I am absolutely in love with Los Angeles-based artist Rema Ghuloum's colorful paintings, the abstract forms in which both are contained by and appear to almost float around on top of the informal frames she paints into the compositions with subtle patterns and layers. The more I study the color relationships in her work, the more complex and lovely they become! Read through our fantastic interview here, and be sure to check out more of her work at the links below!
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I'd love to know more about you! You received an MFA from California College of the Arts a few years ago and are currently based in LA; are you from California originally?
Yes, I am a California native. I was born in North Hollywood and moved to Orange County when I was pretty young. I spent a lot of time in Los Angeles growing up and always knew I would finally land here. I actually moved to San Francisco as a teenager and lived there for a while before moving back to Los Angeles and later Long Beach to finish my undergraduate work. The culture in San Francisco resonated with me and my initial time there was formative. I wanted to go back, so went to California College of the Arts for graduate school. I enjoyed being there for school, but really felt like I needed to move back to Los Angeles. It was the right move for me. I love it here.
What first interested you in making art?
I always drew as a kid. It was an escape. I loved cartoons and actually wanted to be a cartoonist for short while. I also discovered dance at a very young age and was really interested in music, so deviated from art making for a bit, but it was always close -- I painted, collaged, and drew on my own, but I guess I wasn’t disciplined enough when I was younger. I always saw the world as a painter, but it was just a matter of time before I pursued it entirely.
Tell me a bit about your work! What interests you, or what do you try to accomplish through your work?
I make work that responds to my internal and external environment, which could be my studio, its surroundings, a song, a painting, a poem, even a feeling. I am interested in the function of memory, the way in which experiences get absorbed in the body on a cellular level, and how those recollections can lead to imagination and transformation. I think it is interesting to observe how sensations can be translated – from touch, to sight, to feeling. I try to make work that can be seen, felt, and really experienced. I want to create or capture an energy that is transmitted through my process that is hard to pin down.
My process is non-linear and by working between painting, sculpture, and sometimes drawing, I am forced to make different kinds of decisions. At the moment, I see my paintings and sculpture as independent of one another, although they inform each other unconsciously. When I am working on canvas, I want the paint to retain a fleeting quality. I build the surface up with pattern or subtle shifts of color that oscillates between positive and negative space. This allows for the paintings to move and shift.
The sculptures function differently. In a way, they memorialize the process of making. They are tactile, clunky, vulnerable, and unrefined. They can be picked up, walked around, and viewed from all sides. They allow for a different kind of intimacy than the paintings. I like the contrast. While painting, I might think about how the sculptures felt when making them or what they looked like at different times of day. I believe that information gets absorbed and somehow reimagined throughout my process. Those qualities then get expressed or translated through the paintings and then back through the next group of sculpture. In that way, the work is generative and keeps evolving. Working between different mediums opens things up for me. I learn to see and feel in a new way.
Do you consider your primary or favorite medium to be painting, or do you find that you like to experiment with various media? What is your favorite thing about working with those materials?
I am devoted to painting. I guess I think of painting much more broadly. I approach everything that I make as a painter even if I am not using paint. I definitely enjoy making drawings and sculpture for different reasons. Drawing is pretty immediate. I find it to be rewarding for that reason. I don’t really have a consistent drawing practice, but rather do it as sort of a meditation. I have been drawing more lately and I teach drawing, so I find that I am doing it pretty regularly. Sculpture allows me to create certain visceral qualities that I am looking to achieve faster. Over the years, I have made sculpture or painted constructions with various materials -- cardboard, foil, scotch tape, saran wrap, paper mache, foam, wood, plastic, and clay. I liked them all for different reasons, but have been working with foam almost exclusively for the past few years. I like that it is usually a supportive material that gets discarded. It doesn’t have the historical weight that painting does. Foam isn’t precious. I respond to the immediacy and malleability of the material. I can tear it, cut it, and pick at it, fairly easily. I am really just playing when I am making sculpture, and I embrace this part of my process.
Can you describe your process a bit? How do you get started? Do you do any research prior?
