This article was written on 22 Feb 2013, and is filled under Interview.

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Artist Interview: Gregory Ito

Gregory Ito A Bed Time Tale, 2012, Mixed media, 72 x 112 x 14.5 inches, Courtesy of Eleanor Harwood Gallery

Gregory Ito A Bed Time Tale, 2012, Mixed media, 72 x 112 x 14.5 inches, Courtesy of Eleanor Harwood Gallery

Gregory Ito is a busy man. Not only does he have a strong studio practice, he is the co-owner of Ever Gold Gallery, a space in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco dedicated to pushing the boundaries of contemporary art, and co-founder of SFAQ (San Francisco Arts Quarterly), a free publication of international art and culture. I caught up with him at Eleanor Harwood Gallery, where he recently had a solo exhibition, to meditate on the work and ask him a few questions.

Art-Rated: Tell me about your background. I understand you are originally from Los Angeles. Why did you come to San Francisco? And why did you decide to stay here when LA seems like an obvious place to live as an artist in California, especially if one has roots there?

Gregory Ito: I am originally from Venice, Los Angeles. I went to school at SFAI (San Francisco Art Institute) and shortly after graduating I opened up the Ever Gold Gallery and started a magazine with my good friend Andrew McClintock. San Francisco is great. I stay in SF because of the community here.  I have artistic endeavors here that I am dedicated to.  The idea of going back to LA comes up sometimes but I find new things in the city to fall in love with. San Francisco has a consistent flow of artists that come to the city. Right now there is some pretty interesting work being made and art spaces that I really enjoy. When you don’t find anything that holds your interest, that is when you know you should leave.

AR: Can you talk about the origins of your work and it’s personal implications from your experiences?

GI: Originally I considered myself a painter.  I was producing these celestial, spiritual geometry influenced paintings that were vivid, hard edge and symmetrical. Many people related them to Tibetan mandalas, old astrology and astronomy diagrams, and freemasonry imagery. I was really influenced by those things, just how everything works, these monumental identities of the Sun, Moon, and Earth and the relationship between the three. Being from Venice, I grew up going to the beach and would watch the sunset everyday it seemed. These moments where you could see time passing from the dramatic colors during twilight. These ephemeral moments are really special, where you can really reflect on life and yourself. It’s one of those golden moments.  This is how I became interested in the ideas of human euphoria, awe and inspiration.

After years of producing that body of paintings I began to question my relationship with the surface, because it only did so much for me. I wanted to create objects. I have always made objects, but I wanted a shift in my studio practice.  I starting becoming interested in the relationship between an object and an image, image as an object, and dialogue between these two different ways of presenting ideas. At Gallery Hijinks (Ito’s solo show “Point of Vision”, 2011) there were a couple of pieces that I called “time diagrams” where I made sculptural objects that depicted night, day, and the moment of twilight which was represented by these bands of sunset colors. After making the object I would paint a portrait of the object and then show them together.  I was making objects that depicted time, and then painted a portrait of those objects.

I did some self portraits too, which involved personal ephemera from my house. I wasn’t painting images of myself. These self portraits are where I began using the readymade in my work. I kept playing with the relationship of image and object in the studio. I used an assortment of photographs I had taken too that I collected over the years, tropical themed apparel, textiles, and other objects from home. It was a juxtaposition of all of these different textures, images, and culturally charged objects that created pathways to more personal dialogues in the work.  I was making work that was interesting to me and genuine, and felt more open than my past painting practice.

AR: These installations, however, are reminiscent of painting in their composition and use of color. Would you say that painting has been a foundation for these works?

GI:Yes, the way that I make work is through the eyes of a painter. You know? Painting is the foundation of these works because I came from painting.  Without all my previous years painting I wouldn’t have shifted to the work I’m currently making.

AR: What is impact that you want?

