Man with a Net - oil on canvas 42 x 50 in. by Rives Granade
Rives Granade drapes abstractions over narratives, adding dimension to their origins and finishing them with a surface as smooth as satin latex. The Los Angeles based artist, who works in a multitude of mediums, has a natural ability to turn meaning into myth and vice versa, using anything on hand to create a fluid palette while doing so. Misplaced aboriginal fishermen and paintings of photographs of photorealistic sculptures are likely ingredients. He took time out of his morning routine to meet me at his studio and chat about what he’s working on. A wall of water-damaged photographs spoke in color-swirled tones about his new works in progress.
Who are you and what do you do?
Rives Granade. I am an artist. . .?
Tell us about what you are currently working on…
Currently I’ve been working with found photographs, snapshots really. Most of the images have something strange happening in them where either the emulsion has deteriorated into near abstraction or the picture is of something that I cannot understand. In this respect they are more like objects, and there is something about a found object that you just can’t make up. There is an integrity to it that really can’t be manipulated or it is lost. These pictures also contain a history that I’m interested in, both the history of what they represent and that of their deterioration. Taken as a whole body, they can represent incredible cultural swaths of a location. I’m using these images in different ways – some will become paintings.
What’s your background? When did you start painting?
I grew up in the southern part of Alabama, in an environment that was a hybrid of rural and suburban existence. I always had a facility for drawing and painting, and my parents had a local artist give me private lessons for a while. In high school I got a little burned out on art and did not start painting again until my last few years of college. I was studying philosophy at the time and planned on possibly going into law. I worked in a few law firms after I graduated, but it wasn’t for me. It was only then that I pondered the possibility of a “career” in art. So I became serious about my art rather late by today’s standards.
Girl Eating Bird - oil on canvas – 16 x 20 in. by Rives Granade
What would have been a typical doodle for you as a child?
I recently saw some of my drawings from when I was 5 or 6. They were simple linear abstractions with some parts colored in, maybe Brice Marden or Terry Winters looking things — come to think of it, they resembled some David Smith drawings that I recently saw. Anyway, later I drew in a predictable style that was influenced by cartoons/comic books. Nothing mind-blowing. I think that there is a suburban sensibility to my work. As a kid I watched a fair amount of TV, and for some reason I tend to remember the commercials more than anything. However, I also loved the outdoors, baseball, skateboarding, etc. One’s aesthetic tends to be infused with many different experiences and mine is no different. It is an amalgam of my life.
Your work is a little dark, a little humorous and pretty brave. Can you tell us a bit about the themes behind it?
My interests lie in the disconnect between reality and our perception thereof. Nietzsche pointed out that everything we experience is in essence a series of metaphors. What we perceive when looking at a rock, for example, is the light reflecting off of the rock, photons entering through the lens of the eye, the stimulation of rods, cones, and nerve receptors in our retinas, the electronic firing of neural synapses in the brain’s occiptal lobe, etc. So the perception of a rock is the illusion of that rock, the illusion of reality, set up by layers of removal. We never can get to the noumenon, or what Kant referred to as the thing in itself. Also, the idea that language has come to validate reality instead of the other way around I find intriguing. This mean’s that the idea of absolute truth must be completely thrown out the window. Wittgenstein did significant work along these lines. Images are part of this descriptive language, defining and constructing reality. Art, and painting in particular, is in a unique position to try and find “truth” as it relates to these ideas. Each painting I do is an experiment, an investigation into the nature of an image and how it functions. I am interested in what’s behind the image, how the image is constructed, how it is read, etc. My work tends to be photo based, because the photograph still is thought of as a document of reality. Painting the image helps me deconstruct and understand it. The darkness in my work is partly a defense mechanism, but it also has to do with my sense of humor, critical scrutiny, and a certain cynicism that pervades in me. The darkness is almost always a little tongue in cheek though, which I guess is where the humor comes in. The thing I actually like about painting is its ability to straddle the line between the artificial and the real. Baudelaire preferred theatre backdrop painting to the 19th century landscape painting of his day because of its artificial nature. The backdrops didn’t try to hide their artifice, and in that sense they were more real
Summer (of “seasons” series) – oil on canvas – 22 x 28 in. by Rives Granade
I see your work relating to photos as images with proper scale and narrative involvement but showing situations that are unlikely literal. In other words, the images might be a metaphor for what a photograph was actually saying, a peek into the world of “the thing itself”. Do the emulsion and deterioration that also attract you to certain photographs act as inspiration for a new metaphor?
