Si Gross makes collectable Pop Art based on people featured in headline news stories. It is a world full of truth and lies that he captures with a combination of sincere and satirical illustrations, drawn from real life situations. Si creates his designs through a process of photographs, digital or ink drawings, silk screen printing, spray cans and paint pens, switching between stark monochrome or painterly colours that are bold and dramatic. Another method he commonly employs is the layering of paint onto a photographic background, essentially planting a cartoon world into a real life situation. Each print has slight variations, and comes in limited editions on various surfaces. We speak with Si.
A: You often use vivid colours in your work, how does this complement the themes in your art?
SG: I use vivid colours to encompass the drama of the situations displayed. Those colours also bring out the eccentric and bold personalities of the people illustrated in the picture.
A: What is it about celebrity culture that you find interesting?
SG: All the truth and lies in stories, jumbled up together. Fame as a propaganda tool can be used by public figures to manipulate the general public into buying into their brand, mostly administered by PR companies. It’s absurd that people are now a brand. I prefer to concentrate on stories about iconic public figures. People that have a significant control over their own image, like the Queen. The fanatical drama surrounding famous people keeps celebrity culture ticking over. Before I photographed the news I worked in security. I watched and chuckled, as a celebrity refused to go outside because there weren’t enough fans waiting for them. As a photographer, I was swept up while recording a wild scene, where ecstatic fans ran amok in a shopping centre, after they got wind of a backdoor exit. Without devoted fans, fame withers away.
A: You focus on photography with the use of silk screen, paint and ink. What is it about this combination that interests you as an artist?
SG: It’s the transformative process of turning something digital into something I can touch. I use my digital camera as a journal, collecting a lot of photos. Sometimes certain images jump out for further inspection and transformation. I start sketching digitally on an iPad. Aferwards it becomes a large scale drawing made in Photoshop. Then I like to see my designs embossed on a surface. I’m drawn to silk screen, paint and ink because it allows repetition of motif and gives fast, simple colour changes that deliver a tactile hand finish. I’m not convinced by my work if it’s just on the flat surface of a digital print.
A: What issues in society do you attempt to expose through the satirical nature of your practice?
SG: To bring the underbelly of society to the surface. I want to follow up on interesting investigations forgotten by the press. From working in the media, I see that breaking a story can sometimes take over from a more thorough investigation. This in effect can kill off a story. On the flip-side, I draw to celebrate the eccentric dreamers. I believe good news and bad news should come in equal measures.
A: What are your key artistic influences, and how do you hope your work will evolve in the future?
SG: I’m influenced by headline news, ancient culture, criminal investigations and patterns in nature; combination of subjects that should keep me busy for many years to come. What I’m looking at now, is the way headline news is buried under less damaging but still sensational stories. I see a smoke-screen to protect the interests of another entity. Specifically I’m making a series on the mounting evidence of organ harvesting in China. Former Police Chief Wang Lijun, disguised as an elderly lady, attempted to seek sanctuary and entered a US Embassy in Chengdu. He ratted out his boss Bo Xilai, leaking all kinds of confidential information. Bo had tracked him down using Wang’s mobile phone and surrounded the Embassy. Wang was handed over and then debriefed. The story that rose to the top in the West was Bo Xilai’s wife, Gu Kalai murdering businessman Neil Heyward. This avoids the bigger picture. That being, both Bo and Wang Lijun were believed to be key pioneers and perpetrators in organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience such as Falun Gong and Tibetans. Their faction boss was former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. I’m illustrating this from a book called The Slaughter – Mass killings, organ harvesting, and China’s secret solution to its dissident problem by Ethan Gutmann. Some stories involve a deeper investigation that doesn’t fit into a 24 hour news cycle. They get lost in the system. I want to help uncover and make sense of this story with macabre illustrations and fitting propaganda style slogans.
View more of Si’s work at www.sigross.com.
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1. Si Gross, Flowerclava II, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.
2. Si Gross, The Liz Gang, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.