I found Ariana Papademetropoulos’ paintings on Instagram. Someone in my feed posted a few pictures from the opening of her show “Wallflower at the Orgy” of some of her fluid, florid scenes – creeping watery shapes blooming from dining rooms and bedrooms, ghostly white forms swirling inside a flower wreath; they had an uncanny, dreamy quality I noted in my phone as reminding me of ‘Sophia Coppola x Rene Magritte’.
I met Ariana outside an unmarked door in a strip mall in Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles. I was ostensibly doing research for an interview to be conducted over email, ostensibly for a glossy website that occasionally pretended to like art (Editor’s note: we are not that ostensible website; we ALWAYS pretend to like art). The plan was to meet, look at the paintings, and talk for a minute so I could come up with some questions that weren’t boring, and I was nervous: she was warm, emphatic, and dressed like a woman from classic Godard. She ushered me inside Sade, a tiny gallery next to a Mexican restaurant, and introduced me to her enormous paintings, which were hanging there at the time.
Inside the gallery, houseplants dangled just above the ground from silver chains on the ceiling and carpet covered half the floor in a shade Wikipedia calls ‘Pomp and Power’ purple. It all felt a lot like being in someone else’s grandmother’s house, a feeling enhanced when she suggested that we sit on the floor across from each other. We did, on the carpet that she later pointed out was mirrored in my favorite painting in the show: like the art was bleeding into us or we were bleeding into the art. (Titled “Tree Hugger”, it features a naked woman straddling a houseplant over purple carpet and staring insouciantly at us, middle finger raised, while a layer of crumpled plastic overlays everything. I could look at it forever.)
Sitting on the floor and sweating, we ended up talking for over an hour — about everything from paintings as portals to the art world’s alarming migration to LA to the feminist question. The polished interview we planned on fell through almost immediately afterward. But since I recorded most of my “research”, here’s some of the conversation we actually had instead.
Where did the show’s title come from?
I went to a bookstore in Joshua Tree a week before the show. I was looking for a show title while out there so I didn’t have to feel like I was procrastinating a week before my show by camping in the desert. Came across mostly names from mini malls…some other title ideas were “Kelly’s Future”, “Ideal Mall”, “Desert Pets”, “Fins and Fangs”. Then went to that bookstore. I didn’t know who Nora Ephron was. My work kind of always evolves in these strange ways…Things kind of just fall into my life work-wise. And so it kind of made sense that I would go to a bookstore and find wallflower at the orgy, a title which I felt like my work totally related to.
Well that’s her most famous quote, almost — that little passage about being a wallflower at the orgy. About how some people are born to just jump into life and some people are born to sit in the corner and watch and write about it later.
See I didn’t even know that. But it’s totally okay. I suppose I liked the idea of being a wallflower. It makes sense with the theme of the show. The purple rug, the house plants. I feel like this room is an orgy den in a domestic house and everyone’s hiding behind the paintings or in the paintings. Like the naked woman hiding under the plastic over there.
And you found it one week before the show. Did you read it?
No! I didn’t read it. (laughs) I just found it and was thought this is perfect! I became a little wary after finding out she wrote When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, but I decided to ignore my hesitation and go with it. Those are my mother’s favorite films and maybe psychologically it was catching up to me. But no, I didn’t read it and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing or something that anyone should know but me.
It’s definitely funny. You said that you base your work on images that you find? Photographs?
Yeah, both photographs, and books. I went to high school on Cal State LA campus and it has the most amazing five-story library that I used to basically live in, especially towards the end when all my friends seemed to get kicked out…just sitting in there going through old books. Mostly books from the sixties and seventies. I think that’s where a big part of my aesthetic comes from. I still go there and wander when I’m looking for inspiration. Just finding and re-appropriating images, and making things from the past contemporary.
I think appropriating was maybe the word I was looking for when I mentioned Tumblr. That attitude of appropriating things from other decades and bringing them into the present, like opening something up in them.
