Artist of The Week: Joanna Beray Ingco
Muscled Venice men on the boardwalk, fluffy poodles, and red corvettes are images that conjure up a certain Los Angeles sentiment. Joanna Beray Ingco, LA-based painter and sculptor, uses imagery like this to tie in her common themes of “time, nostalgia, thinking about the future, mortality, our lives; desire and contradiction.” We sat down with her in her DTLA studio to discuss her childhood of obsessively drawing whatever passed her TV screen, her ongoing “Green Screen” series, as well as her series “Home Maker”; read on below for our full interview.
In terms of background, earlier you were speaking about how you got into art and how you would watch movies and pull art from that. Is that how you started?
I guess I started considering things in a visual way when I was really young. I mean, like most things, they happened out of boredom. I was looking for something to do while my parents decided to put me in front of a TV. Being the person I am, I wanted to be productive. So I started watching all of these things and noticing how things looked and what appealed to me and I had a piece of paper and I just started drawing anything I saw: commercials, TV shows, movies. I observed everything; people, cartoons, ads, logos. I would just put all of that information on the page and just keep drawing until the page was full. Then another piece of paper and kept going. They were like marathon drawings and I just did this for years. I know I have a box somewhere of all of them.
That’s what I was going to ask—do you still have them?
My parents actually kept them, which is so great and wild because I never thought being an artist was actually going to be a real thing until I got older. Now I can look back and see where the foundation was laid. I’m just so glad I got brought back to it. I love being an artist. I love making work. I did take a break from making anything, especially after school. A lot of people get overwhelmed trying to think about what their practice will be, what kind of ideas they want to communicate, how they want to make their work. There is a lot of trial and error that goes into it. Now I just find that I was drawn to collage again, but in totally different ways than it was before. It’s not direct. I’m not going to just see something and spit it out. This is a very carefully curated and handcrafted. It’s a lot of ideas and visual cues that I play around with. I want to make things that contradict or re-contextualize in a space that gives it a new meaning. And then I just found that I ended up doing that naturally.
What would you say is one of the most valuable lessons you learned at CalArts?
CalArts is a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s a very rigorous program. But it’s also life changing, at least for me. I thought I knew everything and anything when I got there. But I think that was also because I was 19 and going to college. They break you down and they build you back up again. At first, I thought that was the worst thing ever. Especially away from school, I realized that was really the best thing ever. Now I’m prepared to handle anything that comes my way. It was like mental gymnastics. I’m a problem solver. I’m given a goal or I have something in mind that I want to communicate—that I want to produce—how am I going to do that? What kind of images do I use to take accountability of the message I’m trying to send? Those things are so important to me. It’s not just how an image is crafted or how something is made. Those are good things, but I think, at least in my process and personally, these objects and images have so much value to me that I want to make sure that I can communicate that kind of fondness through my work and to anyone who looks at it.
So Green Screens?
I work in different series. I had a couple of the green screen pieces in a show in Culver City. My work is very influenced by my life here in LA.
Are you originally from LA?
I was born in San Francisco but I grew up in LA. I was a baby here, you know, a kid. There was so much mystery, mysticism. It’s not like how it is now. The fantasy of the dream of Hollywood. What is LA? Movie stars. Movies. You can be and make anything. You can be whoever you want to be. You can live any life you want. As a kid watching that—that was something really crazy. Especially if you’re just a plain old kid in the San Fernando Valley. You’re so close to all the action, but then you didn’t really understand where or how it came about. So I think that really resonates with me and my life in LA today still incorporates those ideas but now I think of how it is to me, things that I’ve taken away from this culture—and then I collage them as these green screen works. Basically how it looks is images within a larger image. There are images within a silhouette and the silhouette is kind of, to me, iconic. There’s a frou-frou looking dog, a bodybuilder—like the Venice Beach guys that work out and pump iron. A vase of flowers to signify a gift, or thriving, or growth. All of these things are emblematic of a good life and status. It’s a lot of what people aspire to do or have when they come out here. Even those ideas. Not specifically a big, muscled guy—that’s not even what it is. These symbolic images can conjure up so many different objectives.
