Interview with Auguste Garufi
Auguste Garufi is a visual artist, living in Brooklyn. His studio is located just across the East River from lower Manhattan in the neighborhood of Red Hook.
I’ve just sort of picked out some things that you said or what I thought you were implying by what you said, to talk about. If something doesn’t sound right you can just say, "That’s shit. I never said that." OK?
There is no progression of Time. And then there’s a line in one of your poems that reads, "There is no time when I am not dying."
There is no time when I am not dying...That’s just one of those statements that I’m not even sure I can talk around. Why does that strike you?
Well, I think a lot of things that you say are deceivingly simple. And, I think when I read that line it definitely resonated with me, but I think that it’d be kind of interesting to hear you say exactly what it means to you. I don’t know...you’re a really straightforward person so maybe it just means what it means.
I think that there are those times when things are clear and to talk around it starts to almost break it down. It’s almost like when there’s a piece of work that’s finished. You can’t take away anything and you can’t add to it. It’s done and you go on to the next thing. You use it as a pillar, a foundation to work from.
As far as your artistic process goes would you say that you don’t have much of a schedule or structure?
I have a lot of structure. Within that there’s freedoms to move about, but the act of my life, the practice...of working in the sense of almost religious practice...there’s enormous structure. So, in that sense there’s discipline. I may come and fail. I may come and be lost but I don’t let anything interfere with my expectance to arrive.
That makes a lot of sense, but I’ve also gotten the impression that you kind of don’t break down time in your head the way most people do.
That’s true, but I don’t think that has anything to do with discipline. You obviously see too that I get enormous amounts of things done and even that I work on things all the time. Even if I’m going to let things sit for a year or two or three and do other things, going back requires an enormous amount of discipline. I don’t just wait through the day for some moment of super inspiration when I feel like it. I always feel like it and both never feel like it. There’s always things to be done. That I can do that with time requires a certain discipline that’s almost extra-ordinary.
Just thinking of context and how a lot of artists relate to this idea of context especially in any sort of contemporary sense...that you have to put yourself within some sort of "cutting edge" context to resonate with people. You seem to transcend that.
I don’t know if I’d say I transcend it. I mean, I agree with you. I guess I can’t see it as transcending. I care about communicating and exploring and trying to discover things that aren’t necessarily seen, but you can’t be focused on one particular point. You may be very successful doing it, but the work I don’t think is as successful. To focus on being "cutting edge"...I mean, that means nothing. To put anything in a context, I think, already diminishes it. So, I prefer to let my work dictate context...with things I discover, with things I see. The context will take care of its self. And I think that’s the difference. I try not to impose a context on it. And in that I think the work can have a greater breadth and be much more sustaining and have qualities that the other, although immediately and superficially may seem more interesting...are not.
The studio as a sanctuary.
Well, yeah, um...I don’t know what to say about that except, Yes. It’s a sanctuary in one way, but it’s also like a bubbling laboratory in another way.
Do you think there’s a difference between a place being a work space and a sanctuary?
You know, all my work spaces have been that for me. I don’t know any differently.
It’s sort of a matter of proper function.
Yeah, and I know that about myself and I found that out about myself. Even from the beginning my work spaces changed in size, they changed in type, but they always had that same quality...that kind of work and quiet.
Do you think there’s something that could be going on that could take away from the quality of it being a sanctuary and a work space?
Oh, a lot of things...just having people in here that somehow change the energy of the space. I’m able to maintain it and balance it even when there’s a lot of work going on.. A lot of things can change the dynamic, but I just don’t allow it too and if they do I’m able to quickly cut it off.
...which is part of your discipline.
Yeah, yeah...I guess I didn’t think about it like that. No, I uh, don’t often get into situations that I let roll on for long periods of time where I’m not comfortable...That’s not true, really. I mean, part of it being a sanctuary is that it’s a place that in one way I can have a calmness, but in another way I can be uncomfortable and have explorations. But, when things impose I know to move on.
OK. The concept of the work always evolving.
With the way I use time, there’s almost no way that it can’t evolve, because I’m incapable of really doing the other. I’m not trying to impose a context on it. So, if I’m letting things hold me back, the objects and the things I’m working with...there’s just no way I can sort of...I think it can only happen the other way if I come up with an idea and then I just impose that idea and then I execute it, but in the way that I work it’s kind of an ongoing evolving relationship between all the different components
And all the work is connected.
