Interview with Greg Gandy: From Enabler to Example

This week I had the opportunity to sit down with Greg Gandy. Greg is a studio painter and creative entrepreneur living in Denver. He grew up in Mississippi where he worked on multiple art promotion projects. These include an artist collective, a documentary film titled subSIPPI, and an arts non-profit called Mississippi Modern. All of these projects had a similar goal of promoting art in Mississippi and the South. Gandy’s Mississippi Modern meticulously cataloged cultural resources in the state. Today, this systematic form of operation carries into his studio paintings. His work explores the variables of art such as line, hue and texture. He combines text and figures to create complex compositions and he also works solely in text to explore the qualities of different media. Gandy’s early career was focused on promoting the work of others but now he is focused on gaining his own audience while being an example to other creatives. I asked him about his career promoting the arts, his studio work, the art scenes of the South and Denver, and his advice to emerging artists. 

Gandy’s work will be featured in the #22 edition of the UK based art magazine A5 later this month. - go to to pre-order

You can commission custom text art from Gandy on his website

Follow Gandy on Instagram ( for new art uploaded daily

What got you interested to be a professional artist?

I went to an art high school and studied visual arts. After that it was pretty much either the arts or the military. It was either somebody deciding what my life is going to be or complete control on my part. I chose the arts. I ended up going to the University of Southern Mississippi to study art there. I was in the honor college of the fine arts program and I learned really quickly that its not where the art is. It felt like the energy and creation was confined. In retrospect, you need that for an education setting but at the time it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted freedom. I ended up leaving school and joining an art collective in Jackson, Mississippi’s Midtown. It was there that I learned how to be an artist and I learned that anyone can make a living being an artist. You just have to lower your quality of living to match your income. For me, that was basically starving myself to death. I think my overhead was about $200 a month. I was living in my studio, eating when I could and decided that was what I was going to do for a few years. That’s when it kind of cemented that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and that identified certain problems with being an artist. Particularly in a place where the socioeconomic gap is very large between certain workforces. The creative workforce doesn’t really command that much money unless you’re serving a purpose. So, the fine arts can be difficult to earn an income with, to put it diplomatically. What I ended up doing was throwing a lot of parties and art shows. Because it was in between Chicago and New Orleans we would have a lot of good musicians coming through wanting to play a gig and have a place to stay. We’d have artists show their work in pop up art shows and we’d pay artists the same way we’d pay musicians. If there was four people performing each person gets a dollar out of the five dollar cover and a dollar going to me. 

I also tried education with documentary film making showcasing subcultures in Mississippi and trying to educate the public on the diversity. We were basically taking inventory. The problem being if you don’t know it exists then you don’t know what you need to support. It’s easy to say that you don’t have something especially in the South East and Deep South which is what most creatives and intellectuals like to say. It’s easy to identify what we don’t have by being able to see everything with the internet. We decided to look for what we have rather than what we don’t have. That was an area of pursuit while I was also pursuing my personal art career. Keep in mind, all of this extra stuff was to supplement the reality that I was not going to be able to make money if there was no creative infrastructure so we decided to try and build it. The documentary was successful. It was called subSIPPI. We had a sold out premier and it was really well received. Then, the next problem was that I wanted to focus on the arts. I think it’s good that the film featured all different religions like Christians and buddhists, different alternative types of agriculture like community supported agriculture plans and different cities’ efforts to build. My focus is on the arts though. 

I started a non profit called Mississippi Modern and it was in the same vein of taking inventory. There was no comprehensive list of what we had or where to go. If you’re a musician then its difficult but pretty straight forward of how to get distribution of your work. It’s not physical; you can use digital distribution. There’s people who can make money off of what you do and they’ll support it. With the arts, it’s all individual. What we decided to do was to make a breakdown of our cultural resources: art councils, museums, art galleries even local breweries. This was at the time when it was finally legal to make craft beer in Mississippi. The real strength of that wasn’t necessarily what we were cataloging but how we were doing it. Instead of doing it regionally we chose to do it by congressional district. We were able to rank congressional districts based off of their resources. The big push with Mississippi Modern apart from cataloging was not necessarily trying to create a local hierarchy like these are the good artists, these are the good galleries or these are who we are promoting; it was more about creating an international dialog. It wasn’t saying these are the other regional artists you can compare these artists too. We were saying we are Mississippians. Our greatest export is people because everyone leaves as soon as they can. You can view that as a problem or an asset. We chose to view at as an asset. We were able to get world art news by Mississippians for Mississippians with articles from the U.K., Korea, Australia and all over the United States. It was a good project. As far as I know, it was the first time it’d ever been done. With the catalog we were able to measure growth and degradation in a very objective way so that we could tell a congressmen that their district only has one museum and another has eight and ask them what’s the problem there. The reason that I say that cataloging by congressional district was a moment of change is because we were able to clearly identify where the gerrymandering was to see where the political lines scooped out rich and poor parts. It was less political and more economics to see what’s causing the decline in certain areas; less more versus them and more that this is a real problem. Then, other groups could take this and use it for other reasons inside the state. Rather than focusing on geographical separations, focusing on governmental breakdowns allows you to take action in a very real way. Whenever we shut down Mississippi Modern, I came to Denver to get my personal art together. I had been trying to help other people for so long that I forgot that I needed to help myself and be able to set my own foundation before I’m able to help other people in a meaningful way. 

