give away like old frames or paints, she
distributes it to the other artists. The gallery has a huge variety
of stuff- it’s a mixed media extravaganza at its finest.
LMM: Do you make a living from your art?
Greg: Oregon has a good retirement system and I took early
retirement, so I really sell for the pure joy of selling. On Albert
Street, my goal was to give away one piece of my work to someone I
had a connection with. I’d give away work. Now that goes against
all artistic passions – every artist’s passion is to make work and
to sell it, and to give away work is truly a surprise to people.
They saw and loved my work and the artist handed them a piece.
LMM: How do you decide what to charge for an assemblage?
Greg: (The gallery and I have talked about it together, but I’d say
that I’m on the lower side of probably what most artists would
charge, because I don’t do this for a living. I don’t have to have
this money to live and pay my bills. If there is money that comes
it, it’s icing on the cake. I tend to charge on the lower side of
things. My prices are cheap; the boxes, at gallery prices are
probably around $150. Some are $100 and that’s a pretty good
LMM: Were you interested in mixed media from the beginning?
Gregg: It really was a mixture of mixed media, basically, and it
involved collaged paintings that were flat, and then more object
oriented kinds of things. Our art group evolved into doing things
that were very daring. We would hand out assignments, and, for
example, one of the assignments was for each of us to get a shoe,
and that was the project, and we’d pass it around. I remember I got
this old black high heeled woman’s shoe. I worked on the shoe and
passed it on to someone else and four different artists had their
hands on my shoe. Another project was and old shirt that we each
had to have and alter. We didn’t have any public shows; the shows
were the group getting together and showing our projects to each
Art is all about the joy of playing and pushing and experimenting.
You continue to push and continue to play and some of the stuff you
end up with is pretty horrible. I never show the horrible stuff. I
have some pieces that I put away that I’m now pulling out and I’m
cannibalizing to make brand new stuff.
LMM: Have you done any collaborative projects since then?
Greg: Gary (Reef) and I did a collaborative project. He started a
box and sent it to me and he has my box. I saw him working on it on
Ustream – I happened to be sitting down when he was working on my
LMM: What is your vision, or the take-away message or feeling from
Greg: My vision is just to play and do the things that I never got
to do growing up – that I never discovered as a child. When the fun
ends, I’ll stop doing this. When I read biographies of other
artists and what they say about their art, I don’t understand a lot
of it because I don’t connect with their artist statement at all.
The statement is so wordy and beyond what I can grasp. My artist
statement would be that I like to play. Well, I do have an artist
statement and it has a bit more meat in it than that, but,
basically, I play with stuff.
LMM: How do you get your ideas?
Greg: One thing I do is a lot of looking online. I don’t like to
call it research, but I spend a lot of time looking at a lot of
other art online and there are a lot of other artists, where there
might be one simple little idea that might take from someone’s
project and then fuse into something that I’m doing. That’s often
the way it is – I’ll see an odd little thing that someone is doing
and I’ll actually write it down or grab the picture, and it’s
something that just strikes me as something I’d like to incorporate
LMM: There’s a big interest in assemblage lately, isn’t there?
Greg: The whole world of mixed media and collage still takes a big
lead. There is definitely an interest in assemblage. When I started
setting up my stuff on Alberta Street for the art fair, I found out
immediately that there are people who don’t like my stuff. There
are thousands of people walking by and on that first night there
were people who weren’t even looking at my stuff. But then there
are other people who connect immediately with what I’m doing. So
there are people who connect immediately and there are people who
won’t even glance at it and who can’t connect with it. They haven’t
developed an eye for it.
LMM: Can you describe what types of people connect with your
Greg: It’s hard to tell. I think that my stuff interests other
artist types more than it does just the general public. People who
somehow have an eye for experience – who have had some experience
with art and who can look at it and see that there is technique
involved, but they also see some whimsy in it. I notice that when I
sell a piece, the person will say, “Do you know Joseph Cornell?” –
so they are already infused into the world. They have an
understanding of what this art is all about, whereas there are some
people who will ask, “What does it mean?” And I say that it’s pure
eye candy – there’s no meaning at all. And sometimes I explain that
it’s a sort of shrine.”
LMM: Who are your influences?
