Interview with Rema Ghuloum
Interview between Amy Boone-McCreesh and Rema Ghuloum at Untitled Art Fair, Miami
A: Where are you from and where is your studio?
R: I live in LA and my studio is in Glassell Park. I’ve been at this studio for about two and a half years.
Can you tell me a little bit about your work and the work that you have here?
I have a group of paintings at various scales at Untitled. They range from 72 x 102 inches – 11 x 13 inches. My paintings are experiential and emotive. My process really dictates the direction of the wok and the color and surface are pretty integral to each painting. My paintings begin on the floor. I start by pouring acryla-gouache onto canvas using different methods of applying paint to create different qualities of mark making. This process is physical and I treat each canvas like a watercolor, moving the surface around to create a ground. This aspect of my process is what I consider fast and immediate. It may take multiple layers of this before I consider it ready to prop up. The next layers are slow and meditative. I build up the surface with really thin layers of oil paint. I scumble and glaze marks that emerge as patterns. I sand in between each layer to expose the history of the paintings. I’m building up the paintings through this process, while also excavating them. They arrive… I don’t ever really know what the painting will be initially, but am always trying to create contrasts within each one. For example; density vs something more ethereal or atmospheric. I want the space within each painting to expand and contract. I think about what they can do or evoke. I don’t want them to be static. The paintings also get contained by the edges.There is a discordance between the edges and the rest of the space. The edges reflect the history of my process–at the end of every work session, I apply the remaining paint on my palette loosely around the edge with a palette knife or various brushes as another way to record time.
Does each piece’s process have a similar timeline, or is that intuitive?
I often will start a group of large paintings all at once. My process is really messy early on because I am pouring and using various methods to apply paint fluidly so I like to develop multiple grounds at the same time. I throw down tarps and try to fill the floor with as many paintings as possible, which is usually four large canvases or a group of 5 – 10 small canvases. I then can prop them up against the wall and see them as a group.
My largest painting at the fair is 72 x 102 inches and is called The night we met. I painted it alongside another canvas of the same scale called Last Light. I couldn’t really paint anything else at the time because it would be difficult to see them. They occupied a lot of physical and psychic space. The timeline of each painting is also dependent on scale I think. The large ones seem to take up to six months to finish, but I usually finish them within three to four months. The small ones actually take me a lot longer. The surfaces are so specific and I don’t ever want to overwork them. The three small pieces that are up now; Memory, Prayer, and Cloudburst were started in 2018 while an artist in residence at the Joan Mitchell Center. I couldn’t resolve them at the time, but felt their potential so recently brought them out and completed them. Lately, I’ve been bringing out small paintings that I put away, now seeing them with fresh eyes has helped to take them to a new place. Often, I’ll change the orientation of a painting so that I can see them differently. I definitely feel like they have a slower timeline overall. I don’t know what it is about large works that makes me feel more comfortable, maybe it’s the full immersion and the relationship to my body that makes it more fluid.
The night we met; 72 x 102 inches is one of the largest paintings that I’ve ever made. I am in my element working on that scale. I could paint that size all the time–I learned so much. It makes it easier to go back to the small ones and treat them differently, which is important to me. I’m not a serial painter–I don’t ever have a composition in mind. Although sometimes I have a compositional crutch that I keep an eye on. I feel that small paintings help me break free of crutches and help me feel more confident exploring different ways of working on a larger scale. So those relationships between scale/size really help push the paintings in different directions.
Your work is at Untitled; how has your experience been so far in Miami?
This is my first fair in Miami, actually. It is my first solo booth here–and my first trip in Miami! It’s really diverse here. Great food and everyone seems to be having a good time! It feels free here and I love that.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to venture too far from the fair yet. It has been fun to run into old friends here especially after not really socializing like this since before the pandemic.
Untitled is a beautiful fair! It is on the beach which is amazing. It made me realize I want my work to be situated near the beach all the time! I love the light and the negative ions are like a big tuning fork.
Do you have any exhibitions coming up or anything else you’d like to promote?
Yes, I will be having a solo show at Emma Gray HQ in 2022.