An Interview with Neill Orje

January 13, 2010

Neill Orje

When you ask Neill Orje what he does for a living, he’ll probably never tell you that he spends most of his waking hours behind a paintbrush. Always soft spoken, the world seems to stop and listen to get a rare chance to hear him speak. Born and raised in Southern California, Orje built his style around surrealist ideals and a collection of personal experiences. While completing his Art degree at San Fransisco State, Orje was sharing gallery space with Richard Deacon and Gerhard Richter at the de Young Museum.

After making it back to his hometown of San Diego for a quick stay, Orje relocated to Los Angeles to join the Artist in Residency Program at Raid Projects, a renown exhibition and curatorial organization located east of downtown LA; at the Brewery district. I was able to connect with Neill and field him a few questions about some the work he’s been up to.

Photo: Chaz Cruz
More info: Neill Orje


You’ve recently relocated to Los Angeles and you’re currently one of the resident artists at LA’s Raid Projects. How is it going?

I do not know what to make of Raid as of yet. I ‘ve only been here for less than two months with most of my time being spent working on a painting that will take me well into the New Year to complete. I participated in a couple of shows here in LA thanks to Raid Projects under the guise of being anonymous. With Raid being headed by new directors, the monthly shows that have been curated usually involve interesting work from several different artists.

The most recent show, for the month of December, is a response to Miami’s Art Basel as it is titled, (if L.A. changed it’s name to Miami, we’d be there) Pink Flamingo Art Fair. Under one roof, there were four curated shows by four Los Angeles galleries, none of whom I have met.

Before making the move out of San Diego, what made you choose LA? Is the traffic as bad as they say it is?

The traffic at times can be bad during rush hours, but I tend to avoid driving altogether. Los Angeles is a hub for art enthusiasts around. Creativity flourishes in every crack and crevice and in every corner you turn in the City of Angels.

Your paintings often portray a surrealist perception of the familiar in a geometric, depth deceiving point of view. What drives you in this direction? Describe these places.

Rooted in personal experience, these paintings operate between autobiography and fantasy while in response to art historical canons through “western” lenses. I play with fiction and non-fiction as a means for expressing personal messages of sentiment, opting for a purely visual idiom.  Sometimes using childhood memories and places of where I have lived as starting points. Through various media and varying modes of pictorial structure, I combine, recombine and invent new environments. I select and sequence materials, images and themes to create new associations in a systemic attempt to orchestrate color in an irritating quagmire of contradictions beneath the vendor of anonymity.

Neill-Orje-Untitled-Series  smWho were some of your earlier inspirations that helped shape your artistic outlook?

Mike Tyson and Nintendo.

Whose work by a contemporary artist(s) do you always look forward to seeing?

Henry Darger, Agnes Martin, and Bas Jan Ader.

What was the first exhibition opening that you attended that left a creative impact on you as an artist? Who’s show was it?

I have only attended two openings thus far. Two Nights Of Performances by Los Angels-based artist, John Williams (held at the former Sister Gallery in Chinatown) and Untitled Hardcore Zombie Project by artist Bruce La Bruce at Peres Projects in Culver City. Both left me in awe.

Budget cuts within the educational system have resulted in the cancellation of art programs across the country. How important is Art within the grade-school curriculum?

It’s essential that art be taught in grade school. Art is another way of thinking and using the brain. It contributes to developing creativity by learning components that increase knowledge, comprehension, analysis and synthesis. It is truly unfortunate that funding for art programs is being cut. Children need outlets for creativity.

Some of your work explores typographical techniques. How do you feel about the digital methods of typography? What are the significances you hold in brushing type versus going digital?

Any utterance has meaning. It has it by virtue of its relation to other utterances. To single out any one word, as a discrete “text” is merely to pull a single thread apart from the “textile” within which it has its semantic places. To understand something is to spend time with it.

Neill Orje explains...

What was the inspiration behind your Untitled Series of 2009? Are the compositions chronologically and/or chromatically codependent on each other?

The compositions are indeed chronologically and chromatically codependent on each other. Each line is dependent on the sum of its parts. A work only needs to be interesting.  It isn’t necessary for a work to have a lot of things to look at, to compare, to analyze one by one, to contemplate. The pattern within ones mind corresponds to the existential fact of the object.

The hyper-real surface takes on a kind of nature. Each hue has a specific “note”; much in the same way a musician takes note of sound that eventually gets orchestrated to make a song.

You were involved in a public dispute with the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department over an installation that you did for Brooks Park in San Francisco. Did the city eventually remove your sculpture? Where is it now?

The city had removed the sculpture with a crane and transported it to the house of the person that owns the sculpture — which is in close proximity to where the sculpture was installed.

I want to see your work. What shows will you be participating in within the next few months? Who are some of your upcoming collaborators?

I am an island unto myself. I just recently talked to a man through Raid Projects who wants to facilitate my work out here in Los Angeles. I don’t know when nor where this will happen. I am working on a painting that deals a lot with memory, particularly a childhood memory that is in some way or another filtered using a highly coded visual language that introduces a figure into what is primarily geometric abstraction.

Not having a normal sleeping schedule is kind of taking a toll, as I love seeing daylight every once in a while. As of late, my day usually starts when everyone is asleep.  [I'm] up all night so I try not to sleep all day.

In the Face of Indifference by Neill Orje

"Afloat" by Neill Orje. 48x48 inches. Mixed Media on panel.

"IV of a Kind" by Neill Orje. 2008. 48 x 48 inches mixed media on canvas.

"A Shade of Green" by Neill Orje. 2008. 48 x 48 inches Modified Acrylic

"A New October" by Neill Orje. 2008. 48 x 48 inches Modified Acrylic

Keep off the Grass. 2009. Modified Acrylic on Panel. 48x48 inches.

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