Mark Grotjahn (b. 1968)
Mark Grotjahn (b. 1968)
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Mark Grotjahn (b. 1968)

Untitled (Non-Indian #4 Face 45.59)

Details
Mark Grotjahn (b. 1968)
Untitled (Non-Indian #4 Face 45.59)
signed with the artist's initials and dated 'MPG 15' (lower right); signed again twice, titled and dated again twice 'UNTITLED (NON-INDIAN #4 FACE 45.59) 2015 GROTJAHN Mark Grotjahn 2015' (on the overlap)
oil on cardboard mounted on linen
50 ½ x 40 3/8 in. (128.3 x 102.6 cm.)
Painted in 2015.
Provenance
Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2015
Exhibited
Los Angeles, Blum & Poe, Mark Grotjahn: Fifteen Paintings, May-June 2015, p. 47 (illustrated).

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Lot essay

Laden with vibrant torrents of impasto that have been laid down in feathering beams, and rope-like bundles that braid around and overlap one another, Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (Non-Indian #5 Face 45.59) is an enthralling spectacle of paint from the artist’s celebratedseries, Face Paintings. Combining expressive abstraction and a kaleidoscopic palette with mask-like features reminiscent of the works of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, Grotjahn’s Face Paintings exemplify the artist’s deep understanding of the historical evolution of painting. 


Executed on a sheet of unprimed cardboard mounted on linen, Grotjahn has built up his complexly layered surface of lush greens, bubblegum pinks, golden yellows, and brilliant blues almost exclusively with a palette knife. “I wanted these paintings to be as patterned and as colorful as I could make them,” Grotjahn has explained, “to allow myself maximum freedom, to be as indulgent as possible” (M. Grotjahn, quoted in B. Powers, Behind the mask: an interview with Mark Grotjahn, accessed at http://www.musemagazine.it/) 

Reverting to the basic combinations of line, color and texture, winding rows of oil paint have been carefully laid down, wet-on-wet, forming geometric shapes that develop into figurative elements. The allusions of an eye, nose, or subtle grin rapidly emerge and are just as quickly broken down. As Robert Storr has described, Grotjahn’s Face Paintings “traverse, tailgate, and smear into each other, resulting in a constant chromatic cackle as complementary and secondary contrasts spark and flare like chain reaction fireworks” (R. Storr, “LA Push-Pull/Po-Mo-Stop-Go,” in Mark Grotjahn, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, London, 2009, p. 7).


And yet, Grotjahn’s visual anarchy yields recognizable forms: lines and angles coalesce to suggest an elemental bone structure; a pair of eyes stares back at us from the depths of the tangled jungle. With its primal rhythm and reductive anatomy, the work is almost sculptural in its execution, combining a raw, visceral energy with painstakingly crafted textures and patterns. Totemic and mask-like, Grotjahn’s face is the product of an intense dialogue between the abstract and the figurative, the rudimentary and the virtuosic. Both alien and familiar, its human features fight for recognition against a dense, clamoring mass of camouflage.

This idiosyncratic investigation in the process and ritual of painting renders a surface so dense and tactile that it immensely slows down as you approach it. Up close, the lines are heavily textured, shattering into stutters of multicolored ribbon in a technique reminiscent of the 1950s palette painters. Yet, pulling back again, the composition races together forming an onslaught of tumbling ellipses and explosive rays of energy-recalling the nominal mask-like faces of early Cubism. Emphasizing painting as a psychic and bodily process Untitled (Non-Indian #5 Face 45.59) is fueled in part by the devouring and digesting of previous art to formulate a new synthesis-the work appears to feast on the painting and sculpture of early Modernism, when abstraction and representation where not seen as mutually exclusive.

Indeed, Picasso’s 1907 masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon has been variously cited as a specific comparative for the Face Paintings, as the elements in Grotjahn’s paintings recall the graphic features of tribal masks. It is crucial to note, however, that Grotjahn did not look to artifacts of indigenous peoples for inspiration. Instead, he reflected on childhood encounters with Picasso’s work via his grandfather’s books and chose to conjure an epoch-defining example of Western painting as the well-spring for new ideas. “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,” Grotjahn has stated. “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” (M. Grotjahn, quoted in B. Powers, op. cit.).


Colliding abstract and figurative elements, Grotjahn's paintings are conceptually grounded. The curator Douglas Fogle once aptly divvied up the painter's oeuvre into three basic categories: "the 'mimetic' sign paintings and drawings, the 'abstract' perspective and butterfly works, and the turgidly expressive faces, masks, and flowers that occupy the realm of 'figurative'" (D. Fogle, quoted in B. Schwabsky, Mark Grotjahn, Aspen Museum of Art, exh. cat., 2012, p. 59). Yet in truth, all of these works are simultaneously figurative and abstract, mimetic and expressive, systematic and idiosyncratic. Grotjahn manifests a certain playfulness in his work that belies an antipathy to systems. By continuously combining these seemingly incompatible poles Grotjahn stakes a claim for the continued vitality of abstraction and the medium of painting.

Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustrated (detail).

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