Rory Devine has a healthy sense of the absurd and a knack for channeling the spirit of meme-based pop culture into ambitious, complex, and nuanced paintings and drawings. In his scenarios, portraits and other motifs tweaked from familiar cultural media, Devine both mocks self-unaware braggarts and interrogates the normalization of bad behavior. By rendering the superficial and suspicious in delicate, lavishly chromatic style often augmented with wry texts, Devine both responds to the culture and enshrines its eccentricities in objects of beauty. When he’s not painting, he’s curating and operating independent artist-run spaces like LSH Colab up on Virgil Avenue to offer a platform to like-minded talents.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
RORY DEVINE: I first knew I was an artist when I was in the third grade and we made clay sculptures which were then fired in a kiln. I made a figure of a man sitting down. My best friend really liked it, so I gave it to him. He told people he made it. It made me feel good that someone wanted something I made. I didn’t care about having it, it felt good to give it away.
The next time I knew I was an artist was in my second year painting class at SVA with Mary Heilmannn, whose encouragement and belief in me meant the world to this young art student and gave me the confidence I needed to even think I was good enough.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
My very short answer to people who ask about my work is, I make work that you’ve never seen before… Or, I’m interested in human emotional responses. My work attempts to subtly highlight them through humor and pathos, simultaneously… Or, I try to make art that slightly alters your perception of what you’re looking at, and hopefully leads to a dialogue about “reality.”
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
If I weren’t an artist l would probably have become a lawyer or an engineer, definitely a farmer if it were the 19th century. I love nature, animals, open land, horses. I would have done alright, and gone to bed at a decent hour.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
Yes, I went to art school. I attended the School of Visual Arts and one year at Hunter College, both in New York City. It was the early 1980s in NYC, kind of the last glory days of a now lost New York. I went to art school because at that time I thought being an artist was going to be my future, and SVA had an amazing faculty at this time. I had only applied to two schools, both art schools. Art had been the only thing that particularly interested me at that time, so it just seemed natural to go.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I live and work in Los Angeles because to me, it’s the American city that most resembles the future. I moved to L.A. originally in 1989 because I had a bunch of friends in NYC that were all from L.A., and I kept hearing all these great stories of living here. I had never visited L.A. before and I knew no one here. But having watched a lot of cop shows as a kid, somehow L.A. seemed incredibly familiar.
I opened an influential artist run space called TRI Gallery in 1992 and I stayed until 1995, then I moved to NYC for 20 years. And had a very different life as a graphic designer and art director, almost zero connection to the art world. In 2010 I started exhibiting my work publicly. In 2015 I moved back to L.A. and am very happy I was able to make the change at this stage of my life.
I live in L.A. because of the amazing art community we have here. I find artists in L.A. to be very supportive, enthusiastic, crazy talented, for the most part chill and happy. Almost everyone I know who lives in L.A. is profoundly grateful to be in such a creative environment. And it’s sunny by noon almost every day.
When was your first show?
My first solo exhibition was in 1992 at the legendary Earl McGrath Gallery in West Hollywood. Earl was my art dealer, confidant, best friend, surrogate father and the funniest person I had ever known. I had curated a group show for his gallery before I had my exhibition. Earl had my name painted in large black letters on the wall outside his gallery — I felt both thrilled and because I’m relatively humble, a bit of mortification.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
I was recently in the inaugural group show at Foam Corp Gallery, an online project of Perry and Robert Levine. My last solo exhibition was in 2018 at LSH Colab. The show was titled “Cha Cha Cha Changes“, and it was held six months after I suffered a heart attack and a stroke. That show was very instrumental in my recovery.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
That’s a hard one. I’d have to say Marcel Duchamp, Sigmar Polke, Franz West and Ed Ruscha are at the top. It would be very hard to measure up to their work, but it would definitely be an honor to show with them. I believe there is a relationship between my work and theirs, however obscure… I’d also love to show with Mary Heilmann, as we’re old friends and now peers.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
Yes, I need music playing, and the TV on with the sound off when I’m in the studio. I listen to a lot of Nina Simone, early English Rockabilly, early Rolling Stones, Joe Meek, Mac Miller and Teyana Taylor… Music really inspires me, I like to dance around a little or tap my feet as I’m working. Music is a bit like live electricity in the air… helps conduct the necessary creative current.
Website and social media handles, please!
Facebook: Rory Devine
LSH Colab: @LSH_colab
C. Nichols Project: cnicholsproject.com