LE29: SHANE GUFFOGG
Art From Within
The Alchemy of Los Angeles Artist Shane Guffogg
By Michelle F. Solomon
Inspiration comes from dozens of places. That's what artist Shane Guffogg's Hollywood art studio would lead you to believe. He's worked out of the same space for 24 years, apparent from the collection of paint splatters on the walls and floor, and tubes of paint on palettes dripping with colors that, once wet, have now dried and hardened. This is a place where art and consciousness connect. A private universe of colors and ideas.
The painting studio is housed in one of six storefronts. Built in 1924, it was an early 20th century version of the outdoor shopping mall. Guffogg uses one of the "storefronts" for painting, another for drawing, and yet another as an office. "The rest I live in." The compound became known as an artist conclave in 1965 when pop artist Ed Ruscha took over the space and remained there for nearly 20 years. In an interesting twist, only three years after Ruscha vacated and headed for Venice Beach, Guffogg became his studio assistant, working alongside of him for seven years.
Now it's become a place where Guffogg creates his art. Finished paintings hang on the walls, while others, still in process, lean against large wooden frames. The works light up the room. It's this technique, where the artist's layers of glazing make the painting appear to glow from within. The signature approach defies categorization and it's what has kept him from being labeled in the art world.
Guffogg grew up in a farming town in Central California. He's has a second studio down the road from his boyhood home. "Very quiet, surrounded by wheat fields." His family owned a bird farm with aviaries, which he recalls being filled with bright birds. The swirling movement that has become such a signature in his work was no doubt influenced by the flying colors of the birds that would circle his head when he would enter the pens for his feeding and watering chores.
When he was 17, he escaped the town where "the only culture was agriculture" and bought himself a Europass. "I wanted to absorb art and culture." He remembers a defining moment while at London's National Gallery. "I found myself standing in front of Rembrandt's second to last self-portrait. It just hit me. I could see all the brushstrokes. I could see the choices that he made in colors. Something was downloaded into my brain that day. It was really quite profound." He went to Milan to see Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. "There was a quality of light in these paintings that I thought was so mystical and beautiful." He was drawn to Rembrandt's glazing techniques. Later, Guffogg would create his own method similar to the Old Masters. "Whereas Rembrandt would spend the last few days doing glazes over the base of the painting, I start from the very beginning building up the glazes."
Guffogg's paintings go deeper than paint smeared on canvas. Early on, he created a thought process around the creation of art. "I began wondering what thoughts look like before we attach language to them." He wanted to create his own language in paint. "I ask myself, too, what is it about paint that other artistic mediums can't do? There's an alchemy that happens with painting. It's like a form of magic. From the very beginning I think I wanted to be that kind of magician."
A yellow wooden cabinet on wheels holds drawers and drawers of brushes and more paint. On the back of the cabinet, a child's handprints. "When my son was two years old, I'd give him non-toxic paints and he decided that's what he'd do. He's 16 now." On the wall near the yellow wooden cabinet, there are notes scribbled in Guffogg's handwriting. "Sometimes odd words or titles pop into my head and I jot them down as quickly as I can before they disappear." One of his jottings scratched directly on the wall in black crayon reads "It's no easy task being original."
He says it came to him one day while he was working. "When you're treading on new territory, whether it's new to you or new to the world, it's difficult. You have to throw caution to the wind and say, 'I've got a need to do this so I'm going to do it.' Honor your gut and go for it."