Gregory Siff

Artist / Venice, CA / March 2014


“I didn’t know what he was going to paint of me… how is this guy going to see me? And when I saw that he left it all white and then put color in my eyes…I was like, ‘Damn, there must be something in my eyes that connected with him.”


 

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Rachel Bujalski: Describe your experience working with the youth.

Gregory Siff: I was so excited to be a part of the project and came in with all of my paint and geared up and I was really enthusiastic about it. And then I realized, I was like, ‘Woah, slow down. Don’t go in there and be like ‘Hey!’ Just take a moment, observe, and try and put yourself in their shoes and what’s going on in this situation.

That was probably the best choice for me because I got to sit there and actually hear their interactions between the youths. I let their interests magnetize towards me and then that opened them up to being like ‘What’s your name?’ It [became] more of a mutual kind of wanting to learn about the other person and that made for a great portrait because it wasn’t forced and I wasn’t [just] there for the purpose of being part of the project. It was more like I was there to be a friend, to listen, to talk. Once we made that connection on a verbal level, on a human level…it was like, ‘You want me to paint your portrait?’ And then, his portrait came natural.

RB: So what was it like working with Chandler? Describe Chandler and partnering with him.

GS: He was a cool dude and very soft spoken. When you paint someone’s portrait, it is an invasive sort of thing. You know, someone is staring into you and with every brush stroke, or line that you’re doing…it’s like, you don’t want to be judged — you just want to be looked at.

So what I wanted to do was just let him know that I’m going to paint him the way that he sees himself, the way I see him, and the way the world sees him. That’s what was really cool because within thirty minutes or hour or however long it was that we were talking before I started to paint him, he opened up and revealed things to me that I took into account for myself.

I wanted to put that in the portrait and enhance those qualities; or maybe fuel him a little strength in what it is that he might not feel enough about. We all have our own insecurities and we all have our own weaknesses and defenses that we don’t admit to anybody. And when somebody admits that to you and you can do that back; that’s the sign of a man and the sign of somebody that’s in control.

I could see in Chandler’s eyes there is a greater, bigger picture to where he wants to go and what he wants to do.

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And I guess maybe, in the whole grand scheme of things, I’m the artist who comes in, paints his portrait and we have a conversation and he gets to see that I’m doing what I love and finding success and happiness in what I do and that he can do the same, you know? I was telling him that life is trial and error and you learn that. I didn’t know that I wanted to be an artist when I first set out to do this stuff.

And that’s okay if you don’t know that right away. Just keep doing better and keep going out there and seeing how you can change the world and what you can change. Not even just change the world but to be happy so when you get up in the morning, it’s a great day and then in turn, you can make other great days.

So he showed me this catalogue, this is one of the first things he did, and he was like, ‘do you want to see my friend?’

And he showed me this catalogue of his buddy who plays guitar on the pier and now this guy is doing modeling for this guitar company and this catalogue. He’s like, “that’s my friend, he’s so cool!”

And I said, ‘Someone is going to say the same about you for whatever your passion is.’

And I could tell that he wants that thing. When you’re younger, you don’t really know where that lies but once you find that, you know you’ve got to do it every day. And that’s the whole beauty of it [The Mirror, Mirror Project]; it’s about making a portrait and looking at someone else and sharing your vision and their vision and having a conversation and meeting another person.

But it’s also about showing people and saying, this is where I found my bliss, this is where I’m comfortable, this is where I want to hang out while I’m here [on Earth]. I want to be an artist.

You have the same legacy and it might be as an artist, it might be as something else. But hopefully this conversation and this exchange can lead you a little bit closer or help you tune into what that is.

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RB: So you do a lot of portraits. How was The Mirror, Mirror Project different than what you normally do?

GS: The Mirror, Mirror Project is very different than what I normally do because I’m doing [portraits of] different memories of people and moments. Whether it’s like a hamburger that was really good or a person that I had a great conversation with — all these different things show up in my paintings and they kind of come after the moment has happened. So they’re kind of like a reflection, a look back; kind of like a recall.
In The Mirror Mirror Project, the memory is happening at that moment so I’m making the piece while the inspiration is right there. That was a different kind of experience for me. I’ve done portraits before where someone was in the room but not when they’re doing one at the same time.
It’s a language that goes through without words and it’s kind of in the aroma of the air. And what you pick up with your facial expressions and body language…it can go from uncomfortable to really at ease and then to all different types of experiences.
And then [when it’s done] there’s the expectation and joy of like, ‘Oh, what did you do?’ ‘Let me see what you did!’
I didn’t know what he was going to paint of me… how is this guy going to see me? And when I saw that he left it all white and then put color in my eyes…I was like, ‘Damn, there must be something in my eyes that connected with him.’

RB: What is it about portraits specifically that’s special? What is it about portraits that really sticks with you?

GS: A good portrait shows the person when the person isn’t there. So I think that’s the power of a good portrait… is that it’s the person.

RB: What was it like getting your portrait done?

GS: I guess you get a little nervous, that’s how my feeling was, like how am I gonna look on this thing? It’s like when you take a picture of yourself and you’re like…no, no, no. Like how many times has anyone done your portrait?
Everyone is an artist, that’s the thing. You don’t really need to worry about, is this gonna look like me? or what’s this going to be? I just wanted to see what part of myself he sees.

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RB: How can The Mirror, Mirror Project expand into something bigger than what it is right now? Where do you see it going and how can it help humanity?

GS: The MM Project works on a bunch of levels. One, nobody can save anybody. Everyone can be there for someone but they have to save themselves.

I think that the importance of The Mirror, Mirror Project is that it offers a hand and says, ‘I’m gonna help you if you want the help.’ It doesn’t say, ‘Come here, you need this, I’m gonna pull you to this.’

The participation comes from the person and it wasn’t like there were people lined up and this person’s doing you, etc. It was like being at a party.

When you go to a party, you get a drink, you sit down and then the universe kind of takes you on this ride of the party. You start talking to these people over here and then you’re outside and then you’re dancing…or whatever it was. And that’s how The Mirror, Mirror Project was…you just go there and you see what happens. You see who you gravitate toward and who gravitates towards you.

Once that all happened…there’s a calm wave that occurs and then you have this moment with another person. I work with a lot of charities with my art and at the end of the day, whether you’re going to a hospital to paint with sick kids or you’re going out to do something with your art…it’s about the art but it’s more about the person in there and you have that moment with them; human exchange and opening up to people and letting people open up. I think that’s a really important thing. That’s what the project does; it puts people in the room that normally wouldn’t have the chance to meet each other.

Most people run away from a homeless person because they don’t know if they’re going to ask for money or whatever. There’s kind of a fear to it. This puts you face to face on a level of how it should be; it’s equal, you’re both people.

You get dealt different cards and then you gotta deal your way back to where it’s gotta be. If you can put more people in these kinds of situations, it’ll add to people being better to other people.

I think it could be a consistent project that’s always happening. You’re learning from him, he’s learning from me…you just don’t feel alone.

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