Michael Lombardo for BOBBY LA & Anthony Renda for Institut für Bild und Objekt

The following interview was conducted in person on May 9, 2022 between Michael Lombardo, Anthony Renda, and Brackett Creek Exhibitions (Tessa Granowski) at Brackett Creek New York.

BCE:  Let's just jump into it. Today is May 9, 2022 and I'm sitting with Michael Lombardo and Anthony Renda in their show at Brackett Creek, New York. And we’re going to talk about the show, their practices, their conceptual spaces, their artist spaces, all of it... So maybe we can start with the show. Where did the idea for the show come from? How long have y’all been talking about this?

Michael Lombardo:  When you reached out about putting together a BOBBY show, this was kind of the first thing I was thinking of. Anthony and I have talked about doing a show for a while and I wanted it to feel almost like a timeline between us, experiences that happened separately or together or like a conversation between pen pals.

Anthony Renda:  I think it was really special to have this opportunity because so much of our relationship is talking about our practices and about approaches to exhibitions in general. And as vastly different as our individual practices are, there's so much overlap in terms of “language” around our work. So even though the objects or images that we work with sometimes appear so different, the ways in which we talk about it have a lot of similarities. And I think the way that the show came together so organically came out of this pretty close dialogue. When I'm not physically in LA, we still have this intimate dialogue about ourselves, our partners, our practice, etc.

BCE:  And how did you two meet each other?

AR:  At David Kordansky Gallery. We were both working there as technicians, and we both happened to be going through crazy times in our lives. It felt like we were almost meant to meet because we were both providing a sort of structure or a sense of home for each other.

BCE:  And as part of the show, you all spent a week in the gallery modifying the space, building material for additional walls and structures. Was that an ode to this origin in your relationship?

Installation image of Michael Lombardo for BOBBY LA & Anthony Renda for Institut für Bild und Objekt

ML:  I think you can’t ignore that, sure. If there's truth to how we know how to make things, it's definitely tied to it.

AR:  And I liked the way that having these leaning walls could read as if they were cut out from another space and brought here. But I think actually the way that Michael and I fabricated them here reads more like they were built in the space– especially the kind of custom little platform, the toe kick, was also made here.

BCE:  Wow, a toe cake? Sounds tasty.

AR:  [laughs] A toe kick. Well, we wanted to alter the space to make it immersive and to respond directly to the architecture of the mall. And adding the two walls felt like it was really bringing Michael and I into the space, having two walls close together and leaning intimately. And we've just brought a lot of our personal life and studio practice into this show and our shared experience as gay men working for other artists and institutions.

BCE:  Right, and that physical intervention does make the space feel more intimate and like it closes around you.

AR:  Especially because we blocked off half the window to the outside… I mean, the cutout in the window vinyl provides context. But also, we did want to kind of hold the viewer inside and keep them immersed.

ML:  Yeah, even just swatching the color of the window vinyl from a sunset view in my backyard.

BCE:  Oh, is that where the vinyl color choices came from? An actual photo from your backyard?

ML:  Yeah. We chose a few options of colors from a CMYK code from that photo and then that was printed at different saturations.

Sunset view at Michael’s apartment

AR:  And there are so many color variations in LA sunsets, but we chose the color that was really a warm glow.  And this filtration of light is seen in Michael’s paintings as well, like in his painting Coming Home… References to light and image mediated through your car window, which is mediated through the smog, and the image that you end up painting is through all these different kinds of layers.

BCE:  Yeah. Both the artwork and the installation has so many elements of collage.

AR:  Yeah, collage is a good way to think of it. Michael’s Jockstrap painting is sort of a trompe-l'œil collage of a piece of paper on fabric or paper on a painting on fabric on a wall. I think that we employed the same elements of collage or layering with the walls that we built, and they then act as these really big paintings. So, the walls are not only structural elements, but because of the size, because of the dimension of them, they perform as big canvases with a photograph in a frame or a painting within a surface.

Michael Lombardo, Jockstrap, 2022
Oil on linen, 18 x 24 x 1”

ML:  But I like that everything almost feels like a barrier. Like you get to see what's happening, but it's almost like you can't step into it fully in any way. Like the vinyl is a barrier to outside and the walls almost act as a barrier to getting closer to the work by leaning at an angle.

AR:  I mean, we were already talking about Swiss bunkers earlier and how each Swiss person has been assigned a bunker in case of some sort of natural disaster or nuclear attack. This isn't quite a bunker, but it is like creating a space with a similar effect, I think.