In every way. It’s always happening too. There’ll be a few pieces where there will be a similar idea and then at the end of that one there are a few pieces that start to take on new things and I’ll see them in another context completely. I mean, that’s constantly happening. And it’s relating to everything in my life, like my work, and the sky and the things I read.
I think you said something along these lines one time...An artist needs to be selfish.
Yeah, I probably said that, but I didn’t mean it in the sense of being selfish. In some ways I don’t think of myself as selfish cause I’m just willing to do without. But, you have to block out a lot. Part of the discipline is also not being afraid to just not have certain things, which to other people may seem selfish. I know what I need, and that’s changing. I don’t mean I know it and it’s set for life. I mean I know what I need that’s right there in front of me and I don’t apologize for all the things I’m not. If I’m going to be something it’ll become part of me at some point, and I’m not worried about it.
You also said that the well-meaning people are the ones you have to watch out for.
(Faintly laughs) Yeah, in the sense that...it’s tricky. I guess I meant that it’s easy to dismiss criticism and sort of absorb the praise. There are people that praise you that can be more destructive, not wanting to be, but you can’t believe either one. The people that criticize you...it’s sort of built in you not to believe. But the other ones...you have to listen to everybody, positive and negative and everything in between. I really believe that, but the people that...it could be people you need, like dealers, but you have to be careful because it can quietly shape what you’re doing and you can sort of start to believe it. You start to believe in yourself in a way that really is wrong. You have to believe in your ability to go to work and that’s about it. Everything else I think can be destructive.
(Laughing) Actually, I don’t know if you say this, but for some reason I have it my head that a lot of times when you’re talking about something that you did and you enjoyed you say, "It’s good. I like it." Do you say that or is that just in my head?"
I may have. I don’t know. I don’t remember saying that.
The reason I wrote it down is because I just think you have this way of saying exactly what you mean. I almost really don’t know anybody like that. Have you always been that way?
Um...I don’t know. I think that I am now pretty much. But, it comes from a lot of hard work, and hard work in the sense, like all these things we just talked about, trying to really work in the true sense of the word and not being influenced by idea of context or other people’s influence or what might be termed success. So, when I see something, whether it’s mine or not...and I often, with my own things when they’re finished...when it’s finished I don’t feel like it’s my work...I see something that’s good. It’s like, "Oh, that’s good and I like it." So, I might very well have said that. I try to have a sort of objectivity so that I can just say what I need to say. And something I know I say, because it’s been brought to my attention is that something is strange and it’s beautiful. And, it’s not like a tricky statement. It’s just, I mean it just like I say. There’s something strange about it, but in that thing, in whatever context it happens to be at that time, it’s very beautiful.
The beauty is inherent within the strangeness or are they two separate things?
Uh, good question. I guess they’re both. I like to think that everything doesn’t just have one quality about it.
I read your poetry in this (I point to a catalogue from one of Auguste’s press kits). I’m not trying to dissect it, but I just sort of took some lines out of it. I’m not even really talking about them as lines of poetry but more just as complete thoughts that you had.
"A line separates two things that do not exist."
Well, again, I think that’s one of those moments to me that was very clear. That was a moment of clarity I guess. Not necessarily a line but just the idea of an image.
So, there’s something useful about separation or is it just imaginary or something?
Again, I don’t think it’s one...hopefully for me to be successful...it’s an image that’s open and sustaining and a grounds of entry. There has to be more than one quality. If you make a line that’s just a statement or an exact thing, to me that’s not enough.
So, if you could somehow abstract the statement even more and relate it to how people see their work would you say that perhaps people make the mistake of thinking that the line is everything? Whatever the line might be...it could be a line, it could be any...like a circle or a sculpture...but not somehow understanding the thing that it separates and unifies, maybe trying just to make a statement.
Well, I can’t really think about other people. To me it has to be more than just a line. In order for it to open up a space it has to be more than the thing that it is and the only way to do that is to allow the different things that exist to be revealed. It’s like a damn. One side of the damn holds water. On the other side there’s no water.
