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Home FEATURES Souther Salazar and Saelee Oh

Souther Salazar and Saelee Oh
Written by Jesse Pollock   
Wednesday, 30 August 2006 06:47
Fecal Face's Jesse Pollock and Dave Potes travel down to LA to interview this talented duo!
August 5th 2006 in Los Angeles, CA

Interview by Jesse Pollock
Photos: Dave Potes

Los Angeles and I do not get along. I have spent many trips down south trying to spark some kind of relationship with it, but to no avail. I'm not sure if it's the way the city is spread out, or if it's the people I've met, but things just don't click with me. Not that it bothers me all that much, as I'm pretty happy in San Francisco, but I think about it every time a friend moves down there (which seems to be often these days). It makes me wonder if there is something I'm missing up here, as I am well aware of LA's vibrant art community and the caliber of work that it exudes.

I can think of no better example of what the LA art scene has to offer than the work of Echo Park based artists Souther Salazar and Saelee Oh. For years, they have been making some of the best work I've seen come out of Southern California in a while. This prolific couple, who has had their work featured at Giant Robot in New York and New Image Art Gallery in LA, has put out everything from large scale fine art pieces all the way down to matchbook-sized zines that are packed full of great characters and dry wit. Although they've been known to show together and have collaborated more than once, both artists have established themselves as individuals through countless shows and published works.

Many times, their characters and story lines will make me crack up regardless to if there is any dialogue or not. On other occasions I have been left speechless, wondering how cutouts and illustrations can fit so well together. Critics dismiss a lot of their work as being simplistic and childlike however anyone who has spent five minutes with Souther and Saelee can tell that no line is without thought and no piece hasn't been checked over a thousand times.

It's this level of work that drew my attention and got me to travel to Los Angeles again. Photographer Dave Potes and I took a trip to Souther and Saelee's Eagle Rock studio to have a conversation with them about their work, their ideas and what's so great about LA.

// Souther Salazar

When looking at both Souther and Saelee's work, one of the first things that people seem to notice are the possibilities of intricate underlying stories. Each character seems to have a purpose and each background image looks like it has the potential to have it's own biography. While looking through some of their work, I asked them about this when I came across a recent piece Souther had done for the comic anthology, Kramer's Ergot.

FF: Both of your works seem to have a lot of characters and underlying stories...

SS: The thing I drew for Kramer's is part of this really huge, but very messy idea I have that involves millions of characters. When I sit down and I have to do four pages of something, I'll just think "Ooh, and then they do this and then they do that." For example, I just drew a part where there is this lizard island. I thought to myself, "What is Lizard Island like?…" and then I was thinking of it for like a week. But in the final version all you see of Lizard Island is a speck in the distance.

FF: Ok, so what's Lizard Island like?

SS: Well I want to go to Cuba, so I was thinking maybe Lizard Island could be like Cuba. Then I would have an excuse to go and do some research. I had this idea that Lizard Island used to be attached to the mainland by bridges but they were destroyed so everyone's trapped and it's all full of old cars from the '60s and '70s. Sort of like in Cuba or Haiti where they just have to keep fixing them over and over again.

// Colab between Souther Salazar and Saelee Oh

FF: Does most of your work contain intricate story lines like that?

SS: Yeah, some more than others.
SO: For me, I don't know, I think so. I don't think it's necessary for it to be so literal. I think my work is meant to be appreciated first on an emotional level. I think about what kind of mood for a piece I want to create first so, it's more intuitively emotional, then more cerebral after that.

FF: You say that now, but I have definitely noticed a trend in your work when it comes to including hairy whales. I only bring it up, because it gives me the chills to think about hairy whales. It kind of grosses me out*.

SO: Some people hate them. My friend Caroline absolutely hates them. I would just be happy drawing hairy whales over and over again repetitively, obsessively all day. I like drawing animals and in a lot of ways I like animals more than people. I'm just playing around with animal hybrids and texture.
SS: (laughing) Yeah are far as drawings go, the hairy whale is definitely your most controversial.
* Saelee explained to me later through email that hairy whales might actually feel soft which makes them less gross and now I kind of like them).

FF: I keep hearing how LA has a wonderful supportive art community and while I don't have direct proof of that, I know that I keep losing friends to southern California. Why did you guys decide to move to LA?

SS: I moved to Los Angeles to go to school. It was sort of a decision to go to school but also a decision to leave behind what was comfortable and to make art the main focus of my life. It sort if seemed like a bigger commitment to the idea of making art.
SO: I've always lived within an hour from L.A. so it really wasn't to big of a stretch for me.

