Rife with excitement - physical, perceptual, aesthetic, intellectual - and while full of ideas, they are also alive with colour, line, texture, figure, and form. They dare you to look at them, and it is through that visual challenge that both they and you awaken
-H. Z. Jacobson, quoted in Mark Grotjahn, exh. cat., Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, 2012, p. 7.
Mark Grotjahn's Untitled (Three-Tiered Perspective) is an elaborate and vibrant array of colourful bands that draw the viewer further and further into the painting. In this work Grotjahn presents the viewer with three tiers, each with its own vanishing point that extend out to the infinite, creating an optical effect of a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. The painting welcomes the viewer; the warm colours appeal to his senses and invite him in. Each colourful ray is distinct from the next in colour but painted with the same vivid intensity and regularity evoking the repetitive feel of an endless open highway at sunset, or a film strip with each still depicting a landscape receding out into the horizon.
At first the composition seems deceptively straightforward, yet it quickly becomes clear that an immense degree of focus and self-control was necessary to create such rigorously systematic and precise painting. Such energy cannot merely dissipate once the artist stops painting. The work is left ringing with that intensity, creating a magnetic-like force that draws the observer in like a siren. The sheer scale of the work heightens that energy and power to monumental effect. As Jacobson aptly points out, "Grotjahn knows how to seduce the viewer and then just as easily throw them into a tailspin" (H. Z. Jacobson quoted in 'Disruption', in Mark Grotjahn, exh. cat., Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, 2012, p. 56). A precursor to the artist's subsequent Buttlerfly paintings, Untitled (Three-Tiered Perspective) demonstrates Grotjahn's profound interest in using serial abstraction in order to explore the properties and effects it creates.
To create such a work, Grotjahn follows an exacting process, mapping out the triangular radii in pencil and then working systematically to fill in the contours from left to right. There is no bleeding or overlapping; each ray of color is independent from the next. The appearance of the painting is fresh and decisive, appearing to be untouched by doubt as if thought before seen, conceived and then executed. And yet despite the uniformity of such a technique, the expressive gesture of the artist is not lost; the weighty layers of colourful paint evoking the force of the artist's body as he works across the canvas. Furthermore, his palette of injudiciously chosen colors allows for certain elements to be left to chance. Grotjahn first selects his colours then picks them at random creating unexpected and unique combinations. The work captivates in both its intricate craftsmanship and its ability to convey the expressive nature of the artist.
Untitled (Three-Tiered Perspective), as with his other perspectival paintings, formally confronts the notion of idealized space. Speaking of the perspectival lines that construct many of his abstract paintings he said that he found in this "a certain graphic form that I could stick with and see how far within that system I could push it" (M. Grotjahn, quoted in G. Garrels, 54th Carnegie International 2004-05, exh. cat., Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, 2004, p. 154). It was this discovery of a graphic framework that has become his most sustained visual investigation, providing endless permutations for the artist. Systematic and rigorous, Untitled (Three-Tiered Perspective) conveys Grotjahn's highly analytical approach to painting, whilst radiating the time-consuming and painstaking nature of its own creation to mesmerizing effect.
Beginning his career in the Bay Area of San Francisco and Los Angeles, Grotjahn began to develop a conceptual thread through his Sign Replacement Project, replacing hand-drawn signs from restaurants and shops with painted copies, as well as practising conceptual performance art. His practise shifted in 1998 when he began to display the exchanged signs alongside paintings that were concerned with the perspectival inventions of the Renaissance. In particular he began to explore dual and multiple vanishing points. 'I started to think about why I got into art in the first place. I was always interested in line and color. I wanted to find a motif that I could experiment with for a while. I did a group of drawings over a period of six to twelve months. The drawing that I chose was one that resembled the three-tier perspective, and that is what I went with" (M. Grotjahn quoted in A. Douglass, 'Interview with Mark Grotjahn,' 6 October 2010, at http://www.portlandart.net/archives/2010/10/interview_with_11.html [accessed 26th March 2014]). His early interest in handmade signs is nonetheless evidenced in his present work through his celebration of the artistic trace, which refuses the precise, hard-edged line often associated with formal abstraction.
Throughout his career, Grotjahn appears to be referencing a legacy of abstract art, with his mature work alluding to both abstract expressionism and the hallucinatory images of Op Art. And yet instead of merely acting as a chameleon of styles, he disrupts their perfection, in this instance through a meticulous practice of creating lines that go nowhere. As Robert Storr puts it "Grotjahn is not an artist obsessed with positing a wholly unprecedented 'concept' of art, but rather is concerned with teasing nuanced experience out of existing concepts or constructs according to the opportunities presented by a specific, well-calculated conceit. Nor is he really preoccupied with Ezra Pound's mandate to 'make it new;' rather he wants to make it vivid, and applies all of his impressive skill to doing just that" (R. Storr, LA Push-Pull/Po-Mo-Stop-Go, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009, p. 6).