Interview: Greg Ito
Greg Ito is a force. If you are looking to meet someone more committed to his practice than most well-heeled, seasoned artists, who has his hands in more pots than most professional multi-taskers, who is an Art World Jack Of All Trades and Master of All, look no further. Along with his friend and business partner, Andrew McClintock, Ito edits and produces San Francisco Art Quarterly, an international arts and culture magazine, and operatesEver Gold Gallery in the Tenderloin, as well as devoting himself to his own works of art. I was stoked to have the opportunity to interview Greg about his work and visit his incredible live-work studio space. Read on to learn more about what Greg has been up to.
First off, how do you have the time to do it all? Do you sleep? You’ve got a lot going on between producing your own artwork, running Ever Gold Gallery and editing SFAQ. You must be a master doubletasker, or else really good at scheduling your time.
Well to start, my endeavors at the Ever Gold Gallery and SFAQ are shared with my business partner and good friend, Andrew McClintock, who is also the interim director at the Walter McBean Gallery at SFAI. I do find time to sleep, which always seems to be too short, but I manage to find time to spend in the studio outside of the current extensions of my art practice (the gallery and publication). Every year opportunities come up to exhibit, which is great, but I learned to not double up, or even triple up the work load. Poor scheduling leads to catastrophe and frustration. Biting off too much to chew is a common mistake. I used to say that I would juggle all of my endeavors, but you can’t do that forever, one day things can fall apart. So now I like to say that I balance all the tasks that I have obligated myself to doing, allowing everything to coexist in my schedule, to flourish and continue to grow. But there is always room for improvement, so it’s still a learning experience.
It seems as though your past work lived in abstraction (and pattern) as opposed to representation. Some of your pieces reminded me of mandalas or yantras. How did you arrive in this place? Do you privilege abstraction over representation? It is something I think about a lot regarding my own work. Somehow the dogma of Capital “A” Art School and being trained to look at art has made me feel that working representationally is somehow of less value than working abstractly, yet I can not work abstractly with confidence at all. Has this always been your method of working of arranging your world?
My older works do exist as paintings. The way I would describe the work is geometric abstractions of the relationships observed between the Sun, Moon, Earth, and eternal through a lens rooted in human euphoria, the spiritual, and the distant relationship found between these monumental celestial identities and today’s contemporary society. We just don’t pay attention to our surrounds like the ancients did, and I found this disturbing. Again these paintings are older works, that I have chosen to discontinue, because they no longer have any resonance in my current mode of making, and the satisfaction of producing the work is no longer there. Visually I still find them beautiful and people ask me why I no longer make them, but this transition is a personal decision, for I recently regained an intimate relationship with my work through a new approach. Representational or figurative work has always been difficult for me to grasp. Acceptance of artists who do make representational/figurative work is present, but it’s just not what I’m seeking as an act of creating an image or object. This is kind of funny, because currently I’ve been making new work which is investigating the relationship between image and object. This allowed growth in my practice to include sculptural elements and installation more effectively into the work, incorporating the readymade, distancing myself from being labeled purely as a painter. I still look at everything through the eyes of a painter, but this does not constrict my approach to making art. The same concepts that fueled my paintings are still present in my current works but the conversation has also expanded exponentially I feel, allowing more freedom in the decisions I make in the studio. The founding concepts in my work continue to be the driving force for my forward momentum into the giant realm of what art is, can be, and will become. My years at SFAI helped develop these ideas, and I am grateful to that school, which has an incredible history in San Francisco, and California in general. Amazing artists have taught there like Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Ansel Adams, Diego Rivera. Some of the more recent and current faculty include George Kuchar, Paul Kos, Tony Labat, Carlos Villa; the list just goes on.
In the bios and artist statements I’ve read regarding you and your artwork attention is drawn to your interest in our understanding of and measurements of time, the celestial, spiritual and how these ideas connect to our humanity. What is particularly fascinating about these concepts or phenomena to you? How does it relate to you personally?
The good ol’ artist statement. Yes, time is important me. My time on this Earth, what I’m doing with this time in the present, the time that was spent before me in history, where we are now from the times in history, and how we move forward into the times of the future. Spiritually moving through time, as well as culturally moving through time. Time in general is a strange subject. A moment in time that has been a very powerful influence on me is one that we experience everyday, twilight. Twilight is this ephemeral moment between day and night, the two halves to one whole, short lived yet epic. It is in these moments where I found clarity. I don’t know really how to explain it, but it speaks to me, and it speaks to a lot of people. Watching the sunset is a shared experience between everyone on this Earth, now, before, and in the future. It just amazes me. I used to say, and I guess I still do, that twilight is the one moment where you can truly see time pass, with the gradients of color that effortlessly float through the sky then beyond the horizon along with the Sun and its immense presence. I think that our connection with time is one quality of being human, how we can address time, what it is, what it does for us, how we live through it, and knowing our time will end when we die.
Who are your heroes? Who and what influences your work?