// Colab between Souther Salazar and Saelee Oh

FF: Do you think living in LA has benefited your respective art careers?

SO: I think about that a lot and I'm always debating. I think to myself, "Why am I paying this much rent?" I tell myself I should just move out to the desert since I don't even go out anyways. I could have lower overhead and have more freedom and choices in making art. That's something I think about all the time.
SS: I feel like at heart I'm more of a small town person. When we got out of school, I tried to talk Saelee into living in a van with me. To just be traveling artists.

FF: How did that work out?

SO: He made a little list and he's like, "We're going to pack up and just bring this stuff." Then I mentioned that I needed a curling iron and he's like, "Don't worry, I'll shave my head so there will be more room for your stuff."
SS: Yeah, I was going to shave my head and have a very minimal thing going on. I was just going to have like, you know, two pairs of pants and I figured we'd just always work small like in a sketchbook. Wireless internet was just starting to become more popular and I thought, "Ok well, we'll just drive around and get a wireless internet account or something," but I didn't even know how it worked. We could just scan stuff, send it in and it wouldn't matter where we lived. I thought we could just drive around like a band would do but live in the van selling zines and little handmade things. I had just read the book Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad, so I was thinking philosophically along the lines of the Minutemen and Black Flag. I was thinking, "How do I show in a gallery?" It seemed so daunting. Now that I've seen that I can accomplish what I need to and it's not impossible, my views have changed slightly. Anyways, that's what I was going to say about the difference between living in a small town versus living in LA. For people like us who aren't crazy about aggressively promoting, it's just easier if you live in a place like this so it can just kind of happen. I feel like if we were in a smaller place we would have to strive harder to get any kind of connection to what's going on. But I think at this point we could live somewhere else though, you know?
SO: Well the thing is.. I can't live in a small town.
SS: Yeah, she's a city girl.
SO: I thought people were moving down to LA because it's cheaper than San Francisco?

// Colab between Souther Salazar and Saelee Oh

FF: I'm not sure. Most artists I know who moved to LA said it was because there was a lack of support in San Francisco. They needed a larger, more diverse art community.

SO: That's what I hear. I always imagined that San Francisco had a really tight knit art community though for some reason. Maybe because it's a smaller city, I got the impression that everybody kind of knew each other and supported each other.
SS: I keep hearing from people that they have more trouble selling in San Francisco than in Los Angeles.

// Souther Salazar working

// Saelee Oh

// Souther Salazar

FF: Maybe it's also a lack of moral support?

SS: I think that's the magic recipe. If you have moral support, community and low rent then it's perfect. Less pressure to sell stuff. That's the job of the artist to find the place where the spirit is high but the prices are low.
SO: I would love to live in another country. While I was still in school and we were about to graduate, we were trying to figure out what we were going to do. I had this idea to be a stewardess part time. I thought I could travel the world… I had it all figured out. I would work small, like have a sketchbook with me, and have brushes, and maybe watercolor. I could be really portable and stay in hotels all around the world... just working.

FF: What happened? That's a pretty good idea. You could draw on the plane...

SO: Well, I realized that when you're a stewardess you have to work. They work really hard and are constantly moving around.

FF: Yeah I guess it gets kind of bumpy up there too.

SS: And then you have little kids throwing up... that's what happened on my last flight.

FF: Between the van and being an airline attendant, I'd say you guys had some pretty creative ideas.

SS: I think we were unrealistic when we were finishing school. I'm kind of glad we were thinking like that though because I think if we were being too realistic we would have gone and found some boring jobs or something.
SO: Right, exactly.
SS: We thought that it would be impossible to accomplish what we wanted to do so we came up with these roundabout ways to get it done. But then it ended up not being as hard as we thought to just go straight into what we had initially wanted.

// Saelee Oh

// Souther Salazar

FF: What kind of music do you listen to while you work?

SO: Lately I've been listening to the Gossip, Peaches, PJ Harvey, Sleater Kinney. Stuff I've liked for a while but, I was really into sleepy music before that like Cat Power and Coco Rosie a little bit. Now I'm back into more upbeat stuff.
SS: Our musical taste definitely overlaps, but our favorite things are opposite. I listen to everything, but I typically prefer stripped down folk or country songwriters. I love Leonard Cohen and Townes Van Zandt. A lot of '70s stuff that my parents played when I was little. Bruce Springsteen.
SO: He likes the words of music and I like the beats.
SS: Yeah, we'll really like the same album but the song I usually skip past is the one she usually loves. That kind of thing.

FF: You guys would make a great album. She could write all the music and you could write all the words.

