Interview with Gary-Ross Pastrana

The following conversation is culled from a series of personal and online discussions between Gary-Ross Pastrana and Lou Lim shortly after her show Horizon opened.  This has been translated to English and slightly edited for flow and clarity.


Gary-Ross Pastrana: Hi! How long has it been since your opening?

Lou Lim: More than a week already.

GRP: How are you feeling now? Relieved? Or excited to work on something else perhaps?

LL: I think I’m forever worried and on the edge.

GRP: I heard a lot of positive feedback about the show. Congratulations! Can you talk a little bit about what the audience said to you or asked about during the opening?

LL: ‪Most of the questions came even before the opening. Some friends were curious about what I was working on. Painting? Sculpture? Installation? How many works would I be showing? They were surprised when I said I was painting. More so, when I add that I’m only showing one work! But I did not elaborate further then because I didn’t want to preempt anything. During the show, however, the more recurrent question was, “Why horizon?” A notable comment was that the work, although different, still has the same sensibility or feeling of my previous works, especially my thesis.

GRP: Is that important to you, that your current work is connected to your previous ones? How about reactions from others, from people who were only seeing your work for the first time?

LL: I always feel a certain pressure, as if there’s an expectation that what I’m working on now should have a direct connection to what I’ve done before. But what really happens is that I just do what I feel I need to at the given moment without actually making an effort to make that connection. Sooner or later it just comes up or becomes apparent, especially when I get the chance to think and contemplate about it later on. It always happens in retrospect.

There was this older gentleman who introduced himself as someone who teaches “breathing methods.” He said that when he entered the space and saw my work, he didn’t know much about art and didn’t know what to expect, but he was moved by my work. It caught me off guard and it took a while before I could respond. I just ended up saying something like “I prayed for that.” But for my work to have that effect on someone, I was really grateful for that.

GRP: Did you realize anything about your work when you finally saw it installed in the space? Was it close to what you initially envisioned?

LL: It was more or less the same for me. But what I liked was seeing the 3 elements together in the same space: the painting, the strip and the photographs. I like how they were installed in their own distinct spaces. Initially I thought of hanging the strip in front of the painting, but I ended up liking how it was given its own little corner. I also liked how it was lightly touching the floor. It made it more like an object and somewhat more connected to the photographs which were also floor-bound, on a pedestal.

GRP: While I was writing the press release for your show and thinking about this work, I was reminded of Nilo ilarde’s  “The Line Between Painting and Sculpture”.  Are you familiar with this work?

LL: I only became aware of it after you mentioned it to me the other night.

GRP: Maybe I made this connection because of the way you took the line (horizon) from the painting and turned it to a series of tactile, sculptural objects. Of course in Nilo’s case, the line was between the wall, where paintings are hung, and the floor, where sculpture is traditionally situated.

LL: Yes! I get what you mean. I wish I’d seen it in person.

GRP: Can you talk a little bit more about your idea of sculpture? Because personally I really see you as a sculptor.

LL: I remember reading something, I don’t know if I remember the title right, but it was something like painting vs. sculpture, I just saw it online and it goes “Sculpture is just something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting”. It’s funny but it also sort of puts sculpture below painting in terms of hierarchy. I thought it would be interesting to look deeper into this tension. In this show, I used painting in a way that is more sculptural in terms of process, treating the canvas as a kind of negative mold, from which the act of “extracting the horizon’ could take place.

I think I identify with sculpture because it has this tactile and very human element for me. But when I did the painting, I realized it has a different power altogether!

GRP: What do you mean?

LL: I think because I opted to paint the whole thing using the grid by grid method, it felt like there was this vast, empty space that I had to fill and I couldn’t stop until I was done, until all the squares are filled in. It took me 7 months to finish, precisely from April 17 to November 18. There were days when I couldn’t bring myself to continue painting.  Somehow it was mentally and emotionally draining for me. I was thinking too much that I had to resort to listening to audiobooks just to get my mind focused on something else while doing the task. Another time I even fell asleep while painting! I shared this with an artist friend and he couldn’t identify with what I was experiencing so I thought it was just plain boredom or laziness on my part. Another friend suggested that perhaps my body was shutting down from too much thinking. But there were also days when I found it calming, relaxing. It was really quite an ordeal but I’m still glad that I went through it.

GRP: So what’s next for you? What do you plan to work on after this?

LL: You know very well that I don’t really plan ahead, I’m not really sure what I’ll do next. But I think I might try to work with the idea of the horizon again. I don’t feel like I’ve exhausted it and there are things that I wish to explore further. I might try to make some portraits…

GRP: Portraits?

LL: I mean, instead of a scenic landscape, I might paint a portrait and later strip something off from its surface again or something.

GRP: Sounds really interesting! This might be a silly question but knowing you I’m sure this has crossed your mind as well somehow, so I’ll ask it anyway. Do you think you’ve ‘matured’ in any way after finally having your first solo gallery show?

LL: I remember an older friend asked me the same question while I was in Paris for my residency. At that time, I said “I don’t really know, I feel the same way so probably not”. Another friend, someone who I consider a mentor gave me something to think about when she said that while it might not be apparent yet, for sure there will be changes, a certain level of maturity on my part because of the new experiences that I’m having and it will just come out when the situation calls for it. One can hope!

GRP: Speaking about your residency, can you talk a little bit more about it? Did you see a lot of shows? Were there things, an artwork or a museum or maybe a person you met that stood out?

I did, but since almost two years have already passed, I can’t recall the specific shows and artists that well anymore. It might sound funny, but I think what I ended keeping was the feeling of seeing or being amongst the works, in person. My experience at the Musee de L’Orangerie was something memorable yet hard to describe.  I think I could’ve spent the whole day staring at Monet’s paintings and I would still return to see it if ever I get the chance to go back. Since we last talked I went through my old photos from that time, and remembered how I felt that almost all possible forms, things that I thought I could only see in contemporary works have mostly been done already in the past. (At least in terms of form or appearance.) I felt that specifically when I saw the permanent collection at Centre Pompidou, and to an extent the Picasso and Vatican museums as well. At first, I didn’t know how to feel about it. If everything has already been done, what is left for me to do? But it also made me think that perhaps being ‘new’ is not just the goal anyway. And the knowledge that you get from seeing what has already been done, will only make it clearer for you where to take it next.

Some works that stood out: A video work by Richard Mosse, entitled The Enclave. He shot foliage and military camouflage using infrared film which made everything pink. The images were so beautiful and pleasing even if he was really showing scenes of war and humanitarian disasters. It was quite disturbing. I also spent a good amount of time watching a 3D-projected film by Cyprien Gaillard. I didn’t really understand what was going on but even just the aesthetic and execution of it all were strong enough for me to be held in awe.

GRP: Did you get the chance to meet a lot of artists there?

LL: I was able to meet the artist Orlan! I couldn’t imagine meeting someone who I used to only read about in books. She was so nice, she even gave me a calling card and asked me to email her some time. I also distinctly remember this street artist I saw in Rome. There were a bunch of them doing speed spray paintings. Most of them seemed like they were just going through the motions and waiting for the work day to end but this one guy stood out because he was so passionate about what he was doing, as if he was making each painting for the first time. I think of this person every time I’m not so psyched to work.

GRP: Great! I think we could wrap up this conversation for now. Until next time, congratulations again!

LL: Thank you!




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