Fay Ray, Part Object at Samuel Freeman Gallery
September 6 – October 11
Conversation with Samuel Freeman and Fay Ray
Pauli: Sam, what initially drew you to Fay’s work?
Sam: I’ve known her work for years, I’ve seen it in various places, but was more formally introduced to it through Claressinka [Andreson]. She was showing it at Marine Contemporary. When Claressinka was closing and moving her operation to her house [Marine Projects] she and I sat down and were discussing various things about the future. I was in a bit of upheaval, she was in a bit of upheaval and I was just saying that I needed some really amazing artists to rebuild the gallery. The first person she said I needed to go talk to was Fay. I trust Claressinka’s eye, her program and mine didn’t always line up, but I remembered seeing the work and so I said “alright, let’s go take a look.” I went and did a studio visit and the first thing that I saw in her studio/home was the clay poster. We just sort of bonded over that.
Pauli: That leads into my next questions, which is how do you see Fay’s work fitting into your program as a whole?
Sam: It’s awesome. I don’t have a set program or structure of things I go out and look for—I’m not looking for painters, and I’m not looking for mid-career artists, or this ethnic variety or that cultural background or whatever—I say it flippantly—I look for work that’s awesome—but that’s really what I’m looking for. I’m medium independent and background independent; I’ve shown people who are still in school, but I’ve also represented Billy Al Bengston, who is 80-something. As long as the work is there and I see the potential for more great work—I’m not interested in a one-off flash in the pan. I want to know there’s serious long term progression going on. So I look for work that’s engaging me in some way that I can’t really describe. The most interesting programs are only definable in hindsight. You can look back at someone’s program and say, “that’s what they were doing.” If you’re after a specific goal you’re never going to reach it, but if you’re just going for what’s great and what you’re intrigued by then the energy and the reaction is really there. Even though I’m an art dealer I’m a shitty liar, I can’t fake that enthusiasm. If I’m not really into a work or an artist it’s going to show—I’d make a terrible car salesman and I admit it. In this position I can only show things that I really care about and that really comes through.
Pauli: I saw some of this work at the studio several months ago and I feel like there was a lot going on and a lot moving in several different directions. What kinds of conversations did the two of you have to narrow the focus, because this show is very cohesive.
Fay: Sam liked the piece, Modeling Clay and we decided to do a print and a poster for it. Then the prospect for this show came up. Sam really gave me immediate freedom—he left it to me—500% confidence and faith right from the get go. He asked, “do you want to do a show? Do you want the whole space?” And I was like, “yeah!” So I made a model of the gallery and talked to a few friends about what I was thinking—I decided to return to themes and come back to collage with a different thrust. I decided early on that I didn’t want to appropriate anything; I wanted everything to be interpreted materialistically when before I had made collage by taking images from magazines. Sam was immediately on board with the collage idea and it became about execution. When you [Pauli] came I was working in my garage and in my house—while they’re wonderful spaces to make messier things the photos weren’t going to happen there, so I rented a studio to do that work. I think when you [Pauli] came it was right before anything was shot—all the work for the show blossomed this last month. It really was just a lot of ideas not that long ago, which was really hard for me. I was thinking the other day that I can’t wait until the day comes when I have a bunch of work in the studio and then the opportunity for the show comes after all the work was made.
Pauli: Sam, do you usually put that much faith in your artists?
Sam: Typically. I try to. I look for a number of different ideas. I look for someone who is pushing boundaries, but who is also relying on their strengths—you know someone who has figured some things out, but who isn’t just resting on that, they’re going to push themselves and their audience. When I went to Fay’s studio/ house I saw, you know, fifty-three different directions. A table full of ceramics, and sculptures and spray paintings, and you were trying to burn palm leaves to use them as a pigment or something, and then there was the photography set up and the cutting and the pasting and the old pieces. Stuff was piled on top of one another, each was a new idea and new direction, but they were standing on each other. It was not a linear progression necessarily, but a growth of ideas. So what I could see was A) a whole lot of really creative ideas—none of them were clunkers. And B) I could see someone who was working her ass off; a serious work ethic. The artists I seem to respond to the most think “this is my career. This is what I do.” They might have to have a day job to keep the studio lights on, but they put the time in. So seeing someone who is just making things, and making things…you know, and throwing out and editing…you’ve got to make some real crap, but the combination of the really interesting ideas and the process and motivation and production—I had no question that excellent work would be made, and more than enough.