SO: I'm not very musically inclined. Musicians who can create songs I think are amazing. To me it's so abstract, I have to see it. I mean, how do you make a song? The way musicians collaborate is pretty incredible. With art I feel like it's your own thing. I mean obviously you can collaborate working on bigger projects and stuff like that, but I feel like it's very individual and personal.

// Colab between Souther Salazar and Saelee Oh

FF: Is collaborating with each other something you do a lot of?

SO: We do it occasionally. I always like the end result, but we always struggle to schedule time together so it becomes difficult. Even though we're together all the time, we have a hard time making it happen. We just talk about ideas and never get them to the page. Maybe we take it for granted that we're together so often.
SS: Also, we're both good at tuning out. I think that's something were both the same at. When we're actually sitting down and creating stuff, we kind of tune everything out. So I might be only a few feet away, but I'm in my own world and she's in hers.

FF: Well how do you come up with a piece? Is it already laid out in your head or do you just go with what's already happening?

SO: I think my best pieces come from a clear image or idea in my head. I know what it's going to be, I make it and then it changes and morphs organically.... you know? Other times I'll just start sketching from a doodle, I'll look back on it and I'll go from there. Sometimes I start with words.
SS: I wouldn't be able to say one or the other. I've had pieces I'm proud of that started with a clear idea and then I have some that I'm proud of that I discovered through the process. Other pieces start with words or maybe images. I think the best work comes from the times when I'm not just repeating a formula and I didn't know what would happen. Compositionally, they might not work as strongly but I learned a lot and there were surprises. The reason you made it was because you didn't know what would happen until you made it. That's why you had to do it.

// Saelee Oh

FF: Just like with creating music and thinking about an audience.

SS: Yeah it's weird, before I had more of a career in art I was so obsessed with things like going to museums, seeing art and reading books. I was really more motivated to take in art and I still do, but I think that for the same type of inspiration I find myself wanting to go towards music more and more often. It seems like there is more of a mystery there for me because I don't understand how it's made. Now that I'm more involved with art, what I used to be attracted to I want to find it somewhere else. Somewhere where I can just go and marvel at creativity.
SO: Going back to what I like music-wise, lately I just like the simple stuff. The stuff you can dance to.
SS: I think that's the same thing at some point. I'm not interested in cerebral art because that's not necessarily why art exists. And a lot of music began with the fact that it makes you move. It's more of an emotional thing.
SO: When you try to come up with a new song, don't you ever feel like "Oh that song has already been done?"

FF: Of course, but you have to already have come to the understanding that it's all been done before. You're repeating it, but you're repeating it in a different way, or maybe with a different arrangement. I mean, there is nothing really new any more.

SS: Yeah I totally agree, after so many generations of people creating this stuff, it has to be about satisfaction of an expression.

// Souther Salazar

FF: You both did a large mural piece with Jacob McGraw for Art Center in Los Angeles. How did that come about and do you like working big?

SS: Jacob is awesome. He and I used to live in the same house in Pasadena. He got picked to do the piece and he brought us in to work on it with him since it was sort of short notice. I like small stuff better, but I'm proud when I do big stuff, like that wall.
SO: Souther will look at a scan or an image and zoom in 1000% just studying the pixels. Like with art he'll study it and say, "Ooh, I think this is bit mapped".
SS: Yeah, I love blowing stuff up big. I'm fine drawing something messy but when I scan it in, I want it to look exactly the way it is on paper. I want to blow it up and I want to see it. Sometimes, even if I need to have something at 300dpi, I'll scan it at 800dpi just so I can see the fiber of the paper and have it that big. Drives her crazy though.
SO: Nerd alert.

FF: For all the big work you've done, you guys both also do so many little zines and mini-books. What is it about zines that you like so much?

SO: Zines aren't very - what's the word? - efficient, but that's what I like about them. I don't know, is art efficient? Art's not really efficient or practical anyway. That's partly why I'm interested in it.

FF: The thing about zines too, especially about having them at your shows, is that if someone can't afford to get a piece of art work, they can always take a something home with them.

SS: The saving grace to me is that you hardly ever run into people who were attracted to making art because they wanted to make a lot of money.

FF: You (Souther) came out with a book a while back called Destined for Dizziness. How did you like doing a book?

SS: Saelee and I had ordered breakfast, like ordered French toast. We were drawing for no particular reason, just to have fun, and later I made them into a zine about the size of a matchbook. Then my friend Alvin who started Buenaventura Press was like "this would be a great book, let's expand this and make it bigger." I wish everything I did was like that.

