Brooklyn-born, Los Angeles-based artist Gregory Siff is immersing himself in Tampa Bay’s vibrancy during the month of February during his residency at Tampa’s Cass Contemporary gallery (stylized “CASS”)—and he’s feeling so inspired by the energy here that art is pouring out of him.
“I’m so happy to have a few weeks here to uncover this magic, it’s like I have this dirty urgency to make so much work while I’m here,” Siff said, delighted. His work amalgamates elements of pop art and abstract expressionism with a twist that taps into our collective consciousness while maintaining a kind of nostalgic specificity. Siff talked with Creative Loafing about his upcoming residency show, “Evidence of Life,” and the importance of making art.
"Evidence of Life" by Greg Siff
Opening Fri. Feb. 28, 7 p.m.
Cass Contemporary, 2722 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa.
@casscontemporary on Instagram.
Tell me about the title of this show, “Evidence of Life.”
It came to me a long time ago while I was working on a screenplay about a present-day Vincent van Gogh, and how an artist’s paintings are like microscope slides of the artist’s life, and thinking about what anyone leaves behind after they die. It brought me back to hieroglyphics and cave paintings and how art has always been used as fundamental evidence of life, but it also speaks to me today when I donate my art to charities—there’s even more evidence of life in helping a human being. “Evidence of Life” is what I want to leave here in Tampa.
What can we expect from your residency, your first in Tampa?
A lot of firsts. I want this show to be indicative of my time here. I want people to recognize these special works out in the wild and know that they were created here while at my Cass residency. I’m trying out a bunch of new things, working on a mural, round canvases, and I’m building a giant cube that people will be able to walk through—it’s a physical representation of what going to someone’s art show is like, or what it’s like to digest somebody else’s work. I’m keeping it youthful, and I’m not going to make it something that I’m not. I’m so focused here because a lot of energy is in the air and I don’t have the distractions of L.A.; I can be here and make art and experience the adventures of Tampa. I’m glad to be here without an instruction manual and just let each day bring me whatever it’s going to bring me.
You’ve collaborated with some huge names over the years including Yves Saint Laurent and Mercedes-Benz, just to name a few. Are you approaching this residency with a similar mindset to your brand collaborations?
My residency here and working with CASS Contemporary is definitely a collaboration and dialogue between me and Tampa. This city is so special to me because there are collectors who have become friends and family to me; they live here, or are from this area, so it’s safe for me to be who I am here. I knew I would need a few weeks to soak up the lifestyle and get a little more time to reflect on the magic that Tampa exudes. To work with this gallery is a dream for me. I look up to a lot of artists who have been here and who want to infuse this town with their own energy; I want to be part of that movement. This is my first site-specific residency, and I want to be an ocean of creativity and positivity here, where you can get more and more and more. There are so many beautiful things in this town and I want to bring them all together.
You didn’t go to school to be an artist—tell me more about your path to making art.
A lot of credit goes to my parents who encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do. I was a kid and broke my wrist by roller-skating, then wanted to be a bone doctor. My parents got me a skeleton and everything. Then I wanted to be on TV because my friend had an agent who booked him a commercial with Andre the Giant. The list goes on and on; my first lesson was to learn that there is art in everything. I leaned into painting wholeheartedly when my father passed away, and I feel like the more I do my work, the more connected I am to him. Everybody is an artist, but we practice it in different ways, and I love knowing that we’re all capable of finding that somewhere in our lives.
What do you want people to feel or see in your work?
I want people to know that there is an artist inside of them; I want that to be as important to them as it is for me that they recognize that. I make art that makes me feel good, and I want people who see my work to share in that feeling.
What’s your advice to someone exploring the artist within?
My best advice is to play with everything and try to not get frustrated when things don’t look good at first; some of my best paintings have several paintings beneath their surface. Use what you have around you and make a tool out of anything, like using coffee to make a brown mark. Become friends with artists and find people who are as excited about your work as you are. Finally, brainstorm some crazy ideas and listen to your heart for those messages because nobody can tell you the way to go and there is no textbook route.
Spotify playlist of music Siff listens to while working: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5kmN3dG6z7ZY38t7Ju0QMh?si=t7DTmknKRgW53MdvjFZ1hA