My work is pretty intuitive. I really divide my time between making paintings, sculpture, and sometimes drawings. The processes differ from one another. The paintings are made slowly and the sculpture is made much more quickly. The drawings that I have been making are made fast and I consider to be more like gestures. I don’t make studies or sketches for paintings. I really just draw in spurts. I don’t really have a plan before I begin working with any medium, except maybe a palette in mind for the paintings, or materials for the sculpture and drawings. For example, I might set out to make a red painting, which might evoke certain emotions, but I don’t really plan anything beyond that. I allow the paintings to be discovered through the process. The forms and space get carved out through the building up and removing of layers. In that way the history of the painting informs the successive layers. I try to create a visceral space through the process of layering and sanding. This creates a sense of time within the surface of the painting. If each layer is represented with color, line, mark, or pattern, then those elements will become embedded in the surface.
What is your studio like?
My studio is in transition at the moment. I had to leave my former studio in September and will be moving into a new one this month. In the meantime, I have been working in my former bedroom. I basically got rid of my bedroom and converted it into a workspace. Although I am definitely ready to move into a new space, it has been nice to be so close to my work. I could work anytime and that has been such a convenience. I would like to stand back a bit further, but I feel lucky that I was able to make it work.
As someone who has been in the "real art world" for just a few years after being in the university setting, do you have any advice for art students who might be just starting their studies?
I would recommend using that time in school to take risks, explore different mediums, experiment, and make bad work. I think students can be really concerned with creating products. I believe cultivating a solid studio practice should be the priority. That could take on many forms, but figuring out what works and dedicating time for that is important. Being an artist takes a lot of discipline and learning how to be diligent early on is really helpful.
What do you do when you find yourself at a creative standstill?
I find that I have creative standstills when I move into new locations. I have moved a number of times since school, which has definitely been challenging to work through, but just kept showing up to the studio. Things happened much slower during those times, but looking back, I actually had breakthroughs as a result. I believe that being lost in the studio is a good place to be. It can be generative because one is forced to work differently.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging, or an obstacle you've worked to overcome (creatively or professionally) in terms of pursuing your art?
I think balancing time in the studio, teaching, curating, and life used to be more challenging for me. I have definitely learned to manage my time better, which has helped tremendously, and made me more efficient in the studio. I have also let go of certain external desires that I thought would make me a better artist, and have realized that focusing on the work is what’s most important.
How would you define "success?"
I have actually been thinking a lot about “success” lately. I think my idea of “success” has definitely changed over the years. My idea of “success” today is really personal. I really just want to make the best paintings that I can. For me, that means being able to convey the feelings I am trying to evoke through my work. I think I am most successful when I can create a connection through a painting.
What has been the most rewarding or exciting aspect of doing what you do so far?
I think the most rewarding aspect of being an artist is getting the opportunity to continue to grow and be challenged in the studio. I am so excited by the process of painting and the discovery involved. I can’t tell you how stoked I am when I can finally see a painting I have been building up for days appear. I am continuously amazed when the surface of a painting starts to breathe. I think it is more exciting than it sounds (haha). In addition, I love connecting to other artists. I am so grateful to be part of such an amazing community of artists that I am inspired and moved by daily. It takes a lot of strength and endurance to be an artist, and I value these relationships so much.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects you're currently working on?
Yes, I do have few things coming up in the very near future. I am a member of a curatorial collective called Manual History Machines, which is made up of Tessie Whitmore, Bessie Kunath, Daniela Campins, and myself. MHM and I will be participating in a group exhibition that will be held at the Brand Library in Glendale called The Collectivists curated by Kara Tome. This show focuses on collectives and artist-run spaces in LA. MHM also invited to curate a show within it and asked four Los Angles based artists; Suné Woods, Michelle Carla Handel, Andrea Marie Breiling, and Jill Spector to participate. It opens on January 21st and will close on March 12th. Also, on January 21st and 22nd, I will be participating in a benefit for the ACLU called Amplify Compassion at 356 Mission. All proceeds will go to the ACLU. Finally, I will be in a group exhibit at Bentley Gallery in Phoenix, Arizona called Abstraction in the Singular curated by Grant Vetter. It opens on February 17th and will run through March 22nd.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thanks so much for the interview! I really enjoyed answering your questions!
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