// Saelee Oh

FF: I was surprised to find out that you (Saelee) didn't have a book?

SO: I have "fake" books that are self-published so basically zines. I haven't made one in a while though. I feel really self-conscious about books. It's just so intimate that I feel kind of naked. People can get very close to it. They're touching it and they're looking at it.
SS: They're rubbing it all over their bodies and sleeping with it. Taking showers with it.
SO: Ha ha. I get that feeling about showing art in general but then it passes. With a book though, somehow it's different.

FF: It's a great thing though. You can be dead and still have this thing that you created exist indefinitely.

SO: Exactly. It'll exist for a long time as a document and I think that's intimidating. But, yes I have ideas. Books are great. I love books. My books, pets and art we collected are the only things I would save in a fire. I think they're a great medium too. The idea of print and reproducing art is what made me interested in illustration in the first place. And although I found that making something for a job is totally different than the experience that I thought it'd be, I still love publishing and I would love to put a book together in the future.
SS: Saelee doesn't want me to die first because she doesn't want to deal with my piles. She would have to sort through everything and decide what's art and what's not art.
SO: Yeah.

You can see more of Souther's work at his website southersalazar.net
You can see more of Saelee's work at her website saeleeoh.com
Souther and Saelee's Giant Robot blog, "Peanut Butter and Jelly" can be found at: www.giantrobot.com/blogs/saetherlee/ {moscomment}

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contact FF

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IMG_9585_sm

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a_m


 

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lead

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17_ms

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charlie

 

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park_life

 

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Wednesday, 16 June 2010 17:39


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ABOUT HEADLANDS
Headlands Center for the Arts provides an unparalleled environment for the creative process and the development of new work and ideas. Through a range of programs for artists and the public, we offer opportunities for reflection, dialogue, and exchange that build understanding and appreciation for the role of art in society.

headlands

 

 

 


 

 

 

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We haven't been featuring many interviews as of late. Let's change that up as we check in with a few local San Francisco artists like Kevin Earl Taylor here whom we studio visited back in 2009 (PHOTOS & VIDEO). It's been awhile, Kevin...


Peter Gronquist @The Shooting Gallery

If you like guns and boobs, head on over to the Shooting Gallery; just don't expect the work to be all cheap ploys and hot chicks. With Make Stuff by Peter Gronquist (Portland) in the main space and Morgan Slade's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow in the project space, there is plenty spectacle to be had, but if you look just beyond it, you might actually get something out of the shows.


Jay Bo at Hamburg's Circle Culture

Berlin based Jay Bo recently held a solo show at Hamburg's Circle Culture featuring some of his most recent paintings. We lvoe his work.


NYCHOS @Fifty24SF

Fifty24SF opened Street Anatomy, a new solo show by Austrian artist Nychos a week ago last Friday night. He's been steadily filling our city with murals over the last year, with one downtown on Geary St. last summer, and new ones both in the Haight and in Oakland within the last few weeks, but it was really great to see his work up close and in such detail.


Gator Skater +video

Nate Milton emailed over this great short Gator Skater which is a follow-up to his Dog Skateboard he emailed to us back in 2011... Any relation to this Gator Skater?


Ferris Plock Online Show Now Online as of April 25th

5 new wonderful large-scale paintings on wood panel are available. visit: www.ffdg.net


ClipODay II: Needles & Pens 11 Years!!

Congrats on our buddies at Needles and Pens on being open and rad for 11 years now. Mission Local did this little short video featuring Breezy giving a little heads up on what Needles and Pens is all about.


BANDES DE PUB / STRIP BOX

In a filmmaker's thinking, we wish more videos were done in this style. Too much editing and music with a lacking in actual content. Just because you can doesn't mean you should.


AJ Fosik in Tokyo at The Hellion Gallery

Matt Wagner recently emailed over some photos from The Hellion Gallery in Tokyo, who recently put together a show with AJ Fosik (Portland) called Beast From a Foreign Land. The gallery gave twelve of Fosik's sculptures to twelve Japanese artists (including Hiro Kurata who is currently showing in our group show Salt the Skies) to paint, burn, or build upon.


Ferris Plock - Online Show, April 25th

FFDG is pleased to announce an exclusive online show with San Francisco based Ferris Plock opening on Friday, April 25th (12pm Pacific Time) featuring 5 new medium sized acrylic paintings on wood.


