Student spotlight: an interview with artist Sofie Ramos

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Meet Sofie Ramos: a second-year graduate student in the practice of art master of fine arts program here at UC Berkeley. Sofie, the daughter of self-employed woodworkers, is a proficient and inspiring artist. As a recent graduate from Brown University — with honors, no less — she has also taken classes from the Rhode Island School of Design and Pon-Aven School of Contemporary Art in France, two of the most renowned art schools in the world.

She, along with her five classmates planning to graduate in 2015 — and 13 others in the program — were selected to participate in the “interdisciplinary” program at the university known not only for its “intellectual rigor” but also for its “established and emerging figures in contemporary art practice.” All students are guided by a faculty mentor and are given their own studio spaces and exhibition spaces. In fact, second-year students are assisted in displaying some of their work at the Berkeley Art Museum.

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Courtesy/Sofie Ramos

The Daily Californian: When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?

Sofie Ramos: I’ve always been a creative person and considered myself an artist, but I wasn’t really aware that it was a feasible life path until about the middle of college. I was always very much an academic, so my other interests made me hesitant to devote myself fully to my art practice. I found through my undergrad art classes and interactions with my TAs and neighboring RISD students that it was possible to think about and connect all of my interests through my art.

DC: What is your art to you? What is your favorite piece?

SR: My art is my life. It’s a necessary catharsis. It’s my connection and contribution to the world. It’s the solution that I cling to in the face of oppressive and crippling existential absurdity, which as an artist seems a persistent and merciless burden. I find pleasure and purpose in the process of making my art.

I only have temporary favorites, and usually multiple, sometimes contradicting. One of my current favorites is a wall sculpture I made a few weeks ago. It’s my favorite, because for a minute I really thought I fucked it up with the last layer of spray paint, but then after spending some time with it I ended up being way into the unexpected and initially erroneous outcome. Another favorite is a small work on paper where I colored in marker a pattern over a poem I had written, obscuring some of the words and highlighting others as they peaked through the negative space. This is exciting because I’ve been trying to incorporate text into my visual work in a meaningful — and not illustrative or distracting or unnecessary — way. unnamed

DC: Why do you call your collages diptychs?

SR: Those are the ones that exist in pairs. I have some single drawings — I prefer to call them drawings — and some triptychs. I usually prefer the diptychs and triptychs to single pieces because they don’t mean very much to me in isolation. My drawing process is really about quick production and abundance of ideas. I make a lot at one time, and I’m interested in the relationships between them and comparing the playing out of different possibilities. This is linked to my focus on process rather than the outcome.

DC: What is a common misconception about your art? About you?

SR: People often dismiss my art — and maybe me, also — as superficial and lacking in content because of the work’s pronounced formalism. My inability to answer the question, “What does it mean?” does not help my situation. The work is not a symbol; there is no hidden meaning. It is perhaps metaphorical, or could be thought of as such, but not necessarily. I’m thinking about ambiguity and open-endedness, but people don’t usually accept that as a valid explanation. I also just struggle with talking about my work because it is so rooted in the visual.

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Courtesy/Sofie Ramos

DC: What makes you feel comfortable/uncomfortable in any setting?

SR: This is an interesting question. I have unsociable tendencies, so I am most comfortable by myself in my apartment or my studio. If I’m in public, I either want to be with at least one person that I am very comfortable with or engaged in some kind of productive activity. My favorite situations are when a close friend and I can be “alone together”— in the same space and interacting sporadically while working on our own stuff. Productivity makes me comfortable, makes my time seem meaningful. Sitting still or struggling with conversation make me very uncomfortable and I work hard to avoid such situations. Comfort maybe has too much control of my life. Definitely. The advice I heard most often is, “Get out of your comfort zone.” With art I can do that. With people, not so much.

DC: What is one material that you can not live without?

Sofie Ramos: I want to say marijuana but I’m not sure that that’s the answer you’re looking for. But other than that I can’t really pick out one material. I’m a materialist; I need a variety. Definitely need some sources of bright colors, though.

DC: Do you have any pet peeves? If so, what are they?

SR: Too many. I can be quite irritable. I guess I most hate being told not to do something that I’m already doing. I don’t like rules or enforcers of rules.

