Ross Caliendo

Guston Tattoos in Los Angeles

Micah Wood visits Ross Caliendo in LA.

I went down to Los Angeles earlier this year and had a great time hanging out with a guy I heard good things about. Ross Caliendo lives in the Echo Park neighborhood of LA. Ross is a painter, sculptor, and avid Pittsburgh Penguins fan. His studio is the garage attached to his house, but also doubles as the gallery Secret Recipe. Ross is a solid guy, a very talented artist, and I predict a very bright future ahead of him, so make sure to follow his work. Be sure to check out any show that Secret Recipe puts on as well. 



Ross Caliendo, am I saying that right?


Where are you from and what brought you to Los Angeles? 

I was born in Dayton, Ohio, lived there until I was five or six, then moved to Pittsburgh where I grew up. I went to college at Columbus College of Art and Design. I did a painting residency in Philadelphia right out of college, and then bummed around New York and was about to move there but a friend of mine in Los Angeles said "forget New York", move to LA. So I moved to LA and lived in Venice Beach for a year and I've been living in Echo Park for almost three years. I've been in Los Angeles for almost four years. I love LA, I don't want to leave LA. I applied to UCLA and I'm waiting to hear back from that. I think it’s important to make art in the "real world", because you need to have those "what the fuck am I doing with my life" moments like spending your last ten dollars on paint. It’s those lonely moments in the studio at night, and before you know it, you turn around and you have a bunch of paintings done. It's exciting and fun. It makes you make real decisions. 

On working freelance in LA:

I work freelance, all my jobs are art related which is nice. I work for 356 Mission Rd., Blum and Poe, Cherry and Martin, LAX Art, Human Resources, all kinds. I work for a lot of artists, a lot of canvas stretching. Once you get a job like that, such as a preparator or artist assistant, people are like "Hey, can you do this? Hey, can you do that?" It's been a great way to meet people and participate in the scene down here. 

What are things in the world that drive your work? Or, what are things you think about when you go into the studio? 

I don't really think about anything really. It's about making. I am a very energetic person and an emotional person as well and I think art is a by-product of that energy and emotion. It’s that excess and sensitivity, that extra sensitivity that most people don't have. I come into the studio, and the studio is a place where I can push all that out or do those things in the paintings. The paintings are in a way like these “moments of time” in my life depending on what's going on. 

The paintings seem to have different tones. Some are louder and others feel quieter. Is that true?

I feel like all my work is pretty loud and that's something I'm trying to work on. They might contain different feelings or vibes but generally they are all kind of the same tone. What's in front of you are paintings that are ambiguous moments of energy, but in the newer ones I'm trying to work on their objectness, to make them not as abstract. 

What are your processes and choices of materials? 

This work is more direct in a process based way because there is a lot of process that goes into all this work. Pretty much every one of these paintings are a dyed canvas and then from there I'll build it up with a silk screen or I'll draw on it or put some pastels on it and then maybe do a layer of resin. I'm always kind of building on these materials. I am interested in different ways to make marks on the canvas because each material has it's own vibe and tone. Resin is the newest one in my boat. I've always made paintings in layers, one layer is in reaction to the next layer and it's all intuitive, they grow on top of each other, it's kind of like gardening. I'll make a layer and then lay a thin coat of resin on it and it will create this separation in the paintings that wasn't happening before. I have been using a lot of lamination paper and that's how all those positive marks are made in those paintings. There's something about that separation. That one layer of separation is kind of magic compared to making a straightforward mark with a brush. You have to nurture the third hand of fate. 

Secret Recipe, tell me about it. 

Stefan Hoza lived out here with me in 2013, and at that time we were sharing this studio. Right before he was supposed to leave LA, we were going to have an open studio, to let people see all the stuff we had been making. We invited everyone we knew, and it was a big turn out. Everyone had a good time and after that, a buddy of mine, Andrew Cannon, was like "We should do an actual show in your garage", and so the first Secret Recipe show (which wasn't called Secret Recipe at the time) was Andrew Cannon, Stefan Hoza, James Herman, Calvin Marcus, Justin Olerud, and myself. It was really successful, we had a lot of fun, and we decided to do it again, and that's when it became Secret Recipe. Marie Elena Johnston's show was technically our one year anniversary. We've done 11 shows in 14 or 15 month's time, and they are always one night only. It's a lot of fun, and also a lot of work to move my stuff out of the space. 