BCE:  I think that's what's so interesting about the references to home and what really defines home in the work. I know for both of you, you moved away from your respective birthplaces (Anthony, from Reno, NV and Michael from Norman, OK). And maybe a lot of people who end up moving to cities like Los Angeles or New York are almost like running away from something. But you still have that sense of nostalgia, right? So, home can act as this safe-space and a barrier at the same time?

AR:  Absolutely.

Anthony Renda, Chateau Lexington for Jonny and David, 2020 - 2022
found photograph, notes, postcards and patches on 50% grey mat board and aluminum frame
24 x 24 x 1”

BCE:  Do you want to talk about this story about your piece, Anthony, Chateau Lexington for Jonny and David?

AR:  Oh, yeah, sure. Again, this piece has those collage-like elements. All of the images were collected from the apartment where my friend Jonny lived for a long time. And that apartment was like an indicator for a new chapter in his life when he was going through twelve-step programs and getting sober. And it was the first time he moved out on his own and had his own apartment, his own safe space. And then my boyfriend and I sublet the apartment from him a couple of times. And during those times, we had friends stay with us from New York and Berlin. So, there is this collaged kind of history: the image of Jonny when he was playing Maleficent in a school play, the thank-you letter from a friend, David, whose sweatshirt is also in the show, the gay equality postcard that I turned sideways to look like the Twin Towers because we're really close to Ground Zero, and the game board scoresheet for this Swiss game called Jass. It’s like the national card game of Switzerland.

And actually, the sister piece to this collage, will be shown in Berlin in August and is in reference to this game, which is played on a green-felt game board where you play your cards on and it's the same scale as the frame, so it's 60 cm by 60 cm. The artworks are a pair, but they're separated, which I really love. And the stack of two sweatshirts, those are also paired, one is my own working sweatshirt when I’m doing dirty work, and the purple sweatshirt is from my friend David who wrote the thank-you note in the collage.

BCE:  Michael, do you want to talk about your painting Clip-On?

ML:  Sure. I went through a period last year where I struggled with choosing subject matter for my paintings, but then I realized that I have so many things that I collect and showcase in my house, like vintage cowboy boots or I spend a lot of time sourcing vintage clothing. I just thought to myself, why am I struggling with imagery when I have so much to source from? So, I have a small second level in my studio where I built a library and day bed. And I wanted this painting to feel like a cutout from this room. I found the tie at a thrift store from Appleton, Wisconsin and loved it because it seems flamboyant and masculine at the same time. 

Michael Lombardo, Clip-On, 2021
Oil on wood panel with mounted oil on canvas, 30 x 24 x 1.75” 

BCE:  And with another element of trompe-l'œil, like we had mentioned with Jockstrap. Are you trying to sort of playfully trick the viewer in employing that method?

ML:  It's funny because I didn't even really think about it in that way. It just kind of worked out that way because I wanted it to be these subjects in BOBBY, which is also my studio. And I think there is kind of a flatness in all of my paintings, and these just became a more literal way of doing it. That jockstrap was something left behind by my landlord in my studio and I painted it on this rounded surface that is raised in the center to look like a note left on a pillow.

BCE:  Do you want to go ahead and talk a little bit about BOBBY? This makeshift gallery space that you’ve created in your studio, which is at your house. When did you open that space and why did you call it BOBBY?

ML:  So, the first show I had at BOBBY was around three years ago, and it was really because all of my friends were making work and we just wanted to show our work together. I wanted to have friends over and build a community. So far, I've had two shows there.

BCE:  The first one was called Guys and Gals, yes?

ML:  Yes, well actually, Guy and Gals. I was the only guy. [laughs] That show was me, Ellen Khansefid, Marisa Marofske, Erika Alfonso, Joanna Ann, and Valentina Maggiolo. And then the second show was Via Sanborne and Sunset, which was me, Erika Alfonso, Ellen Khansefid and Marisa Marofske, and named after a junction between where we all lived.

BCE:  The gas station corner in high school where you would all meet?

Installation image from Via Sanborne and Sunset at BOBBY LA

ML:  Yeah. And then in coming up with a name for the space, I wanted it to reference something that felt familiar, but also be its own thing. And my grandfather's name is Roberto. He’s from Panama. And I like the idea of naming it BOBBY because it’s referencing something familiar but is something new.

BCE:  And so, in Via Sanborne and Sunset, that I actually got to see around this time last year, there were individual works by each artist, but there were also works that you all collaborated on in the second level of the space. Is that part of the idea for future shows, that it'll be individual works, and also collaborations within the group of artists?

