Adrian de la Peña: The LESS ART Interview

Adrian de la Peña was one of the lesser-known artists I chose for inclusion in Some Paintings (The Third LA Weekly Annual Biennial) at Track 16 Gallery in 2008, though one of the most conceptually intriguing. Back then he was making individual works – mostly abstract paintings – that were meant as fragments of a larger, extremely experimental science fiction narrative that was ambiguous as to its strict fictionality.

In de la Peña’s current show Before the Veil, Beyond the Veil: The Veil at Cornelius Projects (operated by former T16 director Laurie Steelink), curator and international man of mystery Antonio Beecroft includes “works constructed from a narrative that was revealed to him while viewing an exhibition of netsuke at LACMA in the 1990s… ‘downloaded’ from a supernatural or extraterrestrial consciousness. The results are paintings on transparent acrylic which the artist suggests are relics of creatures drawn from the narrative who await the reanimation that will occur as the story unfolds.”

So that’s still a go. Continuity is good. But the show is a bit of a mini-survey, and Adrian’s idiosyncratic diversity is frontburnered with a couple of jubilant CoBrA-esque canvases dating back to the turn of the Millennium, a suite of post-Painterly dropcloths from five years later, excerpts from an almost 2-decade video project involving the POV of an art museum janitor’s mop, a cluster of meticulously plotted hard-edge geometric abstractions, and the aforementioned alien candy-slime artifacts. And there’s more!

We caught up with de la Peña in his negative-orgone-proof underground bunker and interrogated him about the directions his work has taken him in the interim.

vLMx Head 2003 Acrylic on plaster 8 x 5 x 41/2 inches

LESS ART: I think your works incorporating multidirectional grids resulting in an omnidirectional plane are neat! Where do you get your ideas?

ADRIAN DE LA PEÑA: generally speaking, i get my ideas by keeping open to what comes my way. if i come across something that triggers me aesthetically  or spiritually i will often file it in my head/heart to work with later. what turns out to be a good idea is one that pulls various interests of mine into it, like the multidirectional grid.

From the series The Quartering: The Tree of Knowledge Appears in the Mind; The Tree of Knowledge Appears on the Land; The Robot Savior as a Young Faun Beneath the Tree of Knowledge; Atomization of the Land/Mind; The Land/Mind Shifts in Flux – All 2005-2006 Acrylic, spray paint, ink and paint marker on drop cloth All 25 x 36 inches

LESS ART: Can you elaborate on the multidirectional grids, and maybe outline some of your “various interests?”

The recent “Oval” handbag from the iconic BAO BAO ISSEY MIYAKE line

ADRIAN DE LA PEÑA: one day i saw an ad for a purse designed by issey miyake that was really cool. it was a sculptural, geometric thing. i don’t know why but i was triggered and i immediately envisioned some kind of painting. one of my favorite processes as an artist is figuring out how to get the image in my head to a physical art piece. the multidirectional grid came out of that struggle. and it’s turned out to be a really useful and fruitful and interesting thing. 

LESS ART: So this was more of a design inspiration than sacred geometry revelation?

ADRIAN DE LA PEÑA: like i’m saying, at first the multidirectional grid was just a visual thing for me. i saw something in my head and i wanted to make it in the real world and the grid was like a tool. but i’ll back up a bit, because my first intention was actually to make not as much a painting, but a way of making paintings. i’ve worked in craft and art production for jobs in my past, and i really gained an appreciation for the way systems are created and used in order to produce efficiently.

i once worked in a ceramics studio where they made things using liquid porcelain in molds. it was in the upper haight.  i remember my first week working there was intense because of the way i was being trained. they would like make me sit in a certain position, put my arm on the table a certain way and hold my hands in a specific manner, etc, breathe calmly, while i assembled pieces. it was like an extreme micromanage.

i thought they were crazy especially because they were all getting stoned and i was being left out of the huddle. but i’m laughing now thinking about how they eventually let me join the huddle and when i went back to work kinna fucked-up like that their training made total sense because as fucked up as i was, i was fine to work because as long as i did shit the way they trained me to, it was easy to do and done correct. but anyways, through mostly jobs i’ve had i’ve gained a real appreciation for the art of creating a kind of streamline production.

Carlyle SphinX 22 2019-2022 Acrylic on plaster 8 x 8 x 5 1/2 inches

so anyways that was my first intention, to make a way of making paintings. the miyake purse was the spark that made me understand what kind of painting i wanted. it seemed to want to be a geometric thing, not crazy, but busy and calm at the same time, something that had a way to play with color with, something that hung well in a room. i wanted a no-worry painting, a no worry, just enjoy painting.

Illustration of the Avatamsaka Sutra at Songgwangsa in Suncheon, Korea. Joseon dynasty, 1644.

LESS ART: It seems like there’s something distinctly contemplative about these works (not to mention the slipcasting mindfulness retreat.

ADRIAN DE LA PEÑA: so to start, a grid was an obvious structure to play with, to hang color on. but that issey miyake purse, which i only really saw a couple of times in an ad, i remember had diagonals, so i added them. on raw canvas with a pencil. that’s how i got to what i sometimes call an unconditional happiness grid, or a queer grid, this multidirectional grid. really, it started with a want to streamline art production, triggered by a high-end fashion accessory, but hanging out with this grid now for a number of years, it turns out that i’m fucking around with the structure of the universe.

Robot RocketShip Robot & Giant Colossus, both 2000, acrylic on canvasboard, and 36 X 24 ins

LESS ART: The very structure of the universe?!

