Grown up in the Northeast woods spending summers in the California sun, Los Angeles-based Sam Falls has been able to bring the best of both worlds into his artistic practice, using time and space as tools to create the work. Listed in Forbes' "30 Under 30" ranking of art and design, in this short interview, Falls discusses authorship, lifestyle, books, and how to pull out color from the film to the computer to the print to the paint. A solo exhibition of his works is currently on view at T293 in Rome through February 15, 2014.
In his latest exhibition at Balice Hertling in Paris, he exhibited a series of fabric wall pieces created through a very unique process: blankets were left to rest outdoors, with a shipping pallet placed on them for half a year, so that the exposure to light over time would naturally leave an imprint on the fabric. Another recent exhibition at Galerie Eva Presenhuber in Zurich featured colorful sculptures coated on one side with UV-protected pigment and on the other side with non-UV-protected pigment, which were meant to evolve according to their outdoor location, the elements and the light to which they are exposed.
How is this work related to your growing up in the California sun? Can we say that the landscape and natural elements are an actual medium in your artistic practice? Do you see your work as time-based?
This is a good question because I can set the records straight and say I did not grow up in California, even though my CV says “born in San Diego, lives and works in LA”! It's true I was born out here, but I moved with my mom to Vermont when I was five years old, quite literally the polar opposite. That said, I spent about a month every summer with my dad in LA—a few of these summers he lived in Topanga, then Westminster, then I don't really even know. So I liked surfing and going to the movies, but my comfort zone and experience really lie in the Northeast woods where I grew up, in farmland. I've lived in LA for two years now. I moved out here to make the artwork in the sun, which I was already flying out to do about four or five times a year in the beginning. Now I'm going back to Vermont and Upstate New York a lot to make work in the rain—the best of both worlds. And yes, we can definitely say the sun and rain and air are media in my work. It's quite collaborative if you want to anthropomorphize the natural elements, but really they are tools to create the work. What's really important is to use these tools to make representations and abstractions dually in the same piece, and because the sun and rain are so universal people can enter the work very deeply and honestly. That is, the indexical part of the work where you see a one to one image of a pallet is made with sunlight rather than professional photographic machines and chemicals, and the abstraction is made without my presence. The form of the grid and the colors of the blanket are all done before by others who piece the blanket together or fix the pallet, as well as the sun again. So I'm not dictating the experience of the work at all really, which I find problematic now with painting and photography. The work is all about time and space.
How is life in Los Angeles and how would you describe the art scene there right now?
Life in Los Angeles is great—I feel like I'm adding a year onto my life every year I live here. The food and lifestyle are super healthy, we have dogs now and I get up early and go surfing all the time. It's just much more encompassing in terms of the life-spectrum I'm interested in. It's also really productive because you can concentrate and be alone, pursue ideas without distraction, and have time to read and write, which for me was getting lost in New York a bit. The art scene also seems great to me. A lot of students finishing from the fine graduate schools out here seem to be staying rather than leaving, and people like Hannah Hoffman are starting really smart galleries engaging contemporary art with historical precedents.
Your earlier work, as collected in the book Paint Paper Palms published by Dashwood Books in 2011, engaged with a quantity of different materials and media, including painting, photography and printmaking, resulting in images of bright and vivid color where everyday pictures were augmented with Photoshop and acrylic painting. You said, “From film to digital painting to painting on paper, we move from content to color to form and back again.” How would you explain your preoccupation and enthrallment with color?
It's funny because my engagement with color is really conceptual rather than aesthetic, but of course color will always reign in taste over beauty. I'm interested in how it demarcates a series, for example with some of my fabric series—like the tires. I used synthetic polyester to align with the subject of tires that were resting on them (as the subject dictates the substrate in most of my work), and so I bought every color of this type of polyester at the store and that was about 15 and so that was the size of the series. In the painted photographs, what's interesting is selecting a pixel in Photoshop which is just one of the many hues of green, for example, that composes a swath of forest green. But in the selection I may get a light green and paint that on the picture in Photoshop. Then I'll take a sample of this printed on paper and mix it in the studio with acrylic or have it matched digitally at Home Depot in latex paint (depending on the project) and I enter a process of extracting inherent colors that were basically invisible and now made a very present part of the piece. In doing so, not only do I pull out color from the film to the computer to the print to the paint, but I literally extend the time of producing a photograph into a painting and this is projected in the final work that is now both media and machines as well as handmade. All of this is about incorporating the viewer and also challenging the validity of photographic representation and painting by collapsing them on one plane rather than challenging from afar.
You worked on a number of artist's books over the years, and as a matter of fact there seems to be a book for each of your series of works in an Ed Ruscha sort of way. Do you see your publishing activity as something that completes the work while it documents it?
Yeah, the books for me are about making a democratic object. It started while I was in school and wanted to share work with people before I was showing and they are so much nicer than the Internet. Now it's about sharing the work and keeping an archive of it as it leaves me forever, which I don't think is highlighted enough for a lot of artists, but it's emotional. But it's true that the books function also as a conceptual capitulation of each project and I'm very interested in showing the process and planning that goes into the work and not just the catalog or installation images, because the making of is the most important part for me.
Are you an avid collector of books yourself? Any Christmas treats from the art and photography shelves that you would recommend to the readers of Missoni Moments?
I do get a lot of books! I find more and more I get whatever certain artists or publishers put out—it's like music that way. I like all of Oscar Tuazon's books, and I like all of the books from Gottlund Verlag. We love Mark Hundley's books and just got a new one of his concert posters from Printed Matter. Basically anything that seems like the artists had a lot or all to do with the design and production. Josh Smith of course. My favorite book of all time that I give everyone is David Berman's poetry book Actual Air.