There is a meditative sobriety to the work of New York-based artist Luke Diiorio. In subtle shades–Hershey bar brown, blush pink, dust gray, to name a few–his work often relies on a simple, intellectual architecture, its immediate depth and complexity hidden from view. It never screams or shouts. The work is stillness–a good and frank conversation on efforts of Minimalism through the prism of now.
Streamlined as his pieces might be, uncomplicated they are not. Diiorio deals in the illusion of simplicity. His pleated paintings, which deftly blur dimensional lines, are created by the calculated and repetitive pleating of a singular sheet of material. Fastened unseen behind the frame, the result is the false appearance of singular straps of linen and canvas. His sculptural work, such as 2014’s untitled series of “unfinished” walls seen this past winter at LA’s Anat Ebgi, blends the misleading presentation of happenstance construction with both a purposeful awkwardness and natural structural impossibility.
The 31-year-old Pennsylvania native let us inside his studio while he prepares for his solo presentation set for this September at Pippy Houldsworth in London, as well as a group show in Brussels at Super Dakota, where he will present alongside notable artists Bruce Nauman and Fred Sandback. Here, we talk to Diiorio about revelatory childhood museum trips, boiler room workspaces, and why the F train is the definitive best/worst subway line in NYC.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, I am working on two series of paintings and installation work for upcoming exhibitions, and a series of handmade artist’s books.
Daytime worker or nighttime worker?
I work early mornings and into the late afternoon, leaving the nighttime for reflection and relaxation.
Hardest space you’ve ever had to work in:
During one point in London I worked in a very small space making sculpture and painting. It was really a closet in a basement, full of noisy wet pipes and poor light and ventilation. The best way to describe this would be a boiler room. It probably was the boiler room!
Worst subway in NYC:
Wow, good question. Sometimes people tell me their least favorite trains and they are so wrong; they are often the best. The R is a sleeper–great train. But the worst is the F train. It’s also the best. But it’s the worst. I use it almost everyday, so it’s great. I hate it.
Favorite 3 cities in the world:
1. Athens, GR 2. New York, NY 3. London, UK
A book everyone should read:
“Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: Over Thirty Years of Conversations with Robert Irwin.” I came across this book about the same time I came across Irwin’s work, and it has never left me. His brutal honesty and pragmatic approach to growing as a human being extends far beyond an art practitioner.
Least favorite question people ask you as an artist:
“Do you work out of your apartment?”
Were you interested in art as a child?
Absolutely, but only because it was so strange! I was lucky enough that my parents would take us to museums and I simply thought it was so strange that we would make these long trips into the city to visit these enormous buildings that housed these weird metal figures and outrageous things on the wall. I was attracted to the obscure, almost secret nature of it all.
How long have you been in NYC? How did you end up here?
My parents are from New York–my mother was born in Brooklyn–but I grew up in Pennsylvania. After university I ended up in Italy and moved around quite a bit, with stints [everywhere] from France to Baltimore. I eventually came to New York only to leave for London for a few years where I began studying again. At the end of 2013, I moved back to New York, and my studio and life has been here since.
How did you find your current workspace and where is it?
I work in Sunset Park, in “Industry City.” When I moved back, I found a nice man on Craigslist who operates an artists’ foundation on one of the floors in these huge gritty buildings. Since then, teams of architects have developed a Frankenstein-like complex of buildings, housing studio artists, fashion manufacturers, and now artisanal cupcake shops.
What’s the hardest part about being an artist in NYC right now?
I don’t know about a hardest part, because in fact there are so many opportunities. There are always more interesting people to meet and amazing work to see. It is hard to be an artist anywhere; I cannot complain about New York. The rats?
What’s a day typically look like for you, from start to finish?
My day starts with four shots of espresso over four cubes of ice. It is springtime now, so I have enjoyed walking about two and half miles to the studio in the morning, listening to AM sports radio usually. If I am alone in the studio, I will work through the day, and if I have visitors then I just give into talking and reflecting about the work, which is great too. But I cannot have an interrupted workday.
What medium or tool are you most interested in presently and why?
I use a lot of hand tools and power tools every day, and I am always interested in the simplest ones, and, more importantly, the ones that last! I have a cat’s claw (a thin, hammer type tool used to remove nails, etc.) that I use all the time, and I think it maybe the only tool I never have had to replace!
Describe the feeling when your work travels from the studio to the walls of a gallery just before an exhibition:
This is really the moment. Once you decide “This is going public” is really the job of the artist–to absorb the world around you and then put something critical back into it. The gallery, in my case, is often a good place to do this. But once it’s public, it’s everyone’s, and for me the work is over, and I am already thinking about something else. I do not dwell on outside things I cannot control, like the work’s reception or others’ perception.
What draws you to the minimalist aesthetic in your work?
Minimalism is an interesting concept in contemporary art today, but I think it is quite misunderstood, especially in regard to my generation working within its relativity. Like modernism, or abstraction in general, we no longer push the boundaries of aesthetics and theory until we reach this radical point called “Minimalism.” It has already been achieved! Instead, I think artists today are working with minimalism not as a destination, but as a tool or vehicle that can take us to different points of interest, often in combination with contradicting ideas. I don’t think we have reached the point of being derivative, but rather we are testing the limits of these art movements that were so readily set in place over a short period of time. I think some really fascinating work has come from this lately!
What book/ film/ work of art most recently captured your attention and why?
Some great shows in New York this past year were simply incredible. Barbara Kasten at Bortolami this spring was really impressive, and her survey at ICA Philadelphia is incredible as well. I loved Mike Nelson at 303 Gallery, which was totally refreshing for a gallery show. Also, the Robert Gober at MoMA was really inspiring. It was amazing to see how thorough a single artist’s practice can be, while still being incredibly loose and spontaneous.
What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
My father tells me: “Position your life so you can do stuff that matters.”
Photos by Atisha Paulson for SIXTY Hotels.