Interview by Sonny Ruscha Granade
Images by Teal Thomsen
Editor: Taylor Lough
“It’s much easier to struggle as an artist in LA than in New York.
—Fay Ray Tacos are cheap. The beach is free.” — Fay Ray
Born in Riverside, CA, Artist Fay Ray uses intricate collages, paintings and sculptures to explore object-fetishisim, ritualized behaviors, female identity construction and the conditions of the body. She worked for legendary artist, John Baldessari and has studied with artists Kara Walker and John Kessler. Ray has exhibited at various institutions and galleries, including (LA) Alan Cravey Gallery, LAXART, Gagosian Gallery (NYC) and El Museo del Barrio. Her new body of work, Part Objects, is currently on view in a solo exhibition at Samuel Freeman Gallery in Los Angeles.
Sonny Ruscha Granade
Sonny Ruscha, daughter of artist Ed Ruscha, was born in Venice, California, and has curated several group shows in Los Angeles. She has worked at the Gagosian Gallery and is currently working at Hannah Hoffman Gallery and co-curating an upcoming show with Marine Projects founder, Claressinka Anderson, at the Underground Museum, an artist run space in the West Adams area of Los Angeles.
Sonny Ruscha Granade: Do you remember the moment when you officially decided to become an artist? Was there an “ah-ha” moment or did it just happen?
Fay Ray: No, no “ah-ha” moment. There was a series of things kind of pointing me in that direction. I went to art school at Otis in Los Angeles. I was thinking I would do landscape design or architecture or something. So I started taking those classes and my teachers basically sat me down and said, “Nothing you make works like a proper designed thing should, maybe you should try fine art.” So I did. At Otis at the time, they had a new genres program and I just found home there. I really thought you had to practice strictly photography or sculpture or painting and I never saw myself as just one. It helped me create a bridge between where I was and a lifetime of creating art.
SRG: I know you ended up in New York . . .
FR: I went to grad-school at Columbia. I made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to come back for 5 years.
SR: Why? Is it because California is your comfort zone?
FR: Yes, I really wanted the experience of being a New York artist. In grad school, you’re somewhat a little protected, everything is a little padded and softened a bit. By the time I hit my 5 year mark, I was very much ready to go.
One of America’s most influential artists, Baldessari is best known for his work featuring found photography and appropriated images. His text and image paintings from the mid-1960’s are widely recognized as the earliest examples of Conceptual art. He has exhibited recent retrospectives at LACMA (2010) and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2010) and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including Americans for the Arts, Lifetime Achievement Award (2005).
SR: Yeah, you worked for John Baldessari. What was that like?
FR: John lives, breathes, eats art. It was amazing to have that perspective on someone who has been in the art world for so long and has had such an interesting career and fights for their work constantly. He is extremely disciplined, even with little things – his consistent friendly tone, his optimism, his willingness to work with as many people as possible at all times, he reads all of his emails. It is not optional.
Watching him gave me this respect for the practice, like this is a stand-up job and if you treat it like one it becomes one. John’s routine is the same no matter who is looking. If the entire art world fell away, he would still be doing it. He is a soldier. It was such a great thing to see, especially considering where I am now. There are some times when I feel like people are looking and sometimes when I feel like they are not.
“Even though this q-tip is one
of a million zillion q-tips
in the world, it is my q-tip and
it means something to me.”
— Fay Ray
SR: What is your connection to the materials you use?
FR: They are very personal and I am trying to grasp at more personal things more often. I’m at this point where I am able to allow that into the work. I wasn’t always so comfortable going into my medicine cabinet and pulling things out and trying to look at them in a different way.
SR: What do you think made you more comfortable?
FR: I have had like a million different studios, so many…live-work…work-live. But recently I’m working from the garage in the back of my house. I fought for a long time to keep that boundary very strict. Just marinating in the space for awhile, all of a sudden there was a plaster bucket and a glove inside the house or something, or I would leave my phone in the studio. Things naturally started to mingle.
From Lebanon, PA, Miller is best known for his “John Miller brown” sculptures of the 1990’s. His work is characterized by a corrupted-pop cultural aesthetic. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles.
I got to a point where I came to realize that even though this q-tip is one of like a million-zillion q-tips in the world , it is my q-tip and it means something to me. And if it means something to me and I want to use it as an instrument in my work, then it will have a very specific meaning in that sense also. I used to try and fight so much harder to find an “authentic” thing that was really specific to me and I finally realized I didn’t have to try that hard . Not one person has the exact same junk in their medicine cabinet as the next. I’ve started to think of all these mundane things in this way I hadn’t in the past. There was a certain precedent for that. A very big influence of mine is John Miller and that is the focus of his practice.
Fischili & Weiss
A pair of Swiss artists, known for working with everyday objects to create spontaneous works of art.
Matthew Marks Gallery
Founded in the 1990’s in NYC and West Hollywood, Matthew Marks Gallery specializes in modern and contemporary art and has exhibited works by Jasper Johns and Ellisworth Kelley as well as a broad spectrum of emerging artists.
Private museum located in Potomac, Maryland, and known for it’s unique recluse and serene setting, as well as its 25,000 sq ft gallery space and sculpture garden.
SR: Some of my favorite artists have come out of the mundane. I love the mundane.