Fay: I didn’t have that faith!
Sam: You didn’t need to! You’re supposed to have doubts.
Fay: I don’t know if this is interesting, but the moment the work came in the frames I was so relieved. Your space [gestures to Sam] is so gorgeous and there’s this endless quality to it. There’s always a new wall! I don’t understand how that works, but it was really messing with me! I just kept thinking there wouldn’t be enough work. I was spazing. Finally the work came in and we put things in places and it was like, “Oh thank god.” But I think that’s probably why, when you came and did studio visits you were like, “yeah, that’s great, everything’s wonderful.” You know your space better than me and you had that perspective. I didn’t.
Sam: The space specifically, by design, has no dead ends. That was a very conscious design aspect when we put the building together. The original design called for some discrete rooms and passageways, and from the start I said that I want any room you go in to have a way out. With the courtyard in the middle it’s all about circulation—you can come at things from new directions and new angles and new contexts. You’ve stepped in from outside, from the small gallery, from the large gallery. Wherever it is you’re seeing things from a different point of view. But also, the confidence part—that’s my job—to be a booster. And I’m saying the converse as well, as the artist it’s your job to doubt because if you’re not questioning, you’re missing something.
Fay: That’s true. That doubt and anxiety has really helped me keep the fire lit.
Sam: It’s a fine balance. It can’t overwhelm you. As a failed artist myself, a recovering artist I mean…
Fay: I’ve heard that term before, “recovering artist.”
Sam: Yeah, you never really recover, you just manage the symptoms…One of the things I learned in undergrad as a photography major was that if you look back at your previous body of work and you can still say that’s the best I’ve ever done, quit. You’re finished. If you can’t look at your older work and say, yeah that was great, but look at this, then you’ve got nothing left. You’ve got to be able to pick apart old stuff and see what you can do next. If you don’t have that doubt then you’re not going to have that excitement. They’re two sides of the same coin. I’ve worked with artists who plateaued and let them go. They didn’t have that doubt, that self-questioning, that idea of, “can I do better?”
Fay: It’s true! I’m always wondering.
Sam: That question, can I do a little more? That’s what makes everything in the show so vital. You have to feel you did everything you could and that you were pushing even that.
Fay: I still ask myself if the show is done. Should I still be making work the week before the show?
Pauli: Wet paintings on the wall!?
Fay: Yeah, like those two, [gestures] were born not that long ago. I wanted to make one and two emerged.
Pauli: Along those lines, what was the thought process in laying out the show?
Sam: It was unusual for me. Fay made a model.
Fay: That was unusual!? Oh my gosh, that’s so funny!
Sam: I’ve had sketches and plans, but the full 3D model, to scale, was impressive.
Fay: Thank you Otis College of Art & Design! And also John Baldessari, because he taught me to make a model for every space. We learned model making early on at Otis. I felt like, if it works in the model it’s going to be fine. I needed that god perspective. It was my life preserver. But I’m glad it impressed you! It demystified the space.
Sam: Yeah, you knew you could fill each room and you had one perspective. I’ve got much more time just standing and staring at these walls, to be able to go, “no you don’t need that many, or maybe a bit more. Let’s leave this wall empty…”
Fay: Right. You gave me that floor plan and I asked you to highlight the sweet spots and we kind of went from there. Collage has been a big part of my practice since 2001. I’d make some here and there. I brought it through grad school. Once I moved back to LA from New York. In New York I was so starved for big artistic gestures because the space was so limited. I was artistically freaked out by New York, I didn’t have the confidence I had in LA to make work. I was doing a lot of performance at the time. I felt more visible in New York than in LA. I know that makes no sense because everyone says your so anonymous on the street in NY. It messed with my trajectory, so I made a lot of collages because I could do that in private in a small space. When I came back [to LA] I was hungry to make sculpture and paintings and big messes and big statements. I put collage down for a few years, but now I’m at a place where I’m bringing it all together and when the opportunity for this show came up I felt ready to go back. I had the means and resources to shoot everything myself. When I’d stopped making the collages for those few years it was because I felt like I’d pushed my materials to their limit and to my own creative boundaries. I had hit a saturation point with the materials. I couldn’t look at any more fashion magazines! I was flipping them upside-down because it was so nauseating looking at all of those advertisements. I couldn’t look another weird model in the eye. I knew then that if I were going to keep doing it I would need to synthesize the material somehow, but that seemed overwhelming at the time. When the show came up I was ready and I could see the path. I wanted the main space to be a big collage and photographic statement. There were so many other non-planned works that came out of that process that wanted a place in the show that that’s how the rest of the space evolved. It was important to me to have the posters and the painting represented as well.