So, you moved to Denver to focus on your own art?

Correct, I’ve been off social media for a long time and I’ve never had a website for my art. Being successful selling art or making a living off of art was never an option. It might have been but in my perceived reality it never was. I had always tried to do things that made art happen whether that was working a job, starting a non-profit or throwing events. Things related to art to where people can consume a creative atmosphere and a side effect of that was that I could make my art. What I’m doing in Denver is figuring out what I find interesting visually and what is the best avenue for creative growth for me personally. I put myself into a vacuum for about two years; no social media or putting my art on the internet. Six months ago I finally got an Instagram, I have a website and art for sale. It’s taken on a whole new form of growth because I’m growing in front of an audience and I don’t think I’d be able to do that now if I hadn’t had of that solace. 

What are the biggest differences in the art scenes of the South and Denver. 

In the south, everything moves slower. What usually happens is that you usually have two of three things: money and people with no momentum, people and momentum with no money or money and momentum with no people. It’s really a stutter step and you need something outside of those to push things through in the South. That’s what I tried to do with Mississippi Modern. Here in Denver, all three exist at the same time. There’s a lot of people, momentum and money. It’s all geared toward the creative sector because they know that’s what creates quality of life. It’s really excited because it’s kind of precarious at the moment. It’s my understanding that the RiNO Art District is semi-organic and semi-artificial. They looked at the existing art districts, chose the best parts of it and applied it to an area that already had the skeleton of an art community. They’re trying to grow it in a way that’s beneficial to everybody. It’s a weird dance that seems strong but brittle at the same time because artists can’t really afford to live there. The artists that are really trying to be professional don’t want to be perceived as unprofessional. A lot of the programs that support the arts can be kind of condescending in that respect. The people that are going to be successful aren’t going to wait for rent money. If you need a certain amount of money to live you are either going to get it or you’re not. I find that the people who are most successful are the ones who make it happen no matter what’s going on. For example, if you need to make less than $10,000 to get into a certain art studio it doesn’t really help the people who are already making it happen. The art programs are working on it thought and there’s a lot of good going on here that doesn’t happen in other places. I don’t know how long it’s going to take but it seems like it’s going to be an exciting ride. 

While in the South you were making all of these new things happen. Do you feel like the Denver art scene can be confining?

It’s easy to do something new when nothing has been done. It’s much more difficult to do something where everyone is already doing something. It takes a much higher level of thought and innovation. I use to say that I view the world in opposites. If something to one extreme is true then something to exact opposite extreme is also true. People say that if you can make it in New York then you can make it anywhere. What’s the opposite of New York? I would say that it’s Mississippi. There’s such a vacuum that you have to be that much better to get recognition and it takes a certain set of skills to do that. Here in Denver, there’s so many people moving in, there’s so much competition and activity on every level but most people seem genuinely happy just to be here that it makes the competition pleasant. I think that’s unique and I think that RiNo is doing a wonderful job promoting it. From my experience, it’s harder to get jaded here because it’s hard to be sad when you have so much going on. 

Can you talk a little about your current studio work?

What I have been doing since about 2006 is a weird mesh of text patterns and figure painting. They were together for the longest time and then in 2008 or 2009 they separated. The text art was never really my main area; it was just something I would do to meditate or pass the time by seeing different qualities of line and patterns. When I first got to Denver, I combined the two again and started doing figure paintings with the text. It felt off and weird so I separated them again and I started doing a ton of figurative watercolors. I started doing the text work on the side and I decided that’s where I wanted to go. It was the thing that I didn’t think was important  and that’s usually what ends up being the most important in your art. I’ve done thousands of them now. I focus on different systems of creation by setting constants in order to really understand the variables whenever they present themselves. For example, I’ll do a hundred using gouache and brush and then look at the different qualities that the brushes have. After awhile you start to look for different things and you see the physical texture of the medium. Basically going through systematically and learning all of the different parts of creation like knowing exactly what types of pigments I’m using, exactly the type of paper, seeing what mediums are stable, and seeing what happens when quantity is used as a quality. That’s all art is; playing with different variables. 