Yes, I think you are right that the paintings are metaphors, but more specifically they are analogies. This is similar to the way that a photograph is an analogy. A photographic image and its referent are so similar that we have a difficult time separating them from one another, yet they are different enough that we can say that a photograph is not what it represents. Yet, just because something is similar does not mean that it is the same. I believe that there is a given, there is a world out there, and it is not just our own construction. However, there are these filters that exist between us and the world. Language is a filter, and our own senses another. This is the ultimate problem of representation. My paintings are analogies of representations. The deterioration and emulsion help link the type of abstractions that are triggered in memories and emotions to the world and to things in it. It helps remind me that everything is essentially on an equal plane. Where the metaphysical is found, it is found here.
Which do you feel is your most significant piece or has the most meaning to you?
The piece that has the most meaning for me is the one I’m currently working on. After I stop working on something, it becomes an entirely different thing.
Have you experimented with other painting styles in the past?
I’m constantly experimenting, yet mostly with pushing the materials and how I can get the painting to look. . .that is, how I can make a painting that represents a certain moment in time and is at the same time timeless. I don’t really think in terms of style. I think in terms of an image that I want to see come into being as a painting, and I proceed from there. I like for the paint and surface of my work to have a certain quality, yet I make no distinction between abstraction and figuration – it’s all just paint. Lately I’ve been introducing things like crushed minerals, resin, and hair into my work. Each image calls for its own materials.
Spring (of “seasons” series) – oil on canvas – 22 x 28 in. by Rives Granade
It seems like a very natural relationship you have with the canvas. Do you think it’s because you had the opportunity to develop your skill at a young age?
The seemingly natural relationship that I have to the canvas is based on years of trying to figure out how best to paint in a way that pleases me. I am essentially self-taught from things that I have read in books and paintings that I have looked at and technically deconstructed. I have had very sound advice from different professors and teachers through the years. Although there is only one who has ever given me any real technical help, and that is the painter Brett Reichman. The relationship to the canvas is always a tenacious one though. It’s a push pull relationship – and I have no problem destroying my work. I should probably destroy more of it.
What responses have you had to your work?
Well I get all kinds of responses. I think people like my work because of its technical proficiency, but often the imagery is difficult. Garish but beautiful is often a response I get, and this is ok. For the longest time I pushed against the idea of the work being in any way decorative. I didn’t want a painting to hang on the wall in someone’s living room. As a result of this type of thinking the paintings became very harsh, and I’m not so interested in this anymore. Yet I want a painting to have some power to it, some intensity. The energy and thought that you put into your work tends to come back out. Some people see my work as a little schizophrenic, and this is fine. I feel that conceptually I work more like a photographer. I can’t imagine anything more boring than painting the same thing over and over again.
What do you dislike about the art world?
I’m not sure I know enough about the art world to have any real dislikes. I think the value system that it uses is at the mercy of whimsy, and that can be frustrating. In this way there is no consistent formula for success (maybe their never is?). I think this is both good and bad. Taste is a problematic driving force as well. . .
You have been selected to go on all expense paid drinking binge for three days with an artist, a writer and anyone else. Who are you getting plastered with??
I don’t know about drinking, but I really would just like to hangout with someone nice. Unfortunately, I think a lot of artists tend to be assholes, and this is partly due to the self-centered nature of the trade. However, I’ve read that Monet was a happy fellow and very kind. I think it would be nice to spend some time in the French countryside with him.
Everyone has a vice. Care to call yourself out?
I have a lot of vices but none are really that interesting.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
Keep working and do what’s in your heart.
Any projects planned?
I’m in a couple group shows around LA this summer and working on a small solo show in September built around ideas of pareidolia, and cave painting.
Birmingham I – oil on canvas over panel – 36 x 48 in. by Rives Granade
What could you not do without?
Books. Colors. Music.
Can you tell me a joke?
When I was in fourth grade someone brought a dirty joke book onto the school bus. I remember reading a joke in that book which went something like this:
A man and woman are shipwrecked and stranded on a desert island. The man really wants to have sex with the woman, however for moral reasons she refuses. Finally, the woman gives in. After a few days she becomes ashamed of what she is doing and starves herself to death. A few weeks later the man becomes ashamed of what he is doing and buries her.
For more information on Granade and his upcoming solo exhibition in LA, please visit rivesgranade.com