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Constructing a Career : Jill Giegerich balances success with the usual artist's burdens: reconciling the past and making sense of the present

September 09, 1990|WILLIAM WILSON

Jill Giegerich has got it but she does not flaunt it. She is among the most gifted and applauded of a younger generation of Los Angeles artists that emerged from the California Institute of the Arts in the '70s and went on to make waves in the international mainstream.

At 38, Giegerich is distinctly a hatched talent, but bits of eggshell cling to her as they do to such classmates as Lari Pittman and Mike Kelley. Despite an art world now spawning overnight success, it still takes some artists years to forge a solid aesthetic track record. Could a woman artist working in Los Angeles be at a disadvantage?

"I'm an avid feminist," she says, "but in my work I allow no social pressure. I am upset at the lack of women and people of color in a world that is supposed to be in the avant-garde of social change. The art world here is actually extremely conservative. With all Los Angeles' diversity, the art scene is still a white bastion."

Professionally, Giegerich has little to complain about. She's been seen in eight solo and 10 group exhibitions since 1980, including one in Japan and the biennial of New York's Whitney Museum. Her work sells briskly with major pieces bringing up to $30,000. An admiring contemporary called her "the empress of L.A. art." She recently switched galleries, moving from Margo Leavin--an established leading showcase--to Fred Hoffman, a recently arrived leading showcase.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 23, 1990 Home Edition Calendar Page 95 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 16 words Type of Material: Correction
The Jill Giegerich profile (Sept. 9) erred on the name of art theoretician Jacques Derrida, calling him Carlos.

The art world regards changing galleries as old Hollywood's equivalent of a star swapping studios--a cause for deliciously vicious speculation and a barometer of one's career. But, where Lana would have told Hedda all about it, Giegerich is resolutely mum on the subject. It seems, however, unlikely that she would have moved were it not to her advantage.

"I confess I have this ongoing reel of tape in my head having to do with my career. I struggle against the feeling that no matter what happens it's never enough. In that mood I won't be happy until the whole world puts me on a pedestal and I'm given a parade at the end of which I ascend to heaven.

"That's bottomless-pit thinking. My more mature side realizes I've worked hard and gotten there. I'm generally respected, get to show regularly and don't have to work another job."

You would never suspect voracious ambition from looking at her, or success from looking at her studio. She is tall, leggy and given to jogging shoes, shorts and men's shirts. Seated, she relaxes and gestures loosely. A classic, clean-cut type with straight brown hair and thoughtful brown eyes, her speech combines soothing softness with a candor so easy she sounds like someone who has experienced psychotherapy.

"I've had a little of that," she confesses. "Every seven years or so I suffer some sort of breakdown and have to stop working. I'm just recovering from one now. My back just fell apart. You have to have faith that humans go through these difficult, painful things to arrive at a new order that will be better than the old order."

Her studio is in an alley near Adams and Fairfax, an ethnically mixed neighborhood looking vaguely deserted on account of the wide boulevard. Her immaculate blue bike leans against chain-link gates that open to a cluttered work space about the size of a two-car garage.

'I can't offer you coffee or anything," she informs a visitor. "There are no amenities here. It's just a studio."

She does, however, sit on a folding metal chair, hospitably leaving a paint-encrusted, chrome-frame padded job to her company.

A moment of awkward, first-encounter silence is filled by glancing around a workroom filling up with new pieces that look familiar--part painting, part sculpture. All of it is in black, browns, whites and tans.

"Color doesn't play a part in my work. To me, using it would be like putting on makeup. My work has never taken a left turn. It's really been the same since I was about 10. It's all one long circular thought process. In college when I thought about what you have to do to be an artist, about 'great works' and 'bodies of work,' I'd make something absolutely dreadful.

"I call them constructions. I'm interested in building materials like plywood, cork and industrial sandpaper. When you take them out of their usual context they take on a lot of air and float off and become anomalies. Sometimes I try to make materials function as something they really aren't--like making printed wood-grain function as water."

She seems to speak of a work leaning against the wall. A corner of a black box juts from swirling, liquefied wood-grain.

"Sometimes I can identify the catalyst for a piece. That black-box thing came from a dream. In it someone told me there was this box at the bottom of the sea that held something important having to do with who I am. I dove down and saw this remarkable box. It was alive and sparkling in the water. I had the dream almost two years ago, but I remembered the way it hinted at an inclusive existence and visual ecstasy and magic. I didn't open it, I just left it.

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