Home page

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Mark Grotjahn Evening Lot 02
Mark Grotjahn (b. 1968)
1 More
Mark Grotjahn (b. 1968)

Untitled (Creamsicle 865)

Details
Mark Grotjahn (b. 1968)
Untitled (Creamsicle 865)
signed, titled and dated twice 'Mark Grotjahn 2010 Untitled (Creamsicle 865) 2010' (on the reverse)
color pencil on paper
76 x 42 in. (193 x 106.7 cm.)
Drawn in 2010.
Provenance
Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Brought to you by

Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

Looking at Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (Creamsicle) delivers in an almost hypnotic experience—the result of a work that acts to question our sense of perspective and encourages us to look afresh at our accepted ideas about seeing. Stare at the center—the central axis from which radiate myriad geometric striations—and experience how one’s vision constantly shifts, the image almost vibrating at high speed. Alternating black and cream bands pull you into a recessional depth that disassociates image from surface, as if any unified pictorial organization were suddenly rent by a whorl of moving parts. The eye is pulled in even as it seeks a point of rest at the outer perimeters. Once there, daring again to look toward the center, one is thrown back by the strong tripartite vertical stripe that breaks a seemingly interminable gravitational descent into the central vortex. In this, an extraordinary work from his Butterfly series, Grotjahn builds on the formidable high-wire visual constructs of works by Bridget Riley and others who metaphorically punched holes in their canvases, made them porous through a masterful technique, while at the same time pushing out their surfaces as a way not only to embrace and enclose the viewer, but to disorient her, thereby placing the viewer at the center of an potent optical experience. As if rendering an exchange of the vertical pictorial format and the standing viewer, Untitled dissolves the phenomenal and natural world into abstract geometries in illusionistic space. “One of the mad benefits of this maniacal ordering is that each person is also granted the demented, deluded position of being a god. You, the maharaja of all that you survey, are the fixed singularity that all things rush from or toward” (J. Saltz, “The Parallax View,” Village Voice, October 17, 2006).

With reference to the ice cream confectionary of the work’s title, Robert Storr notes, “Grotjahn’s abstractions are…a matter of having your cake and eating it too” (R. Storr, “La Push-Pull/Po-Mo-Stop-Go,” in Mark Grotjahn, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, London 2009, pp. 4-5). Palpable as taste, tactility, and opticality, Untitled (Creamsicle) could be seen to compress into one image the signal icons of Western art history in the twentieth century. Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s Varoom, 1963, is among the most obvious with its radiating burst from a central point. Frank Stella’s serial repeating geometries point to the reduced means of minimal practice and modernist concerns with shallow surfaces and framing edges. Activation of the surface and the visual energy from which this derives are fully present in works by Bridget Riley, who regulates the speed and slowness of her surfaces through the rhythmic displacement of geometric forms.

Grotjahn’s Butterfly series, so named because their radial trajectory that bursts from a center vortex, were begun in 2001. These works exploit basic formal qualities—iteration and repetition—at times alternating black and white linear strips, at times prismatic or mixed coloration of secondary hues. This foundational design makes for extraordinary variation within a limiting concept that paradoxically opens Grotjahn’s works on to limitless freedom. Looking through early modernist artists to contemporary focus on contiguity and context, Grotjahn plays with optical perception and natural phenomena, cross-fertilizing visually conceptualized pure with organic forms. Grotjahn’s first experiments with spreading “starbursts” in Storr’s formulation (Ibid.) from a doubled axial center, created a liminal space where subtle streaks of white over graded shades of green that seem to trace the presence of the authorial brush marks. So too in Untitled (Creamsicle), 2010, tiny running black marks point to the hand-made quality of Grotjahn surfaces. These contrast with the seemingly ruled or taped orthogonals that mime the regularity of minimalist industrial fabrications from the mid-twentieth century. Recalling the origin of Grotjahn’s Butterfly series, the artist joined two of the three originally separate recessional perspectives stacked one over the other and halted by horizontal bands, titled Three-tiered Perspective, 1999. “I made the first two tiers vertical and I pointed the perspectives towards each other. As soon as I did that, and applied the color, it became a non-objective painting again” (M. Grotjahn, quoted in M. Gnyp, “Interview: Mark Grotjahn,” Zoo Magazine, No. 38, January 2013). In this radial iteration, the horizontal bands—reminiscent of landscape, according to the artist—abruptly stop the radiating lines from entering the viewer’s space to create a strong vertical band that divides the image into two vertical registers. Both endpoint and beginning, the vertical band can be seen as both uniting and dividing the field, as in Barnett Newman’s vertical “zips.” Unlike Newman’s band, however, Grotjahn’s is split three ways, smooth and almost witty, as far from Newman’s Onement, 1948 in concept and decades. Untitled (Creamsicle) is smart and light, both critique and gambit, rendered both as meticulously pristine symmetry and hand-made, tactile irregularity, between geometry and illusionism.

Grotjan’s Creamsicle is sensuous, expressive, and entirely fluent. Texture is palpable, the colored pencil rendering an opaque denseness. Disequilibrium comes out of a contrast between material and design, as velvet striations plunge into infinite perspectival recession, disappearing behind a seemingly monolithic dividing line. The motif of encircling radiant lines has evolved over the decade, undergoing variation in tone and feel in the same way master painters return to favorite scenes only to redraw and re-conceptualize a visual image that has become innate, projecting a new internal logic at each approach. The visual effect inheres, contingent on the viewer’s physical relationship to the work. Although known as Butterfly paintings, the category is not one Grotjahn accepts. Like the off-kilter quality, the imbalance that comes from staring at its center, Untitled (Creamsicle) conveys the touch. And just as Grotjahn claims these works as “‘butterflies,’ but I don’t think they are butterflies…I guess I play with words,” so too he “plays” with image—and with us (M. Gnyp, “Interview: Mark Grotjahn,” op. cit., n.p.).

More from Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

View All
View All