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Courtesy/Sofie Ramos

DC: Procrastination technique?

SR: Smoking weed and going to sleep really, really early with the idea that I’ll wake up really early the next day and be ready to be productive. Cleaning is another thing I do to put off what I don’t want to do with the idea that I’ll be able to concentrate much better in a clean space.

DC: How long does it take you to complete a piece? Do you think your artwork can ever be complete?

SR: My objects and spaces are continually evolving and recombining so that the work is the sum of the processes of making and remaking rather than a finished state. There are pauses when the work is forced to assume a finished status for exhibition. In the case of site-specific gallery works, the installation is “completed” for the opening and then must be destroyed at the end of the exhibition and so is not subjected to such continual evolution, but its parts — the materials and objects that make up the work — live on as I never throw anything away, and I am constantly reusing materials.

In gallery situations, I have been given up to a month to create a large-scale installation. I am exploring ways to cut down installation time by preparing elements in my studio beforehand.

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Courtesy/Sofie Ramos

DC: What do you do when you are not creating art? Hobbies?

SR: When I’m not making art, I’m thinking about making art or thinking about how to talk or write about what I’m making. I also read a lot about art, and I go to galleries and museums. I guess I also write poetry and think about that, but I consider that part of my art practice.

DC: What is your favorite thing about being an artist?

SR: I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. I make my own rules and my own time. Living the dream.

DC: Funniest artistic term, in your opinion?

SR: “Good”/ “bad”

DC: What is your most purchased item, artistic or otherwise?

SR: Coffee. And then house paint. I go through a lot of it, and I can never resist new fun colors.

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Courtesy/Sofie Ramos

DC: What is your favorite and least favorite trend within the art world today?

SR: I like all the genre bending and mixing that is happening. I really don’t like the tendency or expectation to overconceptualize or rationalize every visual move. Too many words undermines the importance of visuality in favor of verbal explanation. People aren’t comfortable without words and reasons, and I find it inhibiting for visual and spatial thinking.

DC: Why Berkeley?

SR: I came from the east coast to go to grad school here. I’m originally from Ohio. I’ve always wanted to live in California for the weather and the attitude. It’s not as warm as I would like here, but like I said, I need clouds and cold to keep me productive. I like Berkeley’s proximity to SF without having to be in the city. I don’t like crowds, but too much isolation is bad for me.

DC: Who is one person that you look up to? Role model?

SR: My new advisor, English professor and poet Lyn Hejinian. I think she’s brilliant, and the clarity and insight she achieves with her words has deeply inspired me recently.

DC: What piece of art would you put on the street? What piece of art would you put in a museum?

SR: I like to paint simple geometric compositions on outdoor walls, so I would — and have — put that in the street. And I’d do a large-scale installation in any space that will have me.

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Courtesy/Sofie Ramos

DC: What is “art” to you in one word?

SR: Bold.

DC: Favorite quote?

SR: I have too too many favorites, but today I’m thinking about this one by Gertrude Stein in “Portraits and Repetitions:” “In expressing anything there can be no repetition because the essence of that expression is insistence, and if you insist you must each time use emphasis and if you use emphasis it is not possible while anybody is alive that they should use exactly the same emphasis.”

DC: What kind of things do you not like to do?

SR: I don’t like to act in scheduled time, like having to be somewhere at a certain time and having to act a certain way or talk about a predetermined topic. I prefer my life to be much more free-formed.

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Courtesy/Sofie Ramos

DC: What is one of your proudest moments?

SR: Graduating from Brown with grad school on the horizon. I felt like I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing to become a successful artist. I still feel that way but maybe not quite so confident at the moment.

DC: Why do you care about art?

SR: Art often seems superfluous, but I think it’s necessary maybe because everything can seem superfluous and it can be. Art is always a struggle of what matters and what doesn’t, like life, and the struggle — mine and others’ — is what’s important to me. Coping with or working through or maybe just thinking about the struggle that is universal.

“Student Spotlight” is a Daily Clog series that features UC Berkeley students who do cool things. If you’d like to nominate someone to be included in the series please email [email protected]

Contact Daniella Wenger at [email protected].

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