It is a skill or talent to curate a show well. What are your thoughts on that? 

It is. I hate that word though. I feel like it's become this thing, "curating", there's something a little pretentious about it. I never want to be associated with that. I like art, I like other peoples art, I like looking at art, and I like to look at art outside of people's studios. 

So maybe you like to organize..

Yeah, I like to organize. It's putting things together. The whole Secret Recipe thing is anti-press release, anti curation, anti info. It's more like, this is a rad artist, this is another rad artist, come look at these rad artists’ stuff together. And that's the general gist of it. We don't want it to be this academic thing, or why it's important. The fact that these people exist and this moment in time is happening is what interests us more. We normally get three to four hundred people that come through now. This whole drive way is packed. It's just a thing we do, but it's getting to be nuts, in a good way. 

What's on your reading/ listening list?

I just bought this Aaron Curry book at the LA Art Book Fair, and it looks really good. My dad recently gave me "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which I'm excited to read. I'm always reading this one book over and over, it's called "Philip Guston's Writings, Lectures, and Studio Notes". It's a collection of transcribed lectures, studio notes, all of his artist statements from his shows, etc. Philip Guston is my favorite because his art is about doing your own thing. I don't think art is about having a manifesto or an agenda or anything. It's just about doing your thing, investigating yourself, living an interesting life, and being your own person and letting that transpose into your work. That's what it is about. I've been listening a lot to this one record label, it's called L.I.E.S. It's house/experimental, ambient kind of stuff. On that label, I listen to Delroy Edwards, it’s grimy, house music, and Gunnar Haslam is pretty cool. That record label is my go to. I'm really into death metal, I'm kind of a death metalhead. Ever since I was a teenager, I've been listening to that. One of my big things is collecting death metal records. There is this one band, Demilich, they’re a Finnish band. They put out one record in 1991, called Nespithe. I was just listening to it this afternoon before you got here. 

Who are some artists that you're inspired by?

Philip Guston, for sure. My number one. I have a tattoo (shows me area on body where the Guston tattoo is). I gave one to Stefan as well.  I am such a fan boy of Guston and not afraid to admit it. His work and my work aren't formally correlating but it's mainly his mentality. Everything that he writes about and talks about I totally agree with. We were saying before, I really hope that my work doesn't look like anybody else's. The focus is trying to make it my own. There are definitely people that I'm inspired by, like Neo Rauch. He's one of my top dogs. I have this one book called Thirty Thousand Years of Art that I look at a lot and that's been a big inspiration for me lately. It's mainly weird wood carvings and cave paintings, but art in general inspires me. Just that people way back then had the energy to make art and be creative is super inspiring to me. Some of early Andreas Golder's paintings I look at. Martin Kobe, one of those Leipzig painters. Laura Owens is definitely a big influence since I moved to LA. 

Outside of art, what are a few good things you've found lately? 

Hiking is pretty cool. You can find some pretty good stuff while you're hiking. 

Where do you like to hike around here? 

Topanga Canyon is pretty cool, it's in Malibu. Angeles National Forest is cool. It's pretty close to here. I do a lot of record shopping. I found some good records the other day. I found GZA's Liquid Swords, one of my favorite hip hop records of all time. I buy a lot of Pittsburgh Penguin's sports memorabilia. I am an avid hockey fan, an fanatic hockey fan for the Penguins. Also, I'm a fan of good food. I’m always looking for a new, good place to eat. 

What's coming up in the near future for your work? 

This guy I know, Luke Forsythe, started his own house gallery, and I'll have a couple of pieces in that show. The next thing coming up in my studio is that I just finished building a series of 30" x 40" canvases. But I'm going to do something with this new series that is totally different what I've been doing, kind of like the exact opposite of what I am naturally inclined to do. I'm really interested in that challenge right now. The root of where all these paintings come from is the excitement of possibility. That excitement get's me going but at the same time I want to limit it, restrain it. Some Secret Recipe shows are coming up and I'm excited about those.