Sunday, December 8, 2013

Armando Ramos Interview- Studio Visit

Armando Ramos is a sculptor who works in a variety of materials.  He is an Assistant Professor of Art at Valley City State University in Valley City, North Dakota.  I had a chance to visit with him over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Armando Ramos in his studio
 You work with 2D images in conjunction with your sculptural work.  How do they work together and influence each other?

I try to approach them in the same way.  Having a small studio forced me to look at all the work as one because I wasn’t able to separate the two into mental compartments or spaces.  I began to look at what material was most appropriate to the idea, rather that beginning with the materials.  When you’re a student, a material is often associated with a department, but it isn’t in the real world.  Stuff is just stuff and you have to find the materials that have the right properties for your idea.  It’s all the same work to me.
Altered paintings

Your work references pop culture and childhood.  How do you find images and objects for your work?

When I started out I would choose images that had meaning to me, like a specific memory.  Latin American pop culture or imagery that I had experienced as a young person was something I gravitated to.  Now I’m more interested in objects and images that aren’t really about me, but have a wider reach.  I went to the historical museum in Minneapolis and saw some images of Americana from the 1920’s.  These were ads and boxes from old toys and I started to think about them as a sort of propaganda that communicates this fake idea about how the ideal world is or should be.  The repeated image reinforces this and gives it strength. This power of images to persuade and train us to think along a certain line is something that I’m interested in.  I want my own work to be a process of revealing how and questioning how images function.

I used to go to the thrift stores or junk stores for inspiration, but I also find things on the street or at junk sales. I also buy postcards and write down words and phrases that are interesting and ambiguous.  The illustrations in old books are something I look at and will sometimes scan to create a template for a piece.

Finished work in the studio

What do you think about the life these objects and images had before you encountered them or do you? 

The very idea that someone used these things makes them compelling to me.  They were precious to someone.  I have a piece cast from a plastic, Halloween ghost and someone had to keep it in their basement, clean it and plug it in for Halloween year after year.  The history still lives in the object, but by remaking it I can somehow reveal other parts of it that the original owner never saw.  The ghost is a weird, phallic image, but the family that owned it probably had more that one and never saw that in them.

How do you think your background in ceramics has influenced your approach to sculpture?  

When I began working with clay, I really responded to the material and the process of making, but I realize that I approach material in general in a more direct sculptural way.  It is a complex material that demands planning and thinking ahead, but I wish I had begun to work with other materials earlier. 

Ceramic heads, finished and unfired, in the studio

You have a lot of toys and other objects around the studio, do you keep these around as influences?

I see them as objects of interest.  Either the tactile quality or color are things I think about in my own work.  I’m also interested in the relationships between the parts.

What themes run through your work?

The tension and awkwardness in the vulnerability of objects is something I like to explore.  I’m interested in looking at another side of things that we ordinarily don’t look at.  Something soft and comforting might become something ominous, or a sentimental decorative object that has a specific meaning in a holiday or in childhood might be altered to communicate an entirely different meaning.  Visual communication is at the heart of it.  I’m really trying to explore modes of visual communication and how the disruption of that communication can reveal the process itself.

Painting the wood sections of a sculpture

Do you work in series or have you been making individual pieces? 

I think I have been working in individual pieces, but my work is going more towards the direction of series.  This last piece I’ve been working with is a Halloween ghost and I cast them in series in different colors.  Right now they are in groupings of three or four, but I want to make a mass installation of 40 or 50 in a space.  A lot of my work is related even if the pieces are different, but the repetition is definitely something that I’m working with.  It also takes some discipline to work through an idea entirely and not get distracted by something else.  The  series allows me to play out an idea and realize it’s potential.

What questions do you ask yourself when you are making work?

I ask myself what is the most essential part that I want to get across.  How can I communicate this in the most basic way.  I began the ghosts with an interest in a nativity scene from the thrift store, but it was gone when I went back to get it.  So I began to think about what elements of it interested me.  The ghost was sort of a bastardization of something that was sacred.  The outdoor nativity scene that I remembered from my childhood had been coopted into the fake sacred image for a completely secular ‘holiday’.  The image was something that I thought revealed the absurdity of we use images to construct meaning.

Finished ceramic 'Ghosts' in the studio

What are you working on now and what do you have coming up? 

I’ve been finishing a group of work to install at an exhibition at the Red Lodge Clay Center in Montana.  I plan on working with more of the repeated image.  I’m also in an exhibition at the Rosalux gallery in Minneapolis starting in December and going through the first week of January and in a survey exhibition of contemporary ceramics in the Midwest at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, North Dakota.

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