Heros would include Orion, the one constellation I would see in the night sky while growing up in LA. The stars of Orion are said to be associated with Osiris, who is the the Sun god of rebirth and the afterlife of ancient Egypt. My influences would include all the artists i have met, seen, and read about in my life. My family is really important to my career as an artist. My grandfather was a carpenter, sign painter, and cartoonist. My grandmother was a seamstress. My aunty is an animator (hand drawn) and her husband works in special effects for big blockbuster movies. My other aunty was an old school designer when everything was done by hand before computers and now manages her husband, Peter Shire’s art career. He is part of the Memphis School and owns Echo Park Pottery too. His brother Billy Shire owned a gallery in LA and it was one of the first stores on Melrose that began the madness around that strip. And my dad was the one who got me into drawing and building things. He bought me a tool set when I was young for woodworking, and encouraged me to paint and draw. I still have this “How to Draw” book he had when he was a kid. And my mom is one of the most encouraging human beings I know, who was a musician, and I remember my earliest years as a kid listening to her play the piano at the house. And lastly, my younger brother, who is graduating from Pratt in Brooklyn, New York with an emphasis in Sculpture, who will be doing some big things this year. He has already been showing his work and has a residency planned with Stillhouse.
How did Ever Gold begin? What was your inspiration behind starting the gallery? What is the story behind the gallery’s name?
The Ever Gold began with a group of 5 artists who graduated from SFAI, including Andrew and myself. We were all friends who opened and funded the space collectively. When we opened the space we learned it was an old shop that bought stolen jewelry and made them into gold fronts (grillz). It was called Ever Gold originally, and we kept the name. We figured that having an art gallery in that crack infested area was a slice of heaven for the block. Soon after opening the gallery some of the partners decided to go elsewhere and work on other endeavors, and then Andrew and I were the last two standing. It was at that point we realized we had to change it up somehow to keep the gallery open. We elevated our programming and did more solo shows and worked with more specific artists who we believed in. We also couldn’t run the space on our own money and was on the brink of closing until the Kenneth Rainin Foundation decided to support us through a rolling grant which has been in effect through 2013 into next year. Also increasing our art sales helped immensely by doing fairs and getting our name out there. We truly appreciate the Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s support, because without them the Ever Gold could have faded away long ago, but instead we are still here and exhibiting some amazing work by a range of artists based in the Bay Area, New York, and Los Angeles.
If you didn’t live and make work in SF, where would you be? Do you think you’d be making similar work in that other place?
If I wasn’t in SF I would be in Los Angeles. I moved to the Bay Area right after high school, and I’ve been here for 8 years now. Going back home seems to make the most sense. The only things keeping me here is Ever Gold Gallery, SFAQ, and my amazing live-work space that I built out 3 years ago. It’s a 2000 square foot warehouse I live in with my cat, Luna. I have a woodshop with a gallery-eque space in it where I shoot installations and the work I make, an office area for computer work, and a clean wall for paintings and drawings I work on. I also have an art storage area with flat files, loft, and a materials section where I keep a lot of objects and stuff I use in arrangements. Then in the back is a kitchen, half bath, and my bedroom with a walk in closet and I put a claw foot bathtub across the room from my bed. Pretty crazy space, and when I first moved in it was completely empty with the exception of a toilet. If I were to move to LA, I’m sure the work will change because of the cultural landscape there and the activities I will find myself doing in my spare time, like going to the beach or the hills of LA. Also the ability to access fabricators and materials is mush easier, and the cost of living is so much cheaper. I’m trying to make it down there more often, which is great, and the past few trips has sparked some ideas for future exhibitions. In the end it’s all Cali living, so as long as I’m on the West coast I’ll be happy.
Greg Ito and Luna in his studio home
What is inspiring you at this moment?
Right now, it’s work work work. I’ve been able to get into a pretty productive groove in the studio and with my other artistic endeavors here. I’ve been meeting a lot of people and scheduling more studio visits with artists to see their work and share mine. Also getting a lot of feedback from art consultants and collectors has been great for me just to get another perspective on the work. But as usual, sunsets, moon gazing, and staring at the sun are daily activities. I have been visiting the mall a lot to look at displays and window shop which gives me a lot of ideas for my installations and arrangements. I go to IKEA, Home Depot, and Lowes too for materials and find myself just staring at people shopping. It is so fascinating to me to watch the consumer in their natural habitat. I’m a consumer, too, but I think I have a different way of looking at things, but all artists do. We get weird.
What does the future hold for you, as an artist, curator and editor? You are young to have done so much professionally in the Art world. Where do you go from here?
The future is so full of unexpected experiences I guess. I don’t really know what will come out of it. I have been nominated and become a finalist for some awards here in the Bay Area but never got it in the end. No worries, next time I guess. I did a couple residencies and I’m just open to new opportunities. I’ll just keep making work, and contribute to the art community through the exhibitions at Ever Gold and editorial through SFAQ. I’ll just keep trekking and see what’s going to happen as it comes. Fuck it, the world is just a crazy place and I’m living in it so I’ll just keep my options open. More art and more art. Hopefully traveling, too, sometime when I find a window of free time.
(All images here within courtesy of Greg Ito - all images copyright © 2013 / All Rights Reserved)