GI: It’s about access. In this piece here, A Bed Time Tale, there is the night stand with the glass of water on it. People would react to the piece differently if it existed as a painting.  The conversation would get lost in the skill and execution of the object’s rendering. I wanted to cut the conversation about rendering out and be able to juxtapose objects and images together. They exist as assemblages. During the opening, there was this girl who came up to me and said, ‘wow this water looks really real, did you do that in resin? It looks so clear!’ and I was like, ‘it is water.’ I didn’t feel obligated to imitate the water. It is more charged when it is in its true form.  I want people to connect with the collaboration of the elements within the piece and respond to it.  In the Moonstruck exhibition I wanted people to have some sense of romantic longing, melancholy, and nostalgia.


Courtesy of Eleanor Harwood Gallery

Courtesy of Eleanor Harwood Gallery

AR: Seeing that glass of water there really made it a very relatable piece for me. It immediately created the feeling of security of having a glass of water on my nightstand before I fall asleep. So leading us into this body of work, how did you conceive of this current exhibition?

GI: During my time producing paintings I realized I was primarily making work for other people instead of myself.  It came to a point where I wasn’t getting satisfaction from making the paintings at that time, and I made the transition to my current work which is more personal and intimate to me. Spending all those hours making something that doesn’t really matter to me anymore was exhausting. I felt like a machine making work that people requested but I was falling out of love with.  I didn’t feel like I was making any personal discoveries.

My most recent work is what I want to produce from now onward. I have so much more freedom  in the studio and the level of satisfaction is so much more.  It increased exponentially. I am grateful to Eleanor (of Eleanor Harwood Gallery) for allowing me to show this work because this is the kind of work I have been thinking about for a long time but I have never had the opportunity to execute it in a space. Nothing was complete, they all lived on in sketches and in my head. You know?  And now it happened.  I’m very happy with the results.

AR: You just exhibited at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) at the same time as this exhibition that was a very different body of work.  Was that conceived before this show or were you thinking about it at the same time?

GI: The whole theme of the show was to do something participatory. The curator, Katya Min, enjoyed my show at Gallery Hijinks and wanted me to exhibit a participatory piece because the show had a lot to do with public interaction.  I did a smaller but similar piece at her space called Ictus Gallery, which unfortunately is closing but possibly relocating to Oakland.  I hadn’t done participatory work much before. I have always had these celestial themes in the work. I was really fascinated by the altars and funeral ceremonies of Asian cultures and these beautiful, circular flower arrangements that are commonly used. I went to China in February, 2011 and I saw these street displays for people that passed away. I was tripping on the cultural gap I witnessed between China and the States.

Gregory Ito, In the Wake of the Setting Sun (installation view). 2012. Yerba Beuna Center for the Arts (YBCA), San Francisco. Dimensions variable

Gregory Ito, In the Wake of the Setting Sun (installation view). 2012. Yerba Beuna Center for the Arts (YBCA), San Francisco. Dimensions variable

AR: Where did you go?

GI: Beijing and Shanghai. China was a trip. I saw a lot of beautiful things I wanted to recreate. So I wanted to bring that back and incorporate into the YBCA exhibition. I wanted to make a funerary altar for the Sun. I made a large circular painting reminiscent to a drum, circular silk flower arrangements, and a ceramic urn shaped like a casket, which were all shown on a large tiered platform that I covered in faux marble laminate. A conversation I wanted in the work is that people don’t pay attention to the Sun and Moon these days, these major components to our lives and the moments of clarity at twilight. So I wanted to have something for people to interact with and create an intimate connection with these identities that are getting diluted in today’s contemporary climate.  I wanted it to be a conversation between Eastern and Western cultures because thats what I am. I am Japanese and I’m American.

AR: Are you first generation? Have you been to Japan?

