shane guffogg

artist profile by shana nys dambrot


Image: “The Rhyme of Reason,” 2007, oil on canvas, 48″ x 60″
Photo: Jim McHugh

Using the idea of illumination as a literal and metaphorical framework for his work, L.A.-based artist Shane Guffogg makes oil paintings with radiant, fairly humming surfaces, replete with the caprices of refractive light trapped inside their own skin. His paintings typically feature 70-80 layers of translucent colors that have been mixed with a glazing medium, which causes them to seem incandescent, aglow from within as if by lamplight. Vertical shafts, swirling ribbons, and sprays like the shimmering tails of shooting stars generate a trembling dissonance. They are unruly but regal paintings with a balanced asymmetry, anchored in place by longitudinal pales more like eruptions than pillars, with ragged edges like clouds when the sun’s rays break through. This effect is only intensified by the restless tectonic shifts between the background, foreground and middle ground. Despite their labor-intensive process, the works seem deeply intuitive and retain their spontaneity, like flies trapped in amber.

Asked what’s on his mind when he’s painting, Guffogg gives a characteristically mystical answer: “Everything and nothing; a blending of the conscious and subconscious, like the twisting of rope. If I do think about someone, a place or event, it is intertwined with an emotion and possibly a color. A memory is a starting point for a painting, but as the painting progresses the surface becomes more about itself.”

Guffogg’s calligraphic mark-making process records the artist’s own physical involvement, and forms the basis for the patterns that float over the surface. According to the 45-year old artist, it is an act in which the subconscious “creates its own consciousness.” He has long been interested in the way perceptions are processed and sorted, consciously and subconsciously, the way meanings are assigned by the psyche to events and images, and the way memories are created and deployed. Attuned to this transfer, Guffogg starts the patterns in the top left corner and moves across as if he were writing a letter. Channeling his storytelling impulse through the language of abstraction, his works invite viewers to bring their own far-flung associations into the equation, enumerating the things his shapes “could be:” a butterfly, a Polynesian mask, tattooed skin, ghostly apparitions, fire pits, brocade fabric, spray paint lines, something ancient and oracular. “Cave paintings are something I constantly look at for their mystery and beauty. Their voices have transcended their documentation of a world that is so far removed from who we are now, but still resonates with us thousands of years after the fact.”

In the context of this atavistic exchange of histories, it makes sense that he would find himself at the center of a community artist’s collective. Popular downtown art hub Pharmaka was spawned organically when Guffogg ran into John Scane and Vonn Sumner at a Christmas party in 2003 and “before I knew it we had leased this space downtown.” Now Pharmaka-with its program of exhibitions, panel discussions, pod-casts and the like-is at the heart of the neighborhood. Among its newest endeavors is its “greening the gallery” project initiated via Richard Byrd and the Discovery Channel show, Alter Eco. As for the demands of Pharmaka on his studio work, Guffogg believes it sustains and resonates with his painting practice. “The illumination I employ in paint is a great visual metaphor for what is happening at Pharmaka and the corner of 5th and Main. There was a need to look at art in an honest way and try to understand its place in our society. The conceptual platform was built with the idea that art matters and it grew from there.”

Shane Guffogg’s work could be seen most recently from January 19 – February 16, 2008, at Leslie Sacks Fine Art, where he will have another solo show in January 2009. 11640 San Vicente Blvd., in Brentwood, Los Angeles, CA 90049 (310) 820-9448

Pharmaka will host “Rebel Legacy-The Abstract in Latino Art” this summer. The group show is curated by Kathy Gallegos, Director of Avenue 50 Gallery. From June 12 – July 13, 2008 at Pharmaka 101 West 5th St., Los Angeles, CA 90013 (213) 689-7799
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