Interview with Los Angeles Artist Amanda Ross-Ho

Amanda Ross-Ho's studio is in the Warehouse District of Downtown Los Angeles, an industrial section of town that more resembles the Meatpacking District of New York than the sunbaked climesusually associated with L.A. It makes a sense then that Ross-Ho's work isn't "quintessentially L.A." or anything, but that just shows to highlight the fact that Los Angeles is a diverse place, and a complex, hard-to-classify group of artists lives and works in the City of Angels. Utilizing scale, personal history, and architectural elements, Ross-Ho's shows are alternately poignant and playful, all leading to 2012's solo show the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles' Pacific Design Center space. Her work is currently on view at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York through May 18, 2013.

Maxwell Williams: I really like the “corrections series.” It looks like some schoolwork that you’ve taken the work out from and only left the “negative part” or the “wrong” marks. Can you tell me a little more about these pieces?

Amanda Ross-Ho: Those actually originate from an archive of school papers, which are my own from first through 12th grade, but the thing that’s hard to know when looking at the pieces, which isn’t necessarily important, but is interesting: it’s a translation of an artwork that I did before in 2002. With the original work, I took all the school papers and I scanned all of them in and then digitally removed all of the structure and then reprinted them on 8½” x 11”. So, the original piece was literally just a stack of these papers. What [the paintings] are is a translation of all those images, but they’re on an architectural scale which I’ve used before, which is 8’ by 6½’. They’re referring to other pieces—I have made a bunch of works in the past particularly in that size because it is the proportions of the page and just really thinking about architecture being really temporal and thinking of the bigger wall, as a presentation space, as having a relationship to the page. 

 You’re also taking the original intent of the first piece and then churning it through this completely impersonal technique that you use. I’m wondering if the personal aspect of the piece gets further and further away as you add on layers of technique. 

ARH: Yeah, yeah. The origin, as you were saying, is falling further and further into the background. You’re not able to access what the origin is right away although I think you have some sensation once you see the grouping together.

And the title as well.

ARH: And the title is a pretty good giveaway. I think there’s something interesting in the idea of producing a painting, which I don’t usually do. In fact, it was kind of a way for me to come to produce a painting, thinking how I could justify making work that would be on canvas. For me, it was really important to find something that had that personal index, because it worked through that system all the way through producing that thing. In the end, it is about the authorship of my hands making those marks and going through that system again, but it’s totally indexical. It’s not an arbitrary mark and I think that’s my interest: producing something that—in the context of an abstract painting—feels as though it could be a completely subjective set of marks, but they have a specific history and a specific point in space that they need directing back to. Does that make sense?

MW: It totally makes absolute sense. It’s such a weird piece because you’re taking an emotional thing from the origin—it’s early, early criticism.

ARH: Exactly. It’s interesting for me to reclaim that information because that’s built on a perception that I had made as a student growing up on homework or whatever. And then that abstraction—in a way my authorship is built on that. It becomes inadvertent form.

MW: I love your use of mistakes and imperfections, and kind of owning them, and deciding that those things are the work: paint that’s dripped or soaked through. What is it about imperfections and mistakes that interests you?

ARH: I’m interested in mistakes more in thinking about things holistically and equally conserving all the parts of something and thinking about what it means to produce art—this presumption that you’re creating this distinction of what’s worth looking at and what’s not. And I’m interested in participating and being part of that system and also challenging that. Whenever you produce something, particularly in the studio, there’s always a periphery, or something that happens outside of the studio primarily. I’m interested in thinking about that whole system, so not just the rarified part of the primary part or the things you’re supposed to look at, I’m also interested in the things that fall into the margins. And so, I think the conversation of those paintings falls neatly into that question.

MW: Your work is pretty spare looking, and maybe seems clean and serious at first, but once you peel back a layer on the onion, you get some really funny things in there. How important is it to you to keep an element of humor in your work?

ARH: It’s funny: the specific show that’s in the gallery is pretty minimal for me, but I’ve never heard [my work] be called ‘spare looking’! In the case of this exhibition, that’s kind of true. I guess the way I would respond to that question would be the importance of there being a tension between form and structure within the work, approaching interpretation. In other words, you can be serious, but to me, it’s important that it be embedded with humor, that opposite, or that thing that is incidental to its name, and vice-versa. So, if its initial impact is funny, then there needs to be the other side of that. It’s important to me that there’s a simultaneity between both of those things. And really too, I’m interested in this idea of revisiting the purity of those kinds of structures. A lot of times, there isn’t that kind of purity, so I’m making sure that the work has that tension.

MW: Do you ever find yourself ever making something that’s too obscure, and if so, how do you deal with communicating work that the viewer, on some level, is going to really respond to, but also on some level not quite understand. How do you make sure it’s all a bit conflated?
ARH: As time goes on, I’ve become more insistent on allowing that confusion to be part of things and allowing myself to take that risk. For me, the work has an integrity that has to do with everything having a reason, but I’ve been less interested in having to explain why the reasons are good and just knowing the reasons are there and allowing some people to access them and some people not to. So, there’s an accessibility to the work that involves the materials that I choose and the way I choose to present them that hopefully allows for a populist point of entry and not to be evasive or be intentionally obscure; that’s not my interest at all.

MW: I guess it’s an issue of obscurity only in the sense that you don’t want to hit people over the head?

ARH: Right. You don’t want to spoon-feed people. I mean I respect people’s intelligence, and whether or not you’re actually accessing some really specific information like why I’ve chosen [something], I think the most important thing for me is whether somebody is thinking when they’re in an environment I’ve created and it’s getting the wheels turning in their brain. It doesn’t necessarily need to add up to a particular sum, it’s more about entering that system. I’m asking you to be aware of the sense that you’re reading something and not necessarily reading to get a particular message.

MW: Yeah, that comes through very clearly in your work.
ARH: Thanks! That’s an objective for sure. So, the challenge is trying to strike that balance because there have been times when people feel alienated, but you can’t win them all.

MW: I have a couple wild card questions. Do you remember your dreams? Can you tell me about a recent one?

ARH: My dreams are usually continuations of real life anxiety, so they’re not very interesting! They definitely make me uncomfortable. But the upshot to that is that that anxious dream space is also very useful, so occasionally—even if I’m going through an evening of sleeplessness—sometimes I’ll wake up and feel exhausted, but I will feel like I’ve accomplished something because I’ve been up all night solving problems. I’ll go to bed and be like, ‘I know I’m going to have insomnia tonight, so I’ll put a couple problems in my brain and hopefully I will sort them out.’ Occasionally I will have classic Freudian dreams, but if I don’t write them down, they don’t stay.

MW: I wish I was better at that. I don’t remember my dreams either. That’s why I’m so interested in it.

ARH: That’s why you’re polling everybody else?

MW: Exactly. I want to know what you guys dream about and live vicariously through you.

ARH: Sometimes my dreams are in a weird language. It’s not images or a narrative. Stuff makes its way into the work definitely. I wish I was a better dreamer. Or I had a more colorful tale.

MW: What do you think the world will be like in the future?

ARH: Wow, that is a massive question. I think about my work as being about the present moment. I know you’re not asking about my work anymore, but it still probes me about that. The present moment is a key factor in the work, and so for me it’s about how that connects, the far past and the far future. So, the only way to describe what that will look like, without it being a rhetorical philosophical question, is: [the world] will have that sensibility of right now, but then. Does that make sense?

MW: There’s this sort of psychological head space that’s going to be very similar that we’ll always be in.

ARH: It will not be very different.

This interview originally appeared in Flaunt Magazine in 2011.