This might have been my favorite line.
"I would be lost if I knew where I was."
That goes back to earlier when we were talking about context. If I had a context in mind with an end result...I mean, it just seems to me if you don’t have that end result in mind you can’t be lost. You can really let things reveal themselves. And, I think that goes back to the discipline. I think in order to do that requires discipline, otherwise you’d just float...there’s always floating, but you want to go with the notion of balance. This becomes very tricky language. I need to execute. So, with no end result, and to execute to the capacity that I do, requires enormous discipline. Does that make sense?
Cause it would be easy to just not execute. It would all be in my mind.
And you’re sort of futuristically creating room for yourself to expand.
This next line was interesting to me cause you were telling me something that someone said about your work related to memory. Do remember what that was?
Yes, I think she said that it was like a...what did she say...it was like a memory of energy.
And then you have this line.
"What is the memory we do not recall."
Those are two very different time periods. It’s just an interesting question.
(Laughing)It didn’t have a question mark at the end it had a period.
(Smiles)Yeah, no, it’s not really a question. It’s a statement. It’s both. Everything’s both. I mean, you don’t use punctuation for that reason.
I understand (Laughing).
Yeah. I mean that’s a question but it’s also not a question. I don’t know if it has an answer. Not everything has to have an answer.
I thought this was a rather hopeful statement.
"To continue untouched is to forget life."
It’s also just kind of a statement and also it reminds myself. You have to have contact.
I thought your writing was interesting. I mean, it’s not very concrete.
Neither is the work.
Yeah, no, that’s why I like it, cause it almost seems like one of your paintings. OK, this whole concept of weight and that one of the most important elements of visual art or at least your art is the weight.
Weight to me is a kind of unknown variable that takes into account many qualities of something. It’s very abstract...the idea. But, in the sense that every material, every color, every surface, any possible variable kind of combined is the full weight. Everything’s composed of weight. It’s a kind of a relationship and a balancing between those weights. That’s just what I compose, but instead of it being musical notes or numbers, I have these weights that I couldn’t tell you what they are. It’s intuitive and only I see it. But, hopefully in the end it’s got no bearing...you know, no one else has to know how my mind works. But it’s this thing that allows me to do things that are both vaporous and solid at the same time and deal with those kinds of qualities. So, for me, weight is just that. I can only think to compare it to music or math, but it’s not either one of those. It’s another thing.
It’s basically an issue of balance?
You said something to the effect of, I hope people connect with the work. I’m not important.
I mean, it doesn’t matter what I go through.
It doesn’t need to be apparent.
The work is ontological?
Yeah, well hopefully the work is bigger than me. I try to take out the idea of context. I mean, I have ideas, but I try to keep things going. If I just had an idea and executed it ABCD, maybe it would be interesting but I can’t work like that. Work like that is just unfinished or gets destroyed.
I listened to that interview that was on your site. I don’t remember the guy’s name.
In that interview you referred to material that doesn’t already tell you what you’re going to have.
I like things that give back to me. Of course you have to do certain things with it, but I’m not afraid of surprises and changes and learning from the material and not just fighting with the material but coming to some sort of a drawl where I don’t impose completely and the material doesn’t compose completely.
Something that I think is telling, I’m not really sure what it’s telling of, but that’s telling of your style or work or whatever it is, is this whole thing of recreating naturally occurring objects. And it’s not in the sense of going to the store and buying fake flowers, but in the sense that you created flower petals. They look like flower petals. If you saw them on the ground you wouldn’t know that they weren’t flower petals.
I don’t think about it really. That particular piece called for flower petals and I could have bought flower petals, but they end up looking more fake than the ones I made out of paper by hand that aren’t at all made to look like flower petals. They are flower petals. And that’s the difference. The thing doesn’t have to look like it, It has to be it.
Of course there is this whole issue of the hands and the birds...and I wouldn’t call it repeating but sort of this thing where you give an object it’s fullest expression by seeming repetition.
That’s part of it. But, part of it is I don’t feel that they’ve run their course. The context is always changing...there’s always more. As soon as I feel like I don’t know what to do with them then that’ll be the end. I mean I’ve been doing portraits since the beginning.
