Artist Gregory Siff was an early (like, Tumblr early) believer in the power of social media to communicate with audiences and connect with the world. But like many artists, his relationship to Instagram is increasingly complex, full of promise, fraught with peril, and indelibly requisite. His persona and his art both express a unique blend of urbanity and nostalgia, with pop-byte poetry and expressionist gesture that is graphic, photogenic and sweetly charismatic.
As Siff looks to a spate of upcoming projects — including an ambitious solo show in Culver City this summer at what will be the new 4AM Gallery space; an April 15 drop of a new line of socks with online art-clothing emporium Stance.com; a 2020 residency with Tampa's CASS Contemporary; and an appearance at the Amsterdam International Art Fair this August — L.A. Weekly spoke to Siff about the role that social media has played in his life and career.
The question is whether Siff has experienced social media, especially Instagram, as more of a communication/community situation, or whether it actually works as the promised magic-bullet independent sales tool, or both. “It kind of works like that and yet it doesn't,” he says. “There are two different things you can do. Like in the beginning, how I started was on Tumblr, and I did that so hard that I got like 155,000 followers. I was able to stack up sales of art and popularity through behind-the-scenes posts. It was real.”
Siff actually ended up painting a mural at Tumblr's offices in New York. “So I was wowed because I'm using the platform, and the people who run it are also seeing what I'm doing.”
As cool as those big breaks were, however, Siff is ambivalent about selling original art online. There's a shop at his website but you won't find any original pieces there. Instead, you'll see a hooded sweatshirt or prints or sticker packs.
“The paintings and all that stuff are too special to throw up those price tags on a thing, and it's very easy to just say, 'Contact my manager Lisa Falcone at 4AM Arts,' and then she handles it. But you know what, I'm excited about the Stance.com socks,” and not only because of all the other artists who have done collaborations there before him. Siff is thinking about the kid who is “maybe going to school and he loves art but maybe doesn't have art-buying money. He can buy a pair of these socks and when you take away the packaging and put it on the wall, you've also got some art.”
But even backing up before the current multipurpose ubiquity of the platform, Instagram was integral to knitting the street-art scene together. “It was a real great way to share street art, a way for us to find each other. Whether it was a hashtag or something, you could see the work and get to know the artists. You felt like you were in a special club if you knew about it back then, like you got like X-ray vision in the world.”
It also was a platform that organically generated conversation and sparked collaboration, and still does, among people who are into the same thing. “I mean, that's influence,” Siff says, “if my painting makes you feel good and helps you discover something about yourself.”
And people want to know the person behind the painting, too. “You can learn a lot from someone's Instagram,” Siff jokes, but he's right. “Sometimes the best paintings come out of something like getting in an argument or having a shitty day. You know, you're completely changing your moods every day; sometimes even when you got everything, you feel like you have nothing, you know? So I try to be as real as I can.
“I show people my studio and how everything comes from this little secret room I call the Treehouse, and I talk about how I'm feeling as I'm working.” In this way Siff hopes to project a more fully realized sense of not only his work but everything that goes into making it.
And when it comes to social media, his posting motto says it all. “Do what you love every day,” he says, “and share it with the world!”