GI: No, I am fourth generation. Haven’t been to Japan, not yet. Anyway, back to the YBCA show. So I wanted people to interact with the altar and bring in offerings. I envisioned visitors coming in and looking at the altar for the recurring death of the Sun. I wanted to create an intimate spiritual space and offer something that they carried for a long time and repay to the Sun what it has offered us for thousands of years. Over three months, there were barely any offerings. I was going to burn them and do this whole procession ceremony but by the time the show was done I noticed that no one was participating, and some offerings that were previously there got stolen. I don’t think it had the effect that I wanted it to have. There wasn’t enough personal engagement, or maybe I was asking too much from the viewer.  This is when I made some changes in the work which evolved into what was recently on view at Moonstruck.

AR: Moonstruck at Eleanor Harwood Gallery is intimate and peaceful, much like the classic bedtime story the exhibition features. This work has an intimacy unlike your previous work. What inspired you to take this direction in the work? What personal questions do you feel are answered through this exhibition?

GI: This exhibition is titled Moonstruck. I was told that moonstruck is an old term given to insane people.  When I think of the term moonstruck I think about a crazy drunk guy walking down the middle of the road, yelling at the Moon. That is the picture I had in my mind. I thought it was a really dramatic image, this lone wolf character, an outcast from civilization obsessed with the Moon. Maybe it’s me who is moonstruck.  Who knows? My work always had recurring identities of the Sun and the Moon and I was in a place where I was really unsure about a lot of things with my practice and life in general. Personal doubts, I was in a doubtful state of mind with everything around me.

I was trying to figure out why I was so intrigued specifically with the Moon. So I thought back to my childhood and I realized that there was a book, Good Night Moon, that was a really big part of my childhood.  There was this image in my mind from the cover when I thought about the book, so I sketched it out. When I went online to look at an image of the cover I realized it was almost exactly the same image. This image had burned a hole in my memory. From there I continued to deconstruct my personal history with the Moon.

Good Night Moon Detail, Courtesy of Eleanor Harwood Gallery

Good Night Moon Detail, Courtesy of Eleanor Harwood Gallery

I was thinking a lot about domestic space. The work relates to my past and the comforts of home and the comfort I also get from the Moon. The companionship with this identity in the sky that is so unobtainable. So I wanted to use materials and objects that you find in a bedroom or a household. The body of work became a romantic tale of an individual and his relationship to the Moon.

Gregory Ito, Good Night Moon, 2012, Acrylic, composite. charcoal, graphite, on wood panel and gouache on paper, 59 x 48.75 inches, Courtesy of Eleanor Harwood Gallery

Gregory Ito, Good Night Moon, 2012, Acrylic, composite. charcoal, graphite, on wood panel and gouache on paper, 59 x 48.75 inches, Courtesy of Eleanor Harwood Gallery

AR: You are using a book and images that many children grew up with as well as basic household furnishings. It is easy for the viewer to be placed in a recognizable domestic experience.

GI: Yes, there are culturally charged items that I am using this work, the union suit, the nightstand, the sink, glass of water, and so on. The fragility of sleep that we all share. We all have our bedtime ritual at night, and that is where the spiritual conversation shines through the work.

AR: The Moon traditionally has a relationship the feminine and the female. The sense of an intimate relationship is apparent in this work.  Is the Moon your metaphor for the female as well?

GI: Totally, I was thinking about my past relationships and the idea of companionship. All the great ones in the past. It was necessary for me to make this work. One of my favorite pieces in the show is the Companion piece because that was spurred out a moment of sadness and rage put together. I came home one night, I remember it was a super long night, it was five or six in the morning and the Moon was huge in the sky. While walking home I looked at the Moon and I was reflecting on past relationships and the times when things felt balanced.  I felt on edge at first but then felt better after gazing at the Moon, the same Moon that all of mankind have looked at throughout history and into eternity. It was a humbling experience.

