Studio Visit: Sofia Leiby

One week later and we are back, way out west on Grand, waiting outside the doorway with the corrugated metal facade. This time, Sofia Leiby opens the door and leads us up to the studio that she shares with Daniel Baird. Rather than photos of NASA sites and archeological ruins, the walls of Sofia’s corner of the studio are covered in a range of her paintings, drawings, screen prints, and collages. Some of it is finished work and some is evidence of the various stages of her practice – shapes translate between drawings, pieces of paintings are cut out and tacked on top of other paintings, charcoal drawings that look like textural rubbings droop on the floor haphazardly, and the table is covered in parts of cut up drawings, paintings, and prints.

Rather than beginning the studio visit by talking about the work in front of us, Sofia starts out by telling us about a recent project she’s been doing which explores abstract painting as a mutable changeable thing. She has been taking cell phone pictures of her paintings and photoshopping them onto the white “walls” of the museums or galleries pictured in Contemporary Art Daily, sometimes including it in existing shows with her favorite painters such as Charline Von Heyl. Her work blends right into the virtual wall which itself has been altered and edited for publication.

While the act of simply photoshopping her paintings into a famous gallery setting is somewhat silly and playful, it also raises a lot of questions about value and reality in the art world. She is questioning the provenance of the spaces depicted in  Contemporary Art Daily and the reality of the representative image of artwork. Does an image of artwork in a specific space give it value? In reality, the space itself probably looks nothing like what it does when it finally ends up online, yet that is how the majority of the population will end up viewing it. With so much contemporary art work existing as images online, where does the work really exist and how is it experienced? Sofia is also questioning the value of abstract painting itself. With this action, she makes the point that you can put anything on a white wall and as long as it’s an abstract painting, it will look good.

Sofia talks about this practice as separate from her studio work, yet it is clearly related. She uses the internet as a tool in the process of making her work, often photographing her work as she goes, posting the photos she likes on her website and then continuing to work with the piece. For Sofia, the photos that exist online are real whether the actual object exists or not. The images online are just as important as the actual work. Sofia seems to be at a point in her practice where she is figuring out how to balance the critical and dialectical with the formal and material. She remains tied to the formalism and enjoys the process of painting itself, while at the same time, she is questioning abstract painting as a medium and whether the content in abstract painting really matters. Sofia is constantly questioning her own practice, stepping back and asking what she’s making and why.

For Sofia, she is not making towards an end, not trying to make a finished painting and tie it with a bow. Rather, she is more interested in the act of making itself. She was trained mainly as a screen printer, not a painter, and her process often involves retranslation between media. She’ll start by making a drawing, photographing it, making screenprint of it and then disguising it as a painting. “The point is that this is a screen print of a painting at one stage in its making,” she explains about one of her new prints. She uses the screen print as a frame and then fills it in with color to build a new space within it. She brakes down the two media into different processes of building. For her, printing is like layering while paintings is like modeling. She uses both of these processes to create a composition, but unlike many painters is not trying to create depth. She is exploring the intuitive process of translation between forms.