Are the images within the silhouette related?
Sometimes they are. A lot of times, I like to play with contradicting images or images that end up kind of being loosely related, but end up meaning something else next to each other. For example, this new one that I’m working on: In the vase, there are two bodybuilders—a woman and a man together. And then there’s another larger piece that’s a six foot by six foot and the silhouette itself is a body builder. In this series, they all relate to each other. There is fire. Which can be symbolic of passion. Heat. LA heat. That’s James Dean and this is the sunset, but what’s obviously popular in LA, is Sunset Boulevard. There’s a lot of interplay with the visual and the concept.
Can you tell us about your HomeMaker series?
Home Maker is a play on the old idea of the ’50s homemaker. A “homemaker” is a woman at home, slaving away, but lovingly tending to her children—the household, cooking, cleaning and all that—which is great. But in my context and what it means to me right now: I don’t have a family—I’m single and working. What it means to me as an artist is making this home. So I’m basically picking objects and creating them directly onto the canvas. I’m actually making my home. It’s using those words, taking that definition and giving it a new one: A homemaker. Each of these canvases are a one object focus. You install them and they assemble into a composed domestic space.
So there is the phone, the clock…?
A chair, a window… the table over there.
Have you shown this series yet?
Not yet. I’m open to finding the perfect space for this. But I also want to keep going with this series and create different imaginings of the home maker for different sites, site specific work. I’m thinking and I’ve been drafting a pool with different sized canvases and summertime paraphernalia. Beach balls and flamingos. Even the tile around the swimming pool. I’ve been doing a lot of research. I’m very particular about how things look and if I want a specific time frame like ‘70s, ‘80s, or ‘90s—I also really am interested in fabricating one object with many different pieces from different times. Ultimately, I feel like that’s future forward because it’s mixing everything and that’s what people do now. We mix everything. Then we make it new. It’s clearly not from one time so then it becomes new again. I am so fascinated with that. I want to document even that process. The process that people involve themselves with everyday and find a way to put it onto a canvas.
Speaking of the tiles, would it be set-up on the floor?
So for this specific piece that I’ve been planning, I wouldn’t put it on a wall—I would put it on the floor. I’m working with different angles, maybe if you looked at it from one way and photographed it, it’d be different. I would have to do some light, visual engineering to figure that out… Painting is everything. I find my peace in painting because then I can just really let all the craziness out.
I saw this smashed cake when I first walked into your studio – what is it?
For a very, very long time I was doing lots of sculpture and no painting, so this is a totally different life—this sculpture. I love that ‘80s/ ‘90s aesthetic. I was thinking I also really like opposing ideas or frames of thought. I was envisioning this really cute, beautiful, pretty pastel cake—but then thinking, what if I had a bad day? Like somebody stepped on my cake. When I have a bad day, I feel like everything was great and then somebody just flat out stepped on or crapped in my salad or something. So this is a visual exploration of that. It’s compressed and it’s drooping down. It has this feeling that somebody squished on it. But then it’s also loaded with drippings—so it’s got this very decadent, over the top feel. You want more and more. You had such a great, amazing, excessive day and somebody just cut it short. That’s what this cake is.
I love using materials that you wouldn’t recognize or initially think of. I want to trick the eye. I want to trick the mind. It’s made out of plaster, paint, wire, wood, and foam that’s been carved and cut out. Everything’s been assembled and painted. No molds used—the icing shaped and there’s paint-coated foam bits to look like a baked birthday crumbles. There’s some wood sticking out here, too. I like to add these little things to see if I could get away with some visual jokes.
When I first walked in to your studio, I honestly thought it was a smashed cake from the party from the night before. I was flooded with so many visuals of what must have happened up to that point.
Something like that is so interesting to me because I’m so into other people’s stories. I want someone to see this and think about the craziest party they ever went to. What’s your fantasy and then what’s something that would totally, devastatingly crush it? That’s what life is about. A lot of my work, in general, deals with themes of time, nostalgia, thinking about the future, mortality, our lives. Desire and contradiction. Those are all ideas I use in my work organically. I want to make it very accessible—or at least seemingly happy, and then once people kind of dig through the layers they find more to it.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
I kind of love artists that everybody loves. Chuck Close. Jeff Koons.
