Now Featuring Sofie Ramos
Sofie Ramos makes jubilant, aggressive paintings that stray off walls and across rooms. Bright, disorienting and graphic, her work knowingly probes the fuzzy boundary between abstraction and decoration.
MH: Can you talk about the history of your painting practice? I’m interested in how you reached to all-encompassing point your work’s at now.
SR: I was always very two-dimensionally minded in my making and so I gravitated toward painting and drawing classes in undergrad. However, I always felt very limited by the frame of the rectangle, and didn’t find the process of creating or finding a composition on this predetermined surface satisfying or enjoyable. I think having access to a studio was one of the key turning points in my artistic development because I was able to put up my two-dimensional work and see it all together. Very quickly, the overall layout of the studio became my main interest—the two-dimensional work serving as elements in the larger composition.
I had always been interested in interior decoration and particularly gifted in nesting in small spaces, and in the studio I was able to integrate this into my art practice to make for a much more exciting way of working. It was at this point that I really devoted myself to being an artist, that I fell in love with making art.
MH: What are your thoughts about decoration, adornment and art? This is something I’ve long thought about in my own work, and it’s probably an inevitable question for someone whose work engages with domestic spaces as installation sites, and is also engaged with abstraction, pattern and makes painting as a “surface treatment” an explicit part of their work.
SR: Decoration is a theme I constantly return to, not only because of my interest in interior decoration and lived spaces, but also because of abstract painting’s illicit relationship to this realm. In spite of Modernism’s exaltation of the spiritual qualities of abstraction, an abstract painting in a home becomes merely a decorative element of interior design. The tension between these quite opposing interpretations is very exciting for me. When does the spiritual or intellectual become superficial and decorative? Who draws the line and can something exists in both spheres? My thank you painting is the perfect illustration of my relationship to this topic.
I am not afraid of the idea of decoration and would argue that a lot of my work uses decorative elements, though in a knowing and sometimes ironic way.
MH: One thing I noticed while looking at your installations was the way your work amplifies the materiality (and 3D objecthood) of all painting, while also flattening architectural space. What are your thoughts about this process of expansion and retraction that happens simultaneously?
SR: My installations really come from the realm of painting—imagining the space as a flat composition, which is best exemplified in my videos that literally flatten the space into an image on the screen. While paintings themselves become very sculptural, the overall environment flattens out into a giant painting. The idea is that paintings are like any other object in the space—an element within a larger composition. They are not really meant to exist on their own, but as part of the space that contains them.
MH: Can you talk about your color palette? I’m always curious how artists arrive at the color families and color relationships that happen in their work.
SR: I try to choose the brightest colors possible to achieve the most intense visual response possible from the viewer not only to seduce but also to refer to an imaginary space or hallucination—something separate from the real world. The saturated hues are also connected to the exaggerated colors one experiences in recalling memories. I use the entire spectrum, selecting the most vibrant from each color family.
It is significant that I don’t usually mix my own colors, but use found colors of house paint because everything is part of a larger installation that always involves painting on the walls. House paint’s connection to interior spaces is more relevant to my work than the art historical connection to acrylic or oil artist colors. As for the color combinations and relationships, these are mostly evolving and experimental, coming from observed combinations and the constant rearrangement of objects and materials in the studio. There are combinations that I return to often, but I try to be dynamic in my use of color.
MH: How does your practice of making self-contained paintings and works on paper fit into the bigger scope of your practice? Do the smaller pieces serve as studies, experiments, works finished and self contained on their own terms?
SR: The paintings are different than the works on paper because they aren’t explicitly self-contained, often existing as elements in installations. The works on paper are more like studies or experiments and do not usually get to be in installations. Paintings are often experiments with materials and techniques, but because they have distinct objectness, they can act in and relate to a space in ways that a small work on paper cannot. They are able to become characters.
The collage/drawing practice is a preliminary and supplementary exercise that informs and inspires the larger installations. The immediacy of working on a small scale with paper simplifies and accelerates my improvisational and inconclusive process of accumulating, arranging, reusing and reworking layers of visual material.
The works on paper are more closely related to the installations that the paintings. However, I am working toward new pieces that read as autonomous paintings that might not exist in installations.
MH: What are you working on now, or planning while you await the right space for an installation? Any painting issues or challenges you’re starting to work through in studio?
SR: I just did a big installation in a group show in Belgium and the next installation is at the Fort Mason guard house in June. In the meantime, I’m trying to play around in the studio and make a body of paintings. It’s kind of nice to get back into the studio without a huge project taking up all my time. I think the major goal for the paintings is to make a body of autonomous works that can exist outside a larger installation.
MH: Whose work are you looking at these days with excitement, and who are some long term influences?
SR: I am excited about Dr. Suess right now, but also artists Joyce Pensato, Amy Sillman and Elizabeth Murray. My long-term influences include icons Jessica Stockholder and Katharina Grosse, as well as younger generation artists Rachel Harrison, Sarah Cain and Katie Bell.