Interview by Amanda Quinn Olivar, West Coast Editor
Ali Silverstein’s process is guided by whatever feels necessary: cutting vertical strips in the canvas to create long tassels, sticking shapes of canvas onto her paintings, or, in other work, painting over these shapes and then removing them, leaving the residue of triangles and arcs. Massive sheets of canvas are painted, cut, dragged, pinned, stained, crawled over, glued, layered, and painted again. Silverstein’s preference for on-the-spot responsiveness rather than preconception, improvisational “allowing,” over planned composition, and primitive expression over slick industrial production, recall the philosophical spirit of abstract expressionism and action painting.
Her most recent works are titled with the date of their completion, emphasizing what the critic Harold Rosenberg said of abstract expressionism—that “what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event”. The making of these works is not a process separate from life, but a “happening” of life itself.
From the stacked puddles of translucent color that transform into figures, to the hung fringes or collaged canvas shapes in more recent pieces, layering has always been at the core of Silverstein’s language. Left to hang and move, the canvas (whose materiality is celebrated rather than hidden), breaks open the surface of the picture plane to create real, rather than illusionistic depth. Hints of landscape, layers of skin, and shapes of color collide in a play of concealment and revelation to create not mere landscape, but inner-scape, or culture-scape--where the inner meets the outer. Ali lives and works in Los Angeles.
What was the aha moment that led you to art... and did Los Angeles play a part in your career decision?
My family—though no one was an artist professionally. My grandma Gert was an interior designer here in LA (she decorated Lucille Ball’s house, and houses of other celebrities of the time) and she used to take me to the Pacific Design Center (we called it The Blue Whale) where I would play with textile and fabric swatches for hours. My grandpa Charles, on the other side (of the family, of the world--he lived in the south of France) taught me to paint by copying the Fauves--mostly bowls of fruit and vases of flowers. Those essential forms of still life, and the arranging and rearranging of layers and pattern, were the ongoing, indelible aha moment.
How has living in LA informed your approach and aesthetic?
Living in LA has informed my aesthetic deeply, but not intentionally. I feel a bit bashful saying this because I don’t feel defined as an artist by any one city; my greediness when it comes to place keeps me nomadic. That said, I think Los Angeles has affected my approach more than anywhere else I’ve ever worked.
Naturally, I’m a layerer. I move things around and heap them on top of each other. I slide things around so that they collide. And then, I use instinct to create order and pull out form. LA, in my eyes, is this: the arbitrariness of the things that touch each other--their color, material, shape, and meaning. The chance clash of colors, unintended compositions, overlap of time, and of time period, of neon and nature, of culture, trash and luxury. This morning it was the fluorescent paper labels on the milky-purple, milky-green, milky-pink colors of the agua fresca containers on 9th Street.
When and how did you first feel embraced by our LA art community?
This show! Right now!
The exhibition speaks about the vitality of our art community. Which pioneering LA artist influenced you the most? And whose work do you find intriguing right now?
I don’t really think about “LA” artists as a separate category very often. The landscape and lifestyle have had an influence on the artists who’ve worked here, of course, but there’s a freedom, a frontier sensibility, that after working in New York and London I find liberating. I moved here most directly from New Mexico, and I guess it’s similar to that—New Mexico has a rich history that’s in everything there, and there’s a palpable creativity in the air, and yet the wild, openness of the landscape doesn’t weigh you down with it. You’re still in your own wilderness. LA is just a different kind of wilderness.
What is your favorite art accident?
My studio floor.
How They Ran
Over The Influence
August 12 - September 5, 2018