TribeLA Magazine Acrostic Interview with artist Robert Soffian
Tagline: Give yourself and your work a tagline or sentence.
The Narrative Drive is strong in this one.
Rest: How do you spend your time off?
It seems I am always focusing on creating things. When I am not doing, I am usually thinking about what and how I will create the next time. Therefore, I do my research by reading about ancient history and paleontology and past cultures. I also write poetry as a personal journal. I enjoy reading biographies too, but watching and playing sports have always been something I do seriously. Baseball is my favorite. Although having been to the University and living in Wisconsin, I follow THE PACKERS closely. I travel internationally as often I can. I lived for many years in Amsterdam and think of Greece as a place whose light and culture makes it a second home. Spending time with my adult children is a wonderful pleasure. They are all three creative and unique people. I still keep up with theatre and follow new playwrights and productions. I have been directing plays for nearly 40 years. So telling stories on stage or inside a picture frame is my passion.
Influence: What would you like to share with our audience and what effect do you hope to have on us?
I see our human condition as both a cyclical and progressive thing. In order to become more humane, I sense that we must contact and revive our oldest stories and archaic symbols. My painting is a kind of dance told in form and color, which tries to awaken those recurrent impulses that we see throughout our history. I think potent myths are able to stimulate our collective imagination.
Back: If you could choose a past literary/art/music movement to be a part of, which would you choose?
It’s hard to pick any extra special era of artistic movements for me. I am very attracted to the Modernists. But, I also enjoy Gothic tropes where the imagery is flat and the intention is didactic and simplistic. The Cycladic period greatly holds my gaze, and like many painters Neolithic cave iconography is fascinating and inspiring. Sometimes I wish I were ten years older so I could have experienced the 50’s in America. And then again, I think the scene in Zurich at Café Voltaire would suit me just fine.
Energy: What fires you up?
I cherish my time in the studio by myself just working. That’s the space to experiment and work out the formalistic issues I have been following. Usually I am excited by internal fixations rather than things in the objective world. I love color and movement and playing with figures in action. Also learning new techniques and discovering different ways to use materials is my joint.
Los Angeles: Where is your favorite place in Los Angeles? Where would you take visitors? If you could defend the city in one sentence to someone who doubts it, what would you say?
For me the light in Los Angeles is its greatest attribute. It is wide and sharp and I like that. There are so many wonderful places to visit. As of today, I think I would take new visitors to the top of Mt. Washington. It is peaceful and lovely there and you can see the whole city. The place is not crowded and certainly, a spot that is unexpected in this bustling metropolis. Los Angeles is a city that people have lots of prejudices about. However, once they live here they see that is a generous town. People are usually working in creative fields and are open to collaboration and networking. It is not snobby. There is an open vibe here because you never know who might be the next innovator that grabs the world’s attention. I love how diverse and multi-cultural the city is. The restaurant scene is beyond compare cheap, authentic and ubiquitous. I didn’t mention the wonderful architecture that characterizes each community.
Advice: What is the best advice you’ve received? What is the best advice you can give?
The best advice I have received is to keep working all the time, every day. Keep a schedule. And make many things because something eventually will click. As for advice, I would say, “be yourself,” don’t compare yourself to others. Only you can say what you need to say. Be open to listen to criticism. One can always take away something positive. Work on what has been spoiled.
Aura: How would you describe your energy, style, etc.?
I am a combination person. Most people see me as fast and witty. That is true. But I also am extremely analytical and durational. I like to combine the strict and the loose. I think contrast is the key to things. That’s how tension is used to make things seen. Go left by going right. The subconscious is a logical system. It is easy to access if you don’t think too much. The thinking is in solving the problems. It is a wonderful life to be able to create. I am positive about what I do.
Room: Where in your home do you work? If not in your home, where do you feel most compelled to create?
I have a studio in my home where I do most of my work. I wish it was larger. Still, I am glad it is quiet. For more dangerous materials I have an outside work area where I paint, hammer and spray. When I paint I do not listen to music or tv. I never get bored talking to myself and watching the work develop. That is my meditation.
Tools: What do you prefer to work with, physically and otherwise?
When I work, my movements are a kind of dance. I always stand up even if I am painting for 10 hours. Activity keeps me busy. Twisting, bending, reaching, moving the brushes across a surface is rejuvenating. The materials I use mostly are oil, ink, gouache and dye. I am finding new materials to paint on and employ all the time. Recently I have been doing frottage (rubbings with graphite) and combining them with stamps that I make that I use like etchings. Sometimes I have a dozen different media in a piece. I enjoy working on paper for the sensuous quality of each distinct skin. Of course, canvas is a joy to use too.
Indulgence: What is your favorite indulgence? Do you cook? What is your specialty meal? What is your favorite restaurant in LA where you indulge yourself?
I love to cook. My go to recipes involve seafood. Scampi is a dish I make well. Creating a novel salad, which is bright and fresh is something I often whip up. I live on the east side. So I often go to PINE and Crane, a Taiwanese restaurant on Sunset where the food is always fresh, delicious and reasonable. Dune is good too and close to my house. Recently I ate at Inkwell in WEHO and the food was excellent. Ruen Pair in Thai town is wonderful for soups and fish dishes.
Special: Who or what holds a special place in your heart? How does this factor into your creative process?
My family is the greatest support of my life. They show me what real love is. I don’t have to seek it from public admiration or even from peers. My love of performance and dramatic texts also influence my art practice. I learned composition, picturalization from my work as a theatre director and see the painted framed as zone where figures in metaphorical action enact their objectives. My time as a lighting designer gave me an understanding of how to use color and movement in a lively fashion. Geometry and volume are aspects learned in theatre that I work into the plenum of a painting. Angled lines are dynamic. I call this scheme a renaissance cartoon.
Time: What is your all-time favorite piece of writing/art/music you’ve created?
Like most artists, my favorite pieces are the ones most recently completed. I am not nostalgic about work. I just like to move forward after a series has reached an inflection point, which leads me to the next place. I try to learn from visiting an idea. I always say I would like to make work that shimmers the membrane between universes. I know this sounds pompous…so maybe it’s best to say I am focused on following my mistakes to where the thing becomes itself. I say the same things about plays. Work that is ephemeral is also potent. The last series I did of graphite and dye and oil on large paper 50″ x 80″ is holding my attention now. I also like the series of small frottage-stamp combos I finished.
Thank you Robert!
Robert Soffian (born 1947, Philadelphia, Pa) is an emeritus professor of theatre, a director, painter and poet. He holds an MFA from the University of Virginia (1985) and BA in Cultural Studies/History from the University of Wisconsin in Madison (1969). For the almost 30 years he taught at Shasta College in Redding, CA. Soffian has directed, designed lights, created mis en scen, and experimented with digital projected scenery for well over 100 plays. As a producer, he ran two theatres: Century Hall and the Metropole Theatre (Milwaukee, WI). Soffian has curated dozens of exhibitions, ballet, opera, performance art, and music events. (He is credited with having discovered the Violent Femmes).
From earlier this week.