Did you see that Fischili & Weiss show at Matthew Marks gallery where they re-created their entire studio out of polyurethane?
FR: I saw a similar one if it wasn’t that one at Glenstone, its incredible.
SR: Your work is very feminine to me, is that intentional or natural?
FR: I’m constantly fighting with that actually. Fighting back a girlish quality.
SR: What I think is so interesting is that, I know you are not a feminist artist, but that it is feminine and at the same time, very strong and confident.
FR: Thank you! I really appreciate that. I fight for that. If I’m striking that chord then I’m really pleased. I don’t want to lose my femininity, but I don’t want to be lazy about it either. I want to talk about female things, I am comfortable with that. I always want to be looking inward, but I feel like women haven’t been allowed to have a lot of different faces. Most people think femininity is so well understood and I don’t agree with that. I try hard not to just spit them (female stereotypes) back out, I am trying to interpret them.
SR: How does your family react to you being an artist? I come from a family of artists and I’m always interested in that.
FR: I don’t think they understand the world I participate in quite so well, but thats not for their lack of curiosity, it’s for my inability to share it well. I just don’t know how to translate it . I feel like I am constantly trying to find the value in art. That is one of the things I have to look to do all the time.
SR: What do they do?
FR: My father was a truck driver. He is retired. My mother works at a bank. She did a work study when she was 16 or 17 and it was her one and only job. She just loves the bank! She is totally fascinated with the business side of the art world, and she is great with financial advice. My dad is a little more hippie, artsy. He understands when I’m stressed about a deadline or I’m in a fog, artistically. So, he is the person I call for that.
SR: You have the best of both worlds. I just had a bunch of creative types, so less practicality, really.
FR: (Laughs) I always thought it would be so much easier if my parents were artists.
SR: So there’s all this buzz right now on artists migrating to LA and how wonderful LA is. It’s a secret ! We don’t want more people to know about, but what are your thoughts?
FR: (laughs) I definitely can’t fault anyone for moving to LA. I mean it is just so much easier to struggle as an artist in LA than in NY. Tacos are cheap. The beach is free. It was probably inevitable. New York was bound to hit a saturation point.
“Women haven’t been
allowed to have
a lot of different faces.
Most people think
femininity is so well
understood and I
don’t agree with that.”
— Fay Ray
SR: A few years ago people would make comments like, “The LA art world is not serious.” But it’s so clear that is changing and it is another center of the art world, if not THE next center of the art world, and it’s exciting. I hope it doesn’t get too saturated, but we can’t stop it.
FR: (laughs) Yeah, that can’t be stopped, but galleries will pioneer a real derelict part of town ….
SR: Oh yeah, I mean where I work, at Hannah Hoffman, it’s becoming gentrified, but it was a really rough street.
FR: Yeah, it’s where all the trannies would hang out.
Established in 2010, by artist, DAVIDA & dealer, Mieke Marple. Night Gallery is best known for it’s unorthodox hours, 10pm-2am. The space was one of the first of it’s kind, in Downtown LA’s, now burgeoning alternative art and nightlife scene.
Francois Ghebaly Collective
Dynamic mix of commercial and nonprofit arts enterprises committed to multifaceted la art scene. The space is shared among: Farenheit (an exhibition space + residency program) 2nd Cannons, DoPe Press (artists book publishing programs) and LACA (a media resource center).
SR: There’s still hypodermic needles in the alleyway but then you walk in and it’s this beautiful majestic space and the same thing is happening downtown with the Night Gallery and Francois space but they’re comfortable being in these kinds of really poor areas. I like it. I mean you have to, to get spaces like that, unless you are a multi-guzillionaire you can get a space on Venice Beach.
What do you consider to be your greatest sources of inspiration for your upcoming show?
FR: In a very basic sense, black and white photography and fashion photography. That is what I seek out and shower my head with. I love high high contrast imagery and light on skin. I just feel like there is some territory in there for me.
Another is textures , earthy, gritty, funky textures. For the show, I wanted to return to some forms I put down a while ago. The show will be collage heavy. I stopped doing that for a while. That type of work has a tendency to take over like a mold. It spreads out so fast, the next thing I know it’s taken over the space I have for painting or sculpture or living.. it’s in my bathroom, little bits of paper just follow me everywhere.
I fell in love with early surrealist, cubist collages. I knew when I wanted to pick it up again, I wanted to do something that lasted and had as much of the essence of those collages as possible – thick paper, and bringing in some of other stuff, like slight painting elements and photographing sculptures.
SR: Can you give a little teaser about what to expect at your upcoming show?
FR: All the imagery will be black and white for the show. Everything is a little bit darker. There will be silk booties and silk mittens. I’m also bronzing a couple of bikinis! I’m really excited for that.
SR: I can’t wait, I will be there with bells on!
FR: Thanks woman! Love you!
Beauty Mark, 2014, courtesy: the artist and Samuel Freeman Gallery
Untitled, 2014, courtesy: the artist and Samuel Freeman Gallery
Calla Lillies, 2014, courtesy: the artist and Samuel Freeman Gallery
Bronze Bikini 2, 2014, courtesy: the artist and Samuel Freeman Gallery
Sulfur Pit, 2014, courtesy: the artist and Samuel Freeman Gallery