Greg: Contemporary art has a big influence. I take real enjoyment
in looking at other artists’ work. I dabble on deviant art and I am
often perusing there. I don’t know if there is anyone specific I
LMM: You are quite free with giving away your techniques, also,
aren’t you? You explain them on your YouTube channel videos, for
Greg: I’m driven to make the how-to videos on YouTube. I really
started making them as a way to document what I was doing – for
myself. People started contacting me and corresponding with me and
I found that when you share your ideas that someone else might take
that idea but nothing that person does will look like yours. Nobody
comes back and posts something that totally copies or mimics what
you have done, because we all have our own directions. We use the
techniques but go in another direction. When I used to do art with
kids, I’d tell them to get up and walk around the room and if there
is an idea that someone else is doing, copy it, and it surprised
the heck out of them. But I also told them to make sure to improve
on that idea so that it became better, so that was my direction and
still is my direction – make my idea yours and then improve on my
LMM: Can you describe some of your techniques?
Greg: Well it moves back and forth. In the last couple of days on
my table I have some really flat pieces – flat collages – with no
texture and no objects at all. They are small collages because a
woman on flickr invited me to be part of her swapping group – 4” by
6” collages pieces, and I thought I’d like to do that. I know that
next week I’ll go back to the assemblages and they won’t change. I
have brand new stuff to work with – new pieces of doll arms and
legs, and a rusted motor here that I’m itching to get in the
LMM: Do you like to work small or big or both?
Greg: The tiny things – well, I have my limits. I can’t work too
big and 4” x 6” was too small for me. Just as people who can’t
connect, although a lot of ideas they are using are quite clever,
it’s not quite my thing. It’s like giving me a train set without
the tracks. I like working a bit bigger than that.
LMM: Do you ever feel as if you have too much stuff? ---
Greg: I don’t know if I could ever have too much stuff! Part of the
fun of all this is the collecting. I enjoy the hunt, the discovery
of the new piece. For a lot of the original photographs, I make
copies and use them. Then I’ll loosen up and finally I’ll use the
original when I’m ready to let it go. I’ve enjoyed it long enough.
So there are some originals and it depends on the pieces.
LMM: Do you work every day?
Greg: I have a schedule. I work in the morning. My studio right now
is out on my patio, because we have such beautiful summers in
Oregon and if I can be outside at a table I can work just about
every morning for two or three hours at least.
LMM: What do your inside workplaces look like? Are you organized?
I keep a lot of stuff in my garage where I have a big table set up.
I’ll work on that table or I’ll take stuff inside and set it up on
my kitchen table or counter. I even set something up in one of the
back bedrooms. So I work here and there. I have a grinder and
sander in the garage. But I don’t have one particular place where I
work all the time.
As for whether it’s messy, yes, it’s really messy. I work on the
same process that a lot of assemblage artists use – I’ll put a
whole lot of stuff out just for one project to get one thing done
and then I pull out a lot more stuff for another project until
finally I have a mess of pieces here and there. Then I’ll organize
it and reorganize it. I don’t actually write labels for my boxes
and bins because I know what I have and where it’s going. I have a
huge tempest of stuff and I make my projects and then it’s
housecleaning time. It’s like a storm and then the cleanup after
LMM: How many pieces do you make a week?
Greg: It varies quite a bit. Some are very small, like a few 4x6
collages today, and the bigger boxes maybe one or two a week.
LMM: How do you stay motivated? Or what do you do when you get in a
It doesn’t happen to me as much. I hear that for a lot of artists
it’s a big heavy duty issue that comes up. It does happen to me,
but it doesn’t happen that often. If it does, all I have to do is
go to a different tub of stuff. Who gets into a funk about playing?
I’m not driven to produce so that I can sell, so it doesn’t matter
to me. I take my stuff to the gallery and if she sells it she sells
it. If she doesn’t, I get to take it home with me.
LMM: Do you have any other artistic endeavors or hobbies?
Greg: I’ve just kind of recently retired, so I feel like I’m a
teacher in recovery. It’s a brand new life that has started for me
so I’m still discovering – who is this person after all these years
of work? And art has been the biggest thing, and moving into the
gallery and working with Pamela. I’ve agreed to work with her in
terms of getting her started on a mailing list and a monthly
newsletter and that kind of thing. So my life is all art-related at
LMM: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Greg: I have no plans. I don’t know where I’ll be and I don’t know
what I’ll be doing. In hope that I’ll be doing the same kind of
thing –moving and perfecting my craft a little bit. There is an
element of perfecting what you do. You get better at it – this
whole playtime experience – the more I do, for example, I learn
more about how glues and vintage papers react and I know what I can
use and can’t use together. I’ve learned how to make some of my own
dyes or inks using alcohol and that sort of thing, so you build up
a repertoire of techniques that works for you and it continues to
grow and grow. I want to continue to grow and add to my
(lots of how-tos)
gregpdx.deviantart.com (lots of
Cannibals Gallery: www.cannibalsgallery.webs.com