ML:  I mean, I think it worked out that way because the subjects of those painting cut-outs were things we would see on the walks to each other's houses. But I don't know if I would use that specifically as a structure for the gallery program going forward.

Installation image from Via Sanborne and Sunset at BOBBY LA (second level)

BCE:  And Anthony, maybe can talk a little bit about your space, Institut für Bild und Objekt?

AR:  Sure. It means “Institute for Image and Object” in German. That relationship between image and object has always been important to me, not only in my own work, but also in the way that I look at exhibitions and talk about artwork in general—about how the two are intrinsically bonded and how images can act as objects or objects can act more as images. And I like that the name kind of points to something bigger than itself when in reality it's me and Michael or me and two other people or just me or not me at all. It's a way to create a kind of conceptual space for me to work from.

And another interesting pairing and opposition between Michael and me… BOBBY is a very physical space where Michael physically works on the paintings and shows work. Whereas mine is more of a conceptual space where I'm able to work on ideas, think about it as an image or object in a conceptual framework.

BCE:  Right, because you also split time between Los Angeles and Berlin. So having a non-physical space makes more sense as well.

AR:  Exactly, and with this show, the idea of home and studio and place really start to be questioned. For Michael, it is very much rooted in his garden and his terrace backyard and studio…

BCE:  And his cowboy boot collection.

Michael’s boot collection

AR:  Yes, exactly. And there's not really a way to separate the work from his space, while mine can exist in a decentralized way, but they both kind of serve the same purpose to provide a creative framework.

BCE:  Right. Maybe we can talk more about your photographs in the show?

AR:  Sure. Again, there is this conflation. The photographs were taken in Montana when we were staying at Brackett Creek and visited the hot springs. And most of the photos that I take are from this old camera or a disposable camera, because I like that it's like a very manufactured, uniform thing that I really don't have a lot of power over. And the only kind of variable that's left is the content of the image. I’m not approaching photography in thinking about aperture or shutter speed in ways that a studio photographer would. I use photography with the kind of context that a photograph brings to an artwork. And there are all sorts of interruptions with color and light that happen with the disposable camera photos, especially because we were taking them in the hot springs, so there’s this vaporous and smoky atmosphere. I ended up finding that they kind of mimicked a lot of qualities in Michael's paintings with these sorts of sunbursts and vellum-y, transparent layers. And so, they look vastly different in the way that they're presented, but also so connected in the kind of image quality.

BCE:  And the frame is also considered part of the work, no?

AR:  Yeah. So, the artwork is not just the four by six photographs—it’s the entire frame. The 50% gray mat board references a photographic process or practice because that's the way to balance color in a photograph. I included a color card as well as a very direct reference to studio photography and getting artwork documented. And you create this ideal photographic space, or institutional standard to document artwork, while also documenting the artwork for the show and creating a parallel with how we are preparing the space for the exhibition and how the exhibition space exists.

BCE:  Do you kind of see yourself as this director of the play in your work?

AR:  Yes, especially with the conception of Institut für Bild und Objekt. And actually, I had that idea in mind of being this sort of director when making this work, which is why I titled the one of Raph at the Chico Hot Springs, On Screen (Raph). And the ratio of the frame is 9:16, which is often used in film and video. Whenever you're projecting or watching something on a streaming service on your computer, the black bars will be framing the film because it’s a 10:16 aspect ratio. And so even though it looks a little bit awkward when you first look at it, you're like, there's this sort of portrait photo in a horizontal frame... But then you may end up really seeing the photograph as a performer in a frame rather than as just a photograph.

Anthony Renda, On Screen (Raph), 2021 - 2022
photograph on 50% grey mat board and aluminum frame, 9:17
14 1/2 x 25 1/2 x 1”

BCE:  Michael, maybe we can talk a little bit about Coming Home. You gessoed the canvas surface with dirt from your first house in Los Angeles.

ML:  Yeah, I collected dirt from the first house I moved to in Highland Park, where I lived with my girlfriend at the time. I wanted to show this work because I painted it around when Anthony and I first met one another. And I was just trying to make the work charged with this space that even today I still kind of have a little sadness for. Developing the surface of the painting acts as how the memory of being there is distorted just over time, in a way.

BCE:  Do you see this painting as someone who collects sand from their travels? It makes me think of Italo Calvino’s Collection of Sand where this person journeys all over the world and brings back collections of sand that then become their own visual diary.

ML:  Well, I feel like this painting is not a specific way of collecting something. It is more something that holds a memory and is a representation of the space. All of these paintings have a charged sense of space from where they were made.