Maybe the only reason why it strikes people as remarkable or idiosyncratic is that it seems really specific. But, like you say it’s another form just like the portraits. So, I guess my question is what is it that draws you to them as another format.
I mean, I don’t know, first of all, but if I had to say something...there’s something beautiful about hands. They’re the things that we touch with. They’re our contact to things, to each other, to objects, to the earth and they are us and to remove them from the body allows me to work in a sense of humanness or humanity and move away from the context of the body and all the things that go with male and female, and gesture and emotion and I can then speak about humanity and human condition without having those things interfere or become more than I want them to be. It was also a way for me to continue with the figure. I didn’t want to leave it and I didn’t want to fragment it in a horrific sense of fragmentation...I mean, absolutely not. It was a way I developed to do that.
So, in your mind it’s kind of a comprehensive, sort of human microcosm?
Yeah, I think it sort of picked it’s self. I picked it sort of instinctively...the same with the birds. The birds sort of speak to our humanity and also our relationship to nature and to the earth, without being political or making some kind of statement. Like with the arms hanging and the boxes filled with hands...they’re such beautiful objects but on the other hand they’re quite horrific. Because there isn’t one political point of view, or one context, I’m not afraid of those relationships. In fact, I want to see what they are and let them be and learn from them.
This concept of waiting till the last minute and this issue of time, I don’t know...just thinking about how you said it could take ten years to finish a painting or something like that. Do you think that a lot of times when you see work that is political or just making a statement that there’s maybe this sense of panic about time, and the need to just get something out there.?
Again, it’s hard for me to speak about other peoples’ work. I don’t know if it’s that so much. If you have a context you’ve done it. The piece is done. Because you wanted to do whatever the piece is. You’ve executed and you’ve done it and you’ve made your statement and if you don’t put it out, for them not to put out their work right away would be even more stupid. If they’re not going to really follow up in the studio...you know what I mean...I mean it would be like making a fashion show and not putting the show out for five years. By the time you put the show out, like nobody would give a shit anyway. So, to me it’s that mentality. I just don’t agree with that mentality. However, if your going to do that, if you’re going to put on two shows a season for fashion you gotta do it. And, I feel that a lot of work and a lot of contemporary art and the work that’s getting a lot of attention is that kind of work.
You’re saying the starting place is not really something you relate to?
Yes. Exactly. I’m gone from the beginning. I’m not even gone. I’m not there.
Do you feel like you kind of live your life to understand your art?
No, cause I’m not sure I ever understand my art. I think I’m more like a farmer. I work. I go to work and I work in the sense that a farmer works with the earth, not in the physical sense of earth. But, some days it rains and then it grows.
So, it’s not necessary to understand what you’re doing...you just need to do it?
Things reveal themselves. It’s not really about end point or success. It’s a new foundation. You know, there isn’t an end. There isn’t an end point. Which, again, I think is something that separates me from some contemporary artists. Although I would also say that I don’t think it takes away from any kind of contemporary context. I think I’m very aware of contemporary thought and condition. I don’t attach myself to it...there’s like a mass energy of what it is. I have to maintain my own identity sort of removed. In order to work the way I work, but, again I don’t think it takes away from any contemporary sense. It just is what it is. But, I hope that in the end there are some things in there that are quite telling of our contemporary condition. And, also some of those things are telling of all time and of future time...that’s more what I’m interested in.
Do you want to talk about one of your current projects, The House Is Black?
Do I want to talk about it?
Well, you’re at a certain point in it, not that you can tell what that point is...
Well, yeah. It’s reached one level. The House Is Black is a group of work that is dark but...I don’t know if I can talk about it. I guess the work it’s self is almost like looking outside through a window. I remember often sitting in a room as it got dark outside, just looking outside and watching the light change and then only seeing shadow. And it’s a vision. It comes from that. The title was taken from a documentary made by an Iranian woman, a film-maker, Forugh Farrokhzad. It’s a documentary about a leper colony in Iran, which has to do with the human condition. It’s also a goodbye and a hello for a friend of mine, who, like Forugh Farrokhzad, died very young, and who I shared certain things with in my work. So, all my work has those kind of components. And in the end I think the piece will have a kind of beauty and a strangeness.