Do your other creative interests inform your studio work?

Yes it has. I’ve spent so long viewing other people’s art careers as a third party and trying to help them see the holes in their careers. Maybe they should think about this aspect and how it can connect with this audience. They’re doing this over here because they like it but maybe if they try this other thing it might be even more direct. Trying to step back and reflect on my own career has been very helpful for me. I heard a quote when I was 18 that said “What a man is not by the time he’s 26 he will never be.” I’m sure that made since when people lived to 35 but I took it literally and tried to do everything. Whenever you do event or art promotion everything must be clear, concise and defined. That’s what I’m doing now with my art is making a lot of choices. Yes I can do this but should I do it? Yes I can partake in this activity but should I? Making those types of decisions seems straightforward but when you’re in the thick of it it’s difficult. It’s difficult to make fundamental shifts but it’s better to do it early than being 60 and realizing that you’ve been insincere with yourself. 

Do you see yourself ever going back to the South?

Yes, eventually. I would like to travel more. I’m still trying to work out the pattern of my life to figure out what the right balance of work and place is. The way I was raised was that if there’s a job to do you do it until it’s done and after it’s done you rest and figure out what the next job is. So, I’m trying to figure out that balance. I’m also trying to figure out how to connect with an audience and I think that means being mobile especially being physical present. The internet makes it very easy to think that you can be everywhere without going anywhere and with all of the other arts that’s not the case. I’m figuring out how to be present in multiple places. I would like to go back to the South but I’d also like to go everywhere. I don’t want to be stagnant. 

What advice to you have for emerging artists just out of art school?

I’d say to be careful of intellectual masturbation. A big problem that we have now is that we all have access to different types of information. You can listen to podcasts with people who have done these amazing things and it’s easy to think that we were a part of that but there’s still no substitute for action. Understanding is not the same as action and you have a different understanding after you’ve performed the action. I think artists are uniquely position to use that to their advantage. No one is going to make the art for you. It’s up to you to be clear and direct with your art and that comes with different side effects. If you make physical objects, you’re going to need a physical location. That’s either going to cost money or you’re going to have to work something else out. That’s the part they don’t tell you about in school. 

If I were in school again, what I would have done differently was to realize that I’m there to get as big of a head start as possible in terms of understanding where you can make mistakes. Every profession has the amateur mistakes but when you’re out in the real world they can set you back years. One of the big ones that artists make when starting out is that no one gives a fuck about you. No one. You are there to perform for the audience and the audience matters. If the audience isn’t interested in it then it’s not their fault; it’s yours. It’s up to you to figure out in your psyche and aesthetic what to do to get the audience’s attention as quickly as possible. That’s something that you should do in an educational setting. If the audience likes it then that’s all that matters and it’s up to you to have the subtext and composition to aid them in liking it more. They don’t teach you that in school; they teach you what you’re doing wrong and then they try to say why the audience is wrong. If are trying to show a friend this awesome song and you talk over the entire song telling them why it’s good; you’re a fucking asshole. It’s the same way with art, if you look at it and enjoy it then that’s all that matters. If it starts a conversation afterwards or even during then cool. If you have to sit there and have it explained to you then you’re missing the point. It’s supposed to bring joy to your life or help you understand things better. Enlightenment happens, it can’t be explained to you and art is supposed to help you on that path. Then there’s the other things that no one talks about for the most part like craftsmanship and self questioning. Would you spend $100 on what you made knowing that you used subpar materials, knowing that it won’t last 25 years or not knowing if it’s a dye pigment or an actual pigment. Being a professional comes with a responsibility. 

Where do you see your art career in the future?

Taking my own advice. Trying to find an audience and focusing less on myself and my personal growth by focusing on growth that helps myself and others be happy. Making my art an experience and being a part of the culture by being less isolated and hermit like. 

Do you see yourself moving back into the world of art promotion or do you want to focus on your studio work? 

I think that if you’re doing two things then you’re doing nothing so I’m trying to make it one and the same. There’s a couple of different ways to go about it. You can be an enabler where you’re helping others at a sacrifice to your own path or you can be an example and show people the path. They can choose to walk behind you, with you, after you or even before you. I think that if I wanted to be an enabler then I would be in education so I see myself being an example. With that I make a lot of publications. It’s less promotion and more that the art itself is becoming the experience. It’s art itself by organizing content to bring a mission that you’re trying to communicate. 


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