ADRIAN DE LA PEÑA: i mean that literally and jokingly. but i love this grid like that. we go deep sometimes. way way back in my past when i was active in the oto i remember studying the book of the law and reading somewhere in there about the center being everywhere and the periphery nowhere. that’s what this grid feels like to me. because really if you extend the grid like it wants to be, you’ll find these centers everywhere, with no edge in sight. there seems to be something just true about that.

like, when i look at other people it’s me, this center here, looking at other centers over there and over there. centers everywhere. but this grid is also a just great structure to fuck around with. slap some blue tape on there and break out the spray paint and see what happens with color and layers, obstruct and reveal, freeze it when it sparks joy, or keep going to see what else joy looks like.

Large Repeat Signal from Project Blue Beam 2011 Acrylic on paper;
MOF (man of fire) 2005 Spray paint, acrylic and graphite on enamel over wood 86 x 38 inches

LESS ART: Can you explain more about the long-term janitorial video project?

ADRIAN DE LA PEÑA: when i was working doing maintenance and facilities at the orange county museum of art i started documenting my work with my iphone, creating this series of videos and photographs that i called the subatomic gestalt. basically i was sharing the perspective of a maintenance worker at an art museum, of a worker pretty much at the very bottom of the art hierarchy. being an artist working as a janitor at an art museum could have been a mind fuck – talk about strugglin’ – instead i found myself performing it as an artist, and recording it. not constantly of course. i can talk about the influence of zen buddhism here too, mindfulness etc, here too. but yeah. it was fun making art on the job. anyways, the title of the series, the subatomic gestalt, i know is kind of silly. but it felt right giving it this weighty and a bit obnoxious title, giving my janitor-self and how i made my living some kind of bump-up. but at the same time the title is legit. there’s this thing that goes on beneath the surface that has it’s own kind of meaning.

LESS ART: Earlier you spoke of searching for ideas that pull your “various interests” into them. Can you elaborate?

ADRIAN DE LA PEÑA: as far as my various interests i guess i’ve been talking about some already. art making. making things. discovering new ways to make things. making ways to make things. fashion and design have always prompted work. i love interior design. i love experiencing what other artists do, when it’s good and great.

i love music though i feel lost right now and listen mostly to classical ragas according to the time of day, and alice coltrane’s turiya sings. the kind of bad thing and good thing about all this is that i can’t help trying my hand at all these things and not just be a fan.

my love of anime and writing and science fiction is where one of my series of artwork comes from. rachel rosenthal was my teacher for a couple of semesters back in the day and she’d tell me disgustingly about being a jack of all trades, don’t be one. i can’t help it though. i love it and i want to do it.

Giotto, St. Francis Preaching to the Birds, c. 1299, fresco, Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Assisi, Italy

but above and beyond all that, when i was a kid i wanted to be a saint. probably because i was in catholic school starting from kindergarten and you’d always see pictures of sweet little sparrows hanging out with saint francis and saint domanic. they’d fly away from me though. i wanted to make the scene. i still do, shit.

but really, beyond the glamour of it, spirituality is what calls me the most. and that more or less means that no matter what the struggle is, what the joy is, what the question is, the answer is always the same: just here with god. ultimately my life will be about a journey into the center proper. i don’t talk about it much though. certainly not in my work. but it’s usually the conclusion to any of it, if you take any of it to its final conclusion. i decided recently that maybe i should talk about it a little.

LESS ART: What do you mean when you refer to God?

ADRIAN DE LA PEÑA: when i say god i’m talking about the ultimate gestalt. when i’m saying “god” i’m saying “everything”, the one big thing.

so yeah, i was raised a roman catholic, i wanted to be a saint, but then i found out that I’m gay, and then i found out that god hates fags. so i looked and looked for something besides that weird god who I feared more than I loved anyway. then i was on the road that eventually led me to buddhism, hinduism, ritual magic, i don’t know, whatever has been clever navigating this self-managed evolution. it can be a real ego nonsense kind of journey, and there’s that whole carrot and stick aspect of it. but right now i’m in love with both the carrot and the stick. i’ve had lots of teachers, or people i follow in one way or another. at this very very moment i’m not listening to or following anybody. “just be”, “simply be” i guess are the gods i’m vibing with right now.

LESS ART: Apart from “Don’t follow leaders,” are you involved in any specific spiritual practices or studies at the moment?

ADRIAN DE LA PEÑA: i’m about to do a week long retreat at the new camaldoli hermitage in big sur. i did it last year too. it’s run by catholic monks. i look forward to the silence. i really really mean that.

when i say, me here with god, i mean me here positioned in my correct place. my first psychedelic revelation, when i was nineteen, was that if god created everything from itself then everything was god and i was as much god as everything else. forty years later there is no modifying the fact that revelation exposed to me. so when i say, me here with god, i’m talking about being in that proper place where you just know. because there is god and there is the denial of god, which apparently we are all inheritors of. the denial is what fucks things up and makes us feel like crap. finding the divine in everything feels really really good.

Curated by Antonio Beecroft
June 18–August 28, 2022
Day-before-closing slow happening reception Saturday, Aug 27, from 11:30 AM – 5 PM
with live international improvised audio collage broadcast of The Mannlicher Carcano Radio Hour
from 11:30 – 1:30: all are welcome to join.

Robot RocketShip Robot
Giant Colossus

1417 South Pacific Avenue
Gabrielino-Tongva Territory, San Pedro, CA 90731
(310) 266-9216

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