Over the past two decades, Mark Grotjahn has established himself as one of the leading abstract artists working today. His work is grounded in painterly technique, in skilled draftsmanship, and in the history of abstraction. Since 1997 he has been exploring the radiant motif in his paintings and drawings. This sustained investigation is beautifully illustrated in his Butterfly series, for which he has come to be identified with. In the Butterfly compositions, a central vertical line divides the sheet in half, radiating from each side are a number of triangular vectors or wings. But the left and right wings do not meet in the middle; instead the composition is always asymmetrical.
Stimulated by the perspectival inventions of the Renaissance, particularly dual and multiple vanishing points, Grotjahn began his first perspectival paintings with a horizontal axis. The early paintings were composed of two or three stacked registers, each inhabited by receding orthogonals, with their own vanishing point. Grotjahn soon abandoned the horizontal axis, with its suggestions of landscape, and tilted the axis ninety degrees. With the vertical body anchoring the center of the composition and the vectors radiating like starbursts, Grotjahn arrived at his signature style, one that has generated endless permutations for the artist. With the Butterfly series, he found "a certain graphic form that I could stick with and see how far with in that system I could push it." (M. Grotjahn in D. Fogle, "In the Center of the Infinite," Parkett, no. 80 (2007), p. 113.)
To create these hypnotic drawings, Grotjahn follows an intuitive process. With intense facture and a lush textural surface, Grotjahn celebrates the artistic trace and refuses the precise, hard-edged line typical of formal abstraction. He first begins by mapping out the triangular radii in black pencil. He then establishes the palette by laying out a selection of colored pencils; without looking, he reaches for one pencil at a time, blindly determining the color order, and then works systematically, filling in his contours from left to right. In some places, the force of the artist's body is visible, with the color segments evidencing a burnished sheen or a weighty impasto.
The cantilevered butterfly wings create a flutter, a dance of color across the sheet, a dynamism in direct opposition to the systematic, rational investigations of their origin. As Robert Storr has written, "Grotjahn's abstractions are, in relation to traditional pictorial modes, a matter of having your cake and eating it too, of experiencing vertiginous spatial illusions only to be brought back to the level ground of modernist flatness-only then to have the picture plane once again yield to the probing eye like the panel of a screen thrown out of kilter by a groping hand." (R. Storr, "LA Push-Pull/Po-Mo-Stop-Go," Mark Grotjahn (London: Gagosian Gallery, 2009), pp. 4-5.)