BCE:  And the same with the Rose Rock, yes? That rock is a painting from your hometown in Oklahoma?

Michael Lombardo, Coming Home, 2019
Oil on canvas with dirt, Artist frame, poplar
12 x 9 x 0.625”

Michael Lombardo, Rose Rock, 2022
Oil on linen, Artist frame, reclaimed lumber
12 x 9 x 1 ″

ML:  Well, not exactly the same. But the thickness of the linen does mimic dirt in a way which then distorts the imagery. I like to think of what makes things whole when painting, like with Coming Home, the dirt is a big aspect of what completes it as a whole picture. And then with Rose Rock, I feel like it's more about the actual rock that I collected the last time I was in Oklahoma, when I helped my parents move to Texas. It felt like that was the last time I would be where I grew up. So, I feel like the weight Rose Rock is more important in the imagery instead of the weight in Coming Home because the dirt is really more physically integrated in the painting surface.

BCE:  Right, the physical remnants of home are expressed in two very different ways then.
So, at least from my own experience of living in LA, light seems so important in the everyday. You get so much of it out there, and it has this glow that we’ve already mentioned from the window vinyl. Is that LA light an element that you’ve been wanting to focus on in your paintings?

ML:  I think it just happens on its own, maybe just with the way I was taught how to paint. I try to mix a little bit of the same color in everything so that everything is integrated on the canvas. After I graduated from RISD, I was making a lot of paintings from memory and using this integrated color palette and kind of like painting the whole picture and then blurring it or stamping it with a piece of paper, I was constantly trying to destroy what I was making and then letting that dry to go back on top because I did want them to feel like a memory or have this present-ness instead of this literalness. But that's really developed in different ways with the newer work that has been more representational. But I feel like I’m still working with this present-ness through a more visible type of layering, like in mounting canvas on panel.

BCE:  Are there any specific artists that you both look up to that you want to talk about, or any individually that were influential to the work in this particular show?

ML:  I guess with making the frame for Rose Rock, I was thinking about Forrest Bess with the frames he made. He would find drift-wood on the beach and then just make a frame out of it.

AR:  Yeah. I think even more so than specific art historical references in my work, I end up considering the history of painting or the history of photography in broader senses and asking what is photography now and what is painting now and what is sculpture now? And what does it mean to make an image now? What does it mean to make an object now? Really…what is at stake in making an image or an object and how does it work? And I think what happens so kind of effortlessly in a way with Michael is that the image on the surface really has this kind of beautiful relationship to the kind of object-ness of the painting. And with the drywall anchors, there is this possibility of exhibition or placement. And there is this nice connection, too, like what I was talking about before with this sort of utilitarian kind of approach with using a disposable camera with the kind of physical use of a drywall anchor being a very utilitarian one. But the way that we're using it now is this really kind of ephemeral kind of image-making that strips the object of its nature and uses it as a way of mark making.

Anthony Renda 
Photo of a potential sculpture locked to a sign post outside the gallery (New York, 2022). Taken with a Lomo camera and printed at Kotti Foto (Berlin, 2022)

BCE:  Yeah. I didn't know that much about drywall, but I've learned so much about drywall since I’ve been de-installing and installing shows in this space. These extremely “clean” spaces are totally fake, totally fabricated, and very thin. Drywall is like half an inch deep.

AR:  [laughs] Well, they make five-eighths inch, but we used half-inch for these walls. Yeah.

BCE:  So, you are kind of exposing these clean art spaces as well, a kind of institutional critique…

AR:  Yeah. It's very much about that façade. Similar to creating its own narrative or pulling in these images and objects from other narratives to sort of compile a fake one or not fake one, but a composed one or a sampled one. An artificial one, but an artificial one that has really personal references, a personal approach. The logo, the TEWACO logo and the patent number is Raph's Granddad's company name. It is really common in Switzerland to put the first two letters of your name and the city and company next to each other. So TEWACO is the Teador Walser Company. His great-granddad developed a system for making wooden shutters that are interlocking to the outside of your house. I wanted to include the patent and logo from a very utilitarian and craftsman company because there's always an aspect of craftsmanship and fabrication in any artwork, whether it's sort of like outsider artwork on one end or obviously super high end, like Carol Bove or Jeff Koons, very sexy, sleek. And then everything in the middle of those two extremes, you cannot really divorce your studio practice from the materiality of what you're doing, really, and the sort of craftsmanship of what you're doing. Or even if you are not physically making your work, someone is.

BCE:  Well, thank you both. I feel like we covered a lot of ground today.