Do you spend a lot of time at The Broad?
The Broad is right down the street from me. MoCA is also here. I’m heavily influenced by a lot of these artists. I love Claes Oldenburg and his wife, Coosje. Takeshi Murata is really cool. It’s cinematic work, but it’s got all those colors—it explores pop culture. His work is definitely there. It’s all pure dream.
Earlier you mentioned film and 80s-90s nostalgia. Are there things you see in daily life that you pull from or other forms of art?
You know it’s funny. The things that I like, they’re very different from each other. So I love music videos and gossip sites but I’m also heavily influenced by vintage textbooks on math and science. I love evening gowns with combat boots. I’ll have a vitamin-rich green juice with a pizza and a cheeseburger on the side. I’m just like that. I love the extremes so I can find my middle ground or pick and pull from each side to find balance. I grab from deeply different ends of our world and it becomes something individual I can relate to.
This reminds me of your series “Desperately Seeking”. Let’s talk about it.
There are two names. It’s called “Desperately Seeking”, based off of “Desperately Seeking Susan”, the Madonna movie where there’s a personal ad and everything kind of plays out based on this ad. And it’s also called the “ransom note” series. Basically how it looks visually is—it’s cut up letters in the form of the ‘90s ransom notes, but it’s all hand painted.
Did you find the notes first?
I didn’t plan on doing this ransom series. I knew I wanted that look. I saw it in magazines all the time. It was like actually pretty ubiquitous, I don’t know if you remember it was on clothes, in teen magazines and all that stuff. But I haven’t seen it in a while. And so I knew it was in my frame of reference. A lot of my stuff the past couple of years has been about love and relationships and desire and fantasy. But they all kind of intertwine with each other, because dating in LA it’s just so interesting—to say the least. I wanted to do something on love and I remember watching, as a kid, Love Connection with Chuck Woolery and I always read those Harlequin romance novels. And so it’s like, OK what can I do that would pull from that time, that’s symbolic of that time, that’s kind of a documentation of how people lived or how they loved and how they were. I was just doing some research and I came across something that just fit so perfect. And I definitely wanted to explore more. It was personal ads—when people would put them in newspapers or magazines from the ‘70s ‘80s and ‘90s—before email, before the internet—before dating apps, Match.com. When I saw a clipping online from a newspaper of that time, I got really interested and the wheels started turning and I said, “OK this is really great. I need to do something to document this because that was where my ideas of relationships were formed”; within those kinds of influences. And you would watch movies and then you’d see someone answering these ads and I was too young to participate in that at the time. It was like I was imagining what would it be when I was older. Now, we’re in the time of Tinder, texting, and ghosting. It’s not even a thing anymore. But that’s where it all came from—to explore, to discover, to feel out. It’s like a love letter to these love letters. You’re obsessively cutting out letter by letter, or several letters to make a new word, to make a new sentence, to make these phrasings that are supposed to give it a bonus significance, right? So you can look at it—a letter being painted. You see like the “R” from Rushmore, the “C” from Crybaby, “L” from La Bamba, SpaceJam, Jurassic Park. All of those typefaces are really important to me. When I was growing up they formed my ideas of the world. But they’re also important cinema, and history, and culture.
Yeah when I saw it, I really thought you just cut letters out of a magazine.
It’s actually really grueling to paint them, but I had so much fun because it’s my love and devotion to the atmosphere that shaped me and that is. It’s meditative. I go into a trance. The fun thing is that I’ll even watch the movies that I’m painting. These paintings actually took months, over time. I love watching people’s reactions to these. It was important for me to do a 1 to 1 ratio—not just a huge piece, right away. I wanted to see if I could do them small; as if I were cutting out of a magazine. A lot of my friends thought I went off the deep end, thinking I was just cutting letters out. Hearing that was so great because when I told them it was a actually a painting on canvas, they took a step back and saw things in a whole new way.
Stay tuned to Milk for more artistic endeavoring.