Gregory Ito, Companion (I Miss You), 2012, Mixed media, 70 x 34.5 x 20 inches, Courtesy of Eleanor Harwood Gallery

Gregory Ito, Companion (I Miss You), 2012, Mixed media, 70 x 34.5 x 20 inches, Courtesy of Eleanor Harwood Gallery

I went home and I walked into my bathroom to see only one toothbrush in the cup on the sink. I thought that was the saddest sight ever. When you have a companion, there is more than one toothbrush. It was a signifier of what I no longer had. It was a fragile moment. So there is an austere dialogue with the title “Companion” with photo of the Moon, and the viewer with their personal experiences and history. There is no color in the whole piece with the exception of the pink and blue toothbrushes that are embracing each other.  The sink acts as the platform for the moment when two toothbrushes touch.

Gregory Ito, Companion (detail). 2012. Mixed media.

Gregory Ito, Companion (detail). 2012. Mixed media.

AR: Certainly.

GI: I got this moment of clarity where I realized I don’t have to make a particular kind of work. This work was so fluid for me. To acquire objects that have their own conversations, which spoke to me. I hope that people aren’t looking for a finite answer.  In the end I’m seeking to make romantic work.  I guess I’m a romantic.

AR: I have noticed in your work a strong relationship to material and subject matter. Can you speak about how you translate your inspirations, such as the Moon and the Sun, into painting and the unexpected materials you use? Can you talk about how you acquired all of these pieces?

GI: So I sketch out all of these pieces before executing them, trying to figure out what are the most important objects to incorporate. I wanted the plainest, most basic objects I could find. I was really trying to find this generic quality. I was looking on Craigslist and on the street and everything had too much character and history. I asked myself, where do people acquire most things for their home? So I went to Home Depot. I think the name Home Depot is just amazing in itself. That is where everyone goes to buy things for their personal space.

The first thing I bought was the sink piece and I wanted the most generic sink possible. I love the displays at Home Depot, I love watching people make decisions of what they want in their intimate spaces.  It’s interesting to witness this relationship between individuals and the consumer products they are thinking of buying.

AR: Your decision to go to Home Depot for your materials highlights how we as a culture turn to commercial retail stores to buy generic items for our intimate spaces.  In this work, you too are using generic objects to express intimate subject matter in your art. The intersection between personal and general is very compelling.

GI: Yeah, so it’s funny for me to see people choosing objects for their domestic space but while I am there, I am doing the same thing, but for my artwork. I’m not seeking objects that are more embellished or has a story behind it. I wanted objects with a generic quality that seemed fresh and brand new as if it was straight out of the factory.   The objects have no weight on them. There was no life of the objects beforehand. I’m able to set it’s function.

I went to Ikea for the nightstand. I love Ikea and these commodified mass produced objects. I went with a couple of my friends who were looking for furniture for their apartment and they didn’t realize I was watching them. I love watching people identifying with objects, finding qualities that they relate to.

AR: Would you say this work is a more direct investigation of your experiences?

GI: Yea. I think I’m raising questions more than answering them.  The work answers many questions that I ask myself, so yes it is an investigation of my own personal experiences, but that’s not necessarily what is intended for the viewer to grasp.  I don’t want a tapered experience for the viewer, but rather an open one that stimulates a dialogue. This work is meant to be sincere and true.

Gregory Ito, Untitled (I Remember Your Every Detail), 2012, Mixed media, 15 x 12 x 5.5 inches, Courtesy of Eleanor Harwood Gallery

Gregory Ito, Untitled (I Remember Your Every Detail), 2012, Mixed media, 15 x 12 x 5.5 inches, Courtesy of Eleanor Harwood Gallery

AR: So you are looking to push and expand on what art is?

