Identity is a tricky thing, because it doesn’t come for free. As a matter of fact it’s a struggle to shape one because it doesn’t only imply that you better be aware of who you are, and why you are behaving this way, you also need to be very aware of exactly that. On top of it there’s this goddamn awareness of others, which more than often lets the identity you so arduously built - collapse in an instant. The work of Los Angeles-based artist and graphic designer Ramsey Dau is all about identity, and in his case the term functions like a voice that’s building a bond between his work and the audience - and while particular voice might be a nuanced one at first, it sure grows and develops the more you get engaged in it. His latest solo show “The Singularity is Near“, which just closed its doors at LA’s KM Fine Arts, showcased his unique and complex graphic vocabulary that combines dazzle camouflage with photorealism, mark-making, and primitive shapes in order to create an abstract universe telling subtle stories about tension and intuition. Lodown hooked up with the emerging artist in early November.
Ramsey, you have a background in graphic design... how did the transition into Fine Arts happen? And since your company Creative Superstore is still running, how did this work interfere with exhibitions and creating new art?
I have been painting for nearly twenty years, alongside my profession as a graphic designer and art director. I’ve explored many different styles and types of paintings. In 2012, over the course of a few works, my practice morphed into the ancestors of the work in my current show. I found this new direction invigorating and challenging both technically and intellectually.
I’ve always been inspired by the art of the Dadaists, especially Kurt Schwitters, Sophie Taeuber and Jean Arp. Exploring compositions through physical collage, or even using digital collage techniques, is a way for me to explore chance, and even access a high level of automatism. I’ve found collage to be a good way to explore compositions by feel. That being said, I am more interested in making paintings than collages, and I very much appreciate expertise, skill, and technique in painting. So collage for me is a means to a different end. I’ve found that through making photorealistic paintings of collages, that I am able to explore something more than either of these techniques can offer alone.
Composition and technique is paramount, but that process is guided more by feeling and intuition for me. Basically, I’m exploring my own aesthetic personal preferences. It’s not intellectual. It’s not hitting you over the head with an agenda.
The finissage of your first solo show in LA is happening soon... what’s your personal résumé of “The Singularity is Near“? And what does the title actually stand for?
Titles and text in my work are intentionally ambiguous. I prefer to allow the viewer to find connections, and maybe even invite deeper contemplation—similar to how text and imagery is used in Raymond Pettibon’s work. I keep notebooks of words and phrases culled from my readings that I find phonetically or intellectually interesting. This particular phrase was a favorite during the time I was making this work. It comes from the title of a book by Ray Kurzwell that explores the scientific theory of a “technological singularity” – (this next part can be edited out if you like) the tipping point at which artificial general intelligence becomes capable of editing or redesigning itself, exponentially creating increasingly more powerful computers of an intelligence far beyond human comprehension. It is impossible to predict what the future of humanity would be in a post-singularity world, but many scientists theorize the merging of man and machine and the end of “humanity” as we presently know it.
Where does your interest in primitive art root from?
This goes back to a chance discovery of an old book of African sculpture that I found at a used book store. It was around the same time that I was exploring new directions in my own work. That was when I started combining painting and collage, and I began to use pages from this book in that work. However, my interest in the African sculpture (or more specifically the pages in the book that included images of African sculpture) is founded more around its significance to Western art history than its intended significance to the original artisan.
Maybe I’m wrong, but to me it seems as if your paintings lately got more and more reduced to (quint)essential components, while on the other hand these particular components grew very elaborate and complex... were you always fascinated with this kind of photorealism?
New works start as compositional explorations in collage or digital collage. Those that work are then fine-tuned in the computer. I use a projector to roughly transfer the composition to a panel and then begin painting. For the works that contain scribbles, spray paint, or other primitive mark-making techniques, there is some exploration mid-painting, but usually the finished work does not vary much from my study. The final step is a fairly painstaking, a manual finishing process that results in a smooth, texture-free, matte surface.
These are definitely not fast paintings. The work for this show, consisting of 16 paintings (including a tryptic), took about 8 months to produce. So that’s an average of about two weeks per painting. I usually work on a couple at a time, so when I need a break from working on a highly detailed section, I jump over to another piece and work on a background or pattern. Some of the larger works took in excess of three weeks.
I’ve always been inspired by the art of the Dadaists, especially Kurt Schwitters, Sophie Taeuber and Jean Arp. Exploring compositions through physical collage, or even using digital collage techniques, is a way for me to explore chance, and even access a high level of automatism.