Yeah, I feel like it’s hard for me to be like, what is 2015? Because I feel like 2015 is just a blend of the 90s and maybe the 70s. But there’s a medieval tapestry from the early 1500s over there…and [pointing to a drawing on the wall] that one is Faces of Homer…the sculptures of Homer drawn in that piece are thousands of years old. So not everything’s from — I know everything kind of has an overall 60s feel, but I source inspiration from archaic subjects as well.
So you’re kind of trying to escape time?
And trying to make images that timeless…maybe to avoid categorization.
Did you always want to be a painter?
Pretty much, since I was a kid. I don’t know if I always wanted to, it’s just that it was the only thing I was ever good at.
(laughs) That’s a good reason to do something. I think that’s why I started writing, just not having any other discernible skills.
Yeah, you got to stick to what you’re good at. Or what you think you’re good at.
So were all these paintings something that you did with — like did you see them as one effort, or is this a gathering of different work that you’ve done?
I found out about the show in December and most of the work was created for the show. I’m a person who waits till the last second and I think I work really well under pressure. Like this painting took me a week and a half. The tapestry painting took me a week, it’s still wet. But these are like sixteen hour days where I don’t eat and I’m in my studio losing my mind. I guess that’s the way I work best unfortunately.
Yeah, and then I go out every night for a month and don’t work. I’m an extremist in that way.
Do you have any artists that you feel you’re a descendant of, or that you’re riffing with?
Not really! I feel like I’m pretty possessive over my ideas. If I see someone else doing something that I’ve done then I’ll want to drop that and do something totally different. It’s important for me to have everything be my own creation that’s specific to me. And its hard to do. Even if no one is intentionally copying one another, we all live in the same world and as a result can’t help but be collectively inspired.
I meant more in terms of inspiration from other artists. But that makes sense, that you want it to…
Come from me, yeah. The artists that I personally really like right now aren’t necessarily painters at all. They do sculpture or installation. The artists I really look up to…like James Turrell, Justin Lowe and Jonah Freeman… or Pierre Huyghe… their work doesn’t necessarily have anything with what I’m trying to do as an artist even though I love their work. Two artists that I really love and can relate to though are Yayoi Kusama and Ana Mendieta. We don’t use the same mediums, but I understand and appreciate this element of blending into your surroundings and merging with an environment. I guess all my paintings are…are kind of portals, or are about breaking the surface.
I like the word portal. Like maybe a break in reality — when I look at them, I think about that. Breaking the surface.
Yeah, there’s a major surface quality to all the work. Like the plastic on top of the painting of the woman, that’s separating it from us. And these, there’s a watermark separating the image from us. And in the tapestry, there’s movement. So I feel like there’s always something…
It’s almost like you’re being reminded that you’re looking at an image.
Yes, which almost makes the image more real. Like somehow, to me, that barrier makes the painting feel more like a real thing manifesting, versus just a painting on the wall.
That makes sense to me. Because in 2015 there’s no such thing as…like when you’re on the internet or on your phone, you’re also in your body, you’re always in at least two places at once. There’s no more flat surfaces.
Do you want to stay in LA?
I know that this is my home, and that I will live here one day, like forever. I might travel, I might want to go a year or two away, but LA is my… I know I want to die in LA. Which sounds morbid, but I find it comforting. Knowing where your home is.
I think LA is a big part of my work as well, because I’m obsessed with LA history. Basically LA is a place built on myth. The newspapers created it– saying “LA is this amazing place!” before it even existed. And because people came here with a belief and intent of what it should be like, they made it that way.
So the myth created LA, and not the other way around.
Yeah, I’m really into that concept.
What do you think about the LA art scene?
It’s definitely growing. So many people are moving here, and there’s many galleries opening up. I guess it’s kind of exciting in a way.
Do you think it’s easier to live here as an artist?
