A Gregory Siff painting has the transcendent ability to transport someone back in time, when doodling on a notebook as geometry class dragged on was the only creative way to get through the monotony—and that might be precisely what the world needs right now. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the globe, nothing is “normal” and Siff is learning to adapt.
“We have to pay attention to it, because it’s the first thing that’s on your mind in the morning,” he says from his home in Los Angeles. “Some days we’re thinking about it and the other days we’re like, ‘Let’s just paint’ and everything is OK.”
Every morning, Siff and his girlfriend—fellow artist Brittney Palmer—wake up at their home in West Hollywood, go for a two-mile run and return home for breakfast. They then corral their dogs into the car and make the 15-minute drive to their art studio where they’ll spend the entire day creating. Like Groundhog Day, they go home, wake up and do it all over again.
“The funny thing is that a lot of people are reaching out and asking for commissions,” he says. “Art makes people feel good and it’s also one of the best kinds of meditation for me. It makes me feel good. As long as I keep doing this, I won’t go out of my mind.
“If I sit home and watch television all day … Like, the first two days we were very, ‘Let’s take notes to learn what we can and can’t do.’ Now, they’ve got our attention so hard that it’s nice to take a step back and not get all manic about it.”
Shortly before the coronavirus hit, Siff was enjoying the sandy beaches of Tampa, Florida where he did a residency at CASS Contemporary gallery—something he describes as a “dream come true.”
“I was going to the University of Tampa to talk about my process with all of the students and then, I had one of my paintings at the Tampa Museum of Art and did a lecture over there,” he explains. “It was very surreal and it felt like another source of energy and light was pushing me forward. Mostly I’m in New York and L.A., and I do little group shows and travel a lot with my art. I’ve done some stuff during Fashion Week for St. Laurent in Paris, but this was the first time I’ve embraced another community and it was powerful.”
Siff says he didn’t start taking painting “seriously” until 2010 and since then, the Brooklyn native has been pumping them out like a machine.
“I basically said to myself, ‘I got to make something every day,’” he states. “This is what I want to do. If you put that into practice and you do it every day, whether it’s a drawing, painting, sculpture or even just an email that goes out to somebody you really want to work with, share your artwork. Doing that has turned my career into what it is today.”
From the 2016 “Portrait of an American Ice Cream Man” exhibition with Mercedes-Benz to his commissions and installations for Vans, Red Bull, The Standard Hotel and Warner Bros. Records, his stacked résumé puts the spotlight on his unwavering work ethic and innate, inner drive to create.
Even during the interview, Siff is brewing up new ideas. Growing up on Rockaway Beach, the ice cream truck was a big part of Siff’s youth. When it’s suggested to make his own ice cream, á la Ben & Jerry’s, his voice brightens up and the gears start turning.
“I want to do something for Art Basel where we get an old vintage ice cream truck, paint it and instead of being in all the galleries that are there during Art Basel,” he says. “We would drive around and hand ice cream out and be the ice cream truck at Basel.”
After wrapping up his residency in Tampa, Siff flew to New York City to visit his mother (his father passed away in 2007 when Siff was 29). There, he had a meeting with the baseball card company Topps to discuss the 20/20 project.
“I did a collaboration with Stance Socks,” he explains. “Major League Baseball saw my work and loved it. They wanted to do some sock that would be only available at ComplexCon—like the Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers and L.A. Dodgers. I painted this huge painting called ‘Everything You Love About Baseball.’ On that painting, I painted the Topps logo because it makes me think about my childhood—growing up loving the New York Mets and watching my dad, who was a caterer, cater parties for the 86th championship World Series Mets.
“I started putting all these things in the painting. I don’t know how, but my manager (Lisa Falcone, 4AM Gallery) called me up and said, ‘MLB loved your work, and they’re doing this very cool project called 20/20’—20 culture-defining artists, 20 baseball players and 20 of the most famous landmark cards. So, we’ve got Jackie Robinson and Dwight Gooden, Derek Jeter, all of these kinds of huge, important baseball cards. Every artist is going to do 20 each. You could either collect just one artist or just the Dwight Gooden. The first card is George Brett and my dad’s name is George. I took that as a little sign.”
Aside from the Topps project, Siff is working with R&B singer Ty Dolla $ign on three single covers and an album cover, which led to an unexpected opportunity to zone out one night.
“When I went to his studio to listen to the album, everyone was smoking weed,” he recalls. “I’m not really the biggest smoker. I’ve never needed to smoke to create my work, but I never say no if it’s offered. I took a hit and instead of me being all like, ‘Oh, I listened to it and need to go home,’ I listened to it three times in a row. I got all these ideas, saw all these kinds of musical transactions take place that had I not smoked, I would’ve missed.”
His next show, much like the rest of the world, is somewhat tentatively scheduled due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, but his excitement to get his work back into the public eye is clear.
“In this new exhibition, I will explore shared experiences and memory marking over time. Mixing archaic texts with modern tools and vice versa.” He explains, “Since we’ve been isolated and digitally connected for some time now, having a shared experience in a new space, Jefferson Studios, will be a labyrinth of discovery for everyone.”
Much like his paintings, Siff’s youthfulness never fails to shine. Even at 42, his vigor for life, art and love jumps off the canvas — and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve always considered myself like a college student,” he concludes. “I never really grew up. I just kept doing what I loved.”
Keep an eye out for Gregory’s next public showing, a collaboration between 4AM Gallery and Tony Schubert (Event Eleven) expected to land in September at Jefferson Studios in Los Angeles.