GI: God, isn’t that what we all want to do as artists? Or at least contribute to art history in some way? I make work and look at work so I’m making decisions in my studio in relation to what I see, what has been made before me, and what is being made currently. There is so much I haven’t seen but it is nice to know that I have always made art in hopes to understand my orientation of what else is being made. There are a lot of really great things going on everywhere. A lot of artists are taking steps to merge different practices and incorporate new materials into their work.  It is becoming more accessible too with the incorporation of the internet and net art being made for the purpose of being re-blogged and connect with the masses rather than cater to a small group of rich art enthusiasts that are exclusive and closed off. People now look at things differently. That is why the whole conversation of image and object is being spoken of a lot more because people relate to an image of an object differently than an object itself and vice versa, also image as an object.  I think that the qualities of what an artist is is being readdressed. Freedom in your practice is more permitted and encouraged. I enjoy that. People need to break out and make whatever the hell they want.

AR: So what’s next?

GI: I have a month long residency program at Truesilver in San Francisco.  I’m using personal ephemera from the gallerists’ home to create arrangements that I find interesting and at moments funny.  I will also be in a group show in Sacramento later this year, and a solo exhibition in Los Angeles at a new gallery called Prohibition.  I’m excited to spend time in the studio after the show at Eleanor Harwood Gallery and hash out some new ideas. I am going to do studio visits with a bunch of artists I know and reached out to. Exchanging ideas and geeking out on new work they’ve seen and readings and stuff like that. When you have a consistent practice it can be overwhelming, it takes a lot of energy and time. An artist should be committed to looking at art too and reading about it, writing about it, and so on.  Artists, we’re filters of culture and the world around us and mediate it into our practice. We take in everything that we interact with and produce something as a response or as a product of those driving factors that initiate the creative process.

Andrew and I are continuing our efforts at Ever Gold Gallery (Andrew McClintock is the co-founder of the gallery and magazine). I love working with our artists and talking with them about their work. Ever Gold gives me the opportunity do that every month. When we work with artists, we usually give them a stipend for their exhibitions. I am a craftsman, I build a lot of things. One of my contributions to the gallery is helping artists execute the exhibition and fabricate things they need. Some artists don’t know how to build certain things that they hope to make, but don’t have the shop or skill, so outsourcing my help is always there if they need it. It is a good experience for me because I am involved in their creative act. It is nice to remove yourself from your own practice and be involved in another artist’s practice.  It helps you think about their work and how and why they produce the work that they do.

Gregory Ito, Bed Bath and Beyond.  2013. Yoga mat, bong, massager. Truesilver Residency, San Francisco.

Gregory Ito, Bed Bath and Beyond. 2013. Yoga mat, bong, massager. Truesilver Residency, San Francisco.

The magazine, SFAQ (San Francisco Arts Quarterly), forces me to be active in seeking out what else is going on locally and internationally. It is great to interview artists, curators, gallerists, and collectors because you get to talk about art from all of their perspectives. You get to meet a lot of inspiring people.  I learn about a lot too because we have writers who pitch us stuff that I have never heard of. For Andrew and I to produce this free art publication,  I am really proud of it. It is really time consuming but the satisfaction I get from working with Andrew is an amazing experience.

All the hats I am wearing, as an artist, editor, publisher, gallerist, art handler, curator and writer, I’ve learned it is important for artists to be involved with as much as they can. They should contribute more to the artistic community. We are all obligated to give back.  We just released our 12th issue so I hope people read it which is in print and online.

Gregory Ito was born in Los Angeles and he lives and works in San Francisco. BFA: SFAI – San Francisco Art Institute, 2008. Endeavors: Ever Gold Gallery (co-owner), SFAQ – San Francisco Arts Quarterly (co-founder). CV: :)



Rachelle Reichert
 is a San Francisco based artist working in painting and drawing.  Her paintings have been nationally and internationally exhibited including exhibitions at the German Consulate in New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Galleria il Sotoportego in Venice, Italy, Sloane Fine Art in New York City and Southern Exposure in San Francisco. Rachelle was awarded a residency at Can Serrat, in Catalonia, Spain and a grant from the Susan Pilner Money for Women Artist Fund. She has received commissions by Red Bull, Inc. and the Boston University Medical School.  Currently, Rachelle is a resident artist at Root Division in San Francisco.

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