Yeah, I think LA is pretty ideal. I mean, rent’s not that expensive yet. Compared to New York, LA is a lot easier. And there’s a high quality of life here, where you don’t have to work an insane amount to have a decent life.
So it’s more focused on living well, rather than just working.
Yeah, it’s good for an artist to be here. I mean, everyone’s moving here so I don’t know how long it’s going to last. I’m happy that everyone’s moving here but it’s also a little alarming! Just because although I was excited at first , now it’s kind of like, okay, calm down. It’s going to change things. I grew up in Venice and its unrecognizable now. I just don’t want that to happen to all of LA.
I read this theory that…it was Chris Kraus’ theory, that more people are flocking to art, and especially art schools, because it’s like the last place where you can really do what you want. Because people are making less money and getting less respect in every other field and art is just kind of a free-for-all, there’s more freedom.
But she also said, with art schools, that there’s this straight trajectory to be an artist now…
Yeah, completely, and I don’t know how good that is. I’m all for people making art but I’m not sure how much it should be encouraged to attend art school if it’s not something you really want to do. Its very expensive and I don’t know how freeing that is. I’m also not a fan of the idea that you need a BFA or now an MFA as validation of being artist. There are pros and cons. If you live in Europe, where school is free, I’d have a completely different opinion though. Stay in school forever!
Yeah, it’s a lot of pressure on really young artists, to sell work.
And that’s weird.
Do you think you got a lot out of art school?
I did. I’m super happy I went to CalArts because it challenged me. I went to CalArts painting children in outer space, just really 70’s calendar art material. But my teachers and peers were tough on me and pushed me to make paintings that had a meaning, versus just aesthetic pretty things.
Right. Obviously I like making things that are pretty, but it’s important for me to create work that hopefully goes beyond that.
I think they definitely do, even though they are beautiful. And they’re also very feminine, which I really like.
I mean, I’m a female, so that would make sense that my work has feminine qualities. But I guess it’s not something that I directly assert in my work. Like I’m not making work from a feminist standpoint, I’m just making work as an artist who happens to be female.
Yeah, the whole ‘is this feminist art?’ question can feel like a hall of mirrors.
I guess it’s like a difficult question because my work isn’t necessarily saying anything in particular about feminism. At a certain point maybe it’s even more “feminist” to just be an artist and make work. If you’re a man, you’re not necessarily making work about being a man, you’re just being, you’re just making work from the standpoint of an artist. It’s just your perspective. I’m just making the work that I want to make.
Right, I get it. I hate it when people ask “Are you a feminist?” in interviews.
It happened to me a lot in school, and I think it’s backwards in a way. Obviously feminism is and was a very important movement and I totally appreciate it, but every female shouldn’t feel compelled to make feminist work if it doesn’t come naturally.
I heard something the other day, an art critic was saying that nothing you do before 30 should be taken seriously, because you’re still developing your perspective, and young artists are so pressured to make work that sells…
I think that’s ridiculous. Egon Schiele and Basquiat died at 27. Francesca Woodman died at 22. What I do think is absurd that maybe the art critic could agree with is that there are 23 year olds selling work for 300,000 dollars without having a real career yet or any reason for that price.
The art market is so strange. It has almost nothing to do with the work itself.
Yeah, it’s really weird and I’m not sure how it works. If I can just make work and get by, I’m happy. That’s lucky. I think the money aspect really takes away from the experience of making art.
I’m in a couple group shows in the next few months in LA, one at Wilding Cran and one at MAMA and I’m having another solo show in Sonoma in July. And then I’ll see what happens after that! Maybe I’ll move to Mexico.
You can see more of Ariana’s work on her website, or in person this Saturday, June 13 at the opening of To Hide To Show, a group exhibit at MAMA featuring work by Ariana, Clara Balzary, Fay Ray, Zoe Crosher, Lisa Solberg, and Mattea Perrotta. Flyer below.