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Mark Grotjahn (b. 1968)
Mark Grotjahn (b. 1968)
Mark Grotjahn (b. 1968)
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From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot whic… Read more
Mark Grotjahn (b. 1968)

Untitled (Non-Indian #5 Face 45.60)

Details
Mark Grotjahn (b. 1968)
Untitled (Non-Indian #5 Face 45.60)
signed with the artist's initials, inscribed and dated 'MPG 15 V' (lower right); signed, titled, inscribed and dated twice 'UNTITLED (NON-INDIAN #5 FACE 45.60) 2015 GROTJAHN 2015' (on the overlap)
oil on cardboard mounted on linen
50 ½ x 40 ½ in. (128.3 x 102.9 cm.)
Painted in 2015.
Provenance
Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
Private collection, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exhibited
Los Angeles, Blum & Poe, Mark Grotjahn: Fifteen Paintings, May-June 2015, p. 48 (illustrated in color).
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Lot Essay

Looking at Mark Grotjahn’s 2015 painting, Untitled (Non-Indian #5 Face 45.60), one has the peculiar sensation of being watched. The work is nominally abstract, but even a glancing assessment reveals numerous stacked eyes, leering grins and flared nostrils, all looming hungry and close behind a tangle of branches and splashes of leaves. The painting returns the gaze with a starkly mischievous gaze of its own, one that can border on predatory or veer more towards manic delight, depending on which set of features one chooses to focus on. The work is a stellar example of the artist’s famous Face paintings, where heavily-worked, brilliantly colored surfaces—oil paint generously applied to cardboard with a palette knife—simultaneously obscure and reveal primal visages, neither human nor animal. Working in the blur between non-objective and objective painting, Grotjahn delights in challenging binary modes of representation. For those who dare to listen closely, a sophisticated curiosity hums beneath this beguiling explosion of form and color.

The present lot was first exhibited the year it was made as part of the artist’s seventh solo exhibition, titled simply Fifteen Paintings, at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. The works, comprised of uniformly-scaled 50 x 40 inch Face paintings, are sorted in two specific, if still somewhat cryptic, groups: Indian and Non-Indian. Reviewing the fifteen paintings in the exhibition, the most (and perhaps only) obvious distinction between the two groups is their respective palettes. The Indian Faces tend to be rich and earthy, with browns like soil, bloody reds and mustard yellows. The Non-Indian Faces are psychedelic, bursting with purple, teal and highlighter pink. Assuming Grotjahn is invoking Indian with a Wild West nuance, Non-Indian conjures an ominous, extraordinary otherworldliness. If the Indians are the natives, then the Non-Indians are aliens, fantastically vibrant paintings crash-landed from outer space.

The dynamic of opposing forces is a reliable signature of Grotjahn’s work, and is echoed in the way the artist fuses abstraction and objective imagery. Discussing the origin and general aesthetic protocols at work in the Face paintings, Grotjahn muses, “When you first declare yourself an avant-garde artist, you know, like in your teens or when you get to art school, Picasso is sort of the first stop. You draw a face with multiple eyes at a weird angle and that’s your avant-garde statement. But to do that as an adult—knowing the cliché that it can be—to take that language and try making good work is something I find challenging and worth pursuing” (the artist, quoted in Muse Magazine). The almond-shaped eyes of Picasso’s early cubist period are peppered throughout Grotjahn’s Face paintings, usually placed in a slightly asymmetrical composition around a central vertical axis. In the case of the present lot, this axis is painted white and bristling like the branches of a fir tree, a connotation reinforced by the bright green behind it. Other darker foliage cut across the foreground of the image, giving a shallow depth to the composition and imbuing the profusion of eyes with animal ferocity, as if they belong to jungle cats peering through the leaves in a Henri Rousseau painting. But the echo of Picasso endures.

In a 2011 review of the artist’s exhibition at Anton Kern Gallery in New York, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jerry Saltz connected the Face paintings to no less than the greatest masterpiece of Modern art: “What Grotjahn paints doesn’t stay put on these variegated surfaces; instead, it shifts around the involuting centerless space. You can discern the ways in which this work is made, yet no formal system appears. (I surmise that the artist himself is sometimes caught off guard by what he’s produced.) His strangely shamanic art gives me a remnant of the pow I get from those ancient eternal faces in Picasso’s Les Demoiselles dAvignon” (J. Saltz, New York Magazine).

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