Pauli: You edited out a lot of the ceramics.
Fay: Yeah, no ceramics. I feel like I’m looking at a lot of ceramics lately—I’m seeing a lot of ceramic gestures, which I love, and I’ll keep doing it, but I had to edit down. Ceramics are so, luscious, there’s something very tactile and relatable about that type of work. I did make some objects out of clay that I photographed and included in some of the compositions. That was a good way to continue to talk about that medium for me in this show. I recently bought a kiln and got several things I need to ramp up production on that work now that the show is up.
Pauli: What are the necessary qualities for each of you respectively, galleriest and artist, that you need in the other?
Fay: I want to go to the space and feel like a family member, an equal. I don’t know if everyone gets that, or if it’s standard. Sam’s given that to me. I’m excited about that. I can walk in here and throw my stuff down, open the fridge, make a few calls and whatever…I have that sense here. Also I feel very lucky to have my show here because the space is so gorgeous, everyone says that. I love that the architecture includes an outdoor area because I’m very inspired by the outdoors. I also want to feel like I’m in a strong context with other artists, who are coming to it with a similar passion. I also want a mentor, in the context. It would be nice to have a person around that has longevity—who has seen more stuff that I have.
Sam: One of the things that’s interesting that’s happened—that I can only see after it’s happened—back to that hindsight thing, is my schedule. I’ve got several exhibitions coming up showing women, mainly younger women. And it’s not something that I set out and planned, I wasn’t trying to put Fay in a box and check it off. It’s just the context and the way things are growing. Fay has this solo show, Mie Olise has the next solo show, she’s of similar age. And then Blue McRight is coming up after that—she’s a little further on in her career, but it’s just progressing that way. Again, all driven by the work. Not anything I set out trying to do. I wasn’t trying to prove a point. It just happened.
Fay: That’s exciting
Sam: It’s the most interesting work I’m seeing. I’m also sick of the boys! The attitude—one or two three years out of grad school and thinking, “I’m Sterling Ruby.” I went to grad school with Sterling Ruby and he’s a nice guy, but everybody coming out seems to be thinking that and they don’t have what they need to prove it.
Fay: He’s one of my major loves, artistically. I see what you’re saying though. Right out of grad school people are really trying to find their way. I know I kept trying to find my “essential artistic gestures” and trying to figure out who I was in relation to other people. I kept thinking I could go looking for it, and you can’t. You just can’t stop making work.
Sam: It’s like what I do with the program, if you try to set out and define it and go after something from the start you’re not going to make it, but if you look back at what you’ve been doing…
Fay: It shows up.
Sam: It took a few years for Sterling to pop—it was something weird and wild over here and weird and wilder over there, and then you started looking back at what he had done and seeing his name more and more and you started understanding what the through line was. He made it by working his ass off, making all that weird work and doing really cool things—not by setting out a path and saying “I am genius,”
Sam: Yeah! He just made the work. He let other people see what it was he was doing. I like that about your work, Fay, you were trying lots of different things.
Pauli: What do you hope someone new to the show/work walks away with?
Fay: I hope someone leaves the show having a favorite, or that one of the works wedges itself in their mind and won’t go away. I’m kind of trying to do that in a sense, to talk about the subconscious, and if someone relates the work to that that’s wonderful. I’m really excited about the collages. And the hands releasing the pearls—I still don’t understand quite how that happened; it was a surprise to me and I hope it stimulates a viewer in a similar sense.
Sam: I hope people come away with a piece of art!…No, similar things, I always want people to have a reaction. That sounds like a simplistic thing to say, but to me the worst thing to hear about a show, mine or anybody else’s, is “eh.” I want people to love it or hate it, I want people to come in and say “I really like that,” or “it’s really not for me.” Either reaction is fine because the work changed that person, just for an instant, maybe longer, but the work produced a reaction in the person. It’s not just beige. For this show, I want people to come in, see it visually, viscerally react to it, and then want to know more. Read the press release, talk to us about it, it just grows from there. Whether or not they can acquire anything and walk out with it just remembering it and engaging with it and thinking about it means they have acquired it in a way.
Fay: That’s so well put!
*Images courtesy of Samuel Freeman Gallery