GOLD BLOOD, MAGIC WEIRDOS

Backwoods Gallery in Melbourne played host to a huge group exhibition a couple of weeks back, with "Gold Blood, Magic Weirdos" Curated by Melbourne artist Sean Morris. Gold Blood brought together 25 talented painters, illustrators and comic artists from Australia, the US, Singapore, England, France and Spain - and marked the end of the Magic Weirdos trilogy, following shows in Perth in 2012 and London in 2013.


Jeremy Fish at LA's Mark Moore Gallery

San Francisco based Fecal Pal Jeremy Fish opened his latest solo show Hunting Trophies at LA's Mark Moore Gallery last week to massive crowds and cabin walls lined with imagery pertaining to modern conquest and obsession.


John Felix Arnold III on the Road to NYC

Well, John Felix Arnold III is at it again. This time, he and Carolyn LeBourgios packed an entire show into the back of a Prius and drove across the country to install it at Superchief Gallery in NYC. I met with him last week as he told me about the trip over delicious burritos at Taqueria Cancun (which is right across the street from FFDG and serves what I think is the best burrito in the city) as the self proclaimed "Only overweight artist in the game" spilled all the details.


FRENCH in Melbourne

London based illustrator FRENCH recently held a show of new works at the Melbourne based Mild Manners


Henry Gunderson at Ever Gold, SF

Ever Gold opened a new solo show by NYC based Henry Gunderson a couple Saturday nights ago and it was literally packed. So packed I couldn't actually see most of the art - but a big crowd doesn't seem like a problem. I got a good laugh at what I would call the 'cock climbing wall' as it was one of the few pieces I could see over the crowd. I haven't gotten a chance to go back and check it all out again, but I'm definitely going to as the paintings that I could get a peek at were really high quality and intruiguing. You should do the same.


Mario Wagner @Hashimoto

Mario Wagner (Berkeley) opened his new solo show A Glow that Transfers Creativity last Saturday night at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco.


Serge Gay Jr. @Spoke Art

The paintings in the show are each influenced by a musician, ranging from Freddy Mercury, to Madonna, to A Tribe Called Quest and they are so stylistically consistent with each musician's persona that they read as a cohesive body of work with incredible variation. If you told me they were each painted by a different person, I would not hesitate to believe you and it's really great to see a solo show with so much variety. The show is fun, poppy, very well done, and absolutely worth a look and maybe even a listen.


NYCHOS Mural on Ashbury and Haight

NYCHOS completed this great new mural on the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco on Tuesday. Looks Amazing.


Sun Milk in Vienna

With rising rent in SF and knowing mostly other young artists without capitol, I desired a way to live rent free, have a space to do my craft, and get to see more of the world. Inspired by the many historical artists who have longed similar longings I discovered the beauty of artist residencies. Lilo runs Adhoc Collective in Vienna which not only has a fully equipped artists creative studio, but an indoor halfpipe, and private artist quarters. It was like a modern day castle or skate cathedral. It exists in almost a utopic state, totally free to those that apply and come with a real passion for both art and skateboarding


"How To Lose Yourself Completely" by Bryan Schnelle

I just wanted to share with you a piece I recently finished which took me 4 years to complete. Titled "How To Lose Yourself Completely (The September Issue)", it consists of a copy of the September 2007 issue of Vogue magazine (the issue they made the documentary about) with all faces masked with a sharpie, and everything else entirely whited out. 840 pages of fun. -Bryan Schnelle


Tyler Bewley ~ Recent Works

Some great work from San Francisco based Tyler Bewley.


Kirk Maxson and Alexis Mackenzie at Eleanor Harwood Gallery

While walking our way across San Francisco on Saturday we swung through the opening receptions for Kirk Maxson and Alexis Mackenzie at Eleanor Harwood Gallery in the Mission.


Jeremy Fish Solo Show in Los Angeles

Jeremy Fish opens Hunting Trophies tonight, Saturday April 5th, at the Los Angeles based Mark Moore Gallery. The show features new work from Fish inside the "hunting lodge" where viewers climb inside the head of the hunter and explore the history of all the animals he's killed.


The Albatross and the Shipping Container

Beautiful piece entitled "The Albatross and the Shipping Container", Ink on Paper, Mounted to Panel, 47" Diameter, by San Francisco based Martin Machado now on display at FFDG. Stop in Saturday (1-6pm) to view the group show "Salt the Skies" now running through April 19th. 2277 Mission St. at 19th.


The Marsh Barge - Traveling the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico

For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to quit my job, move out of my house, leave everything and travel again. So on August 21, 2013 I pushed a canoe packed full of gear into the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, along with four of my best friends. Exactly 100 days later, I arrived at a marina near the Gulf of Mexico in a sailboat.


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