Because I have an active and obsessive eye‚ I’m interested in finding as much contentment as I possibly can. In my work I create problems and then solve them in order to feel peace.
Mark Grotjahn combines gesture and geometry with abstraction and figuration in visually dynamic paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. Each of his series reflects a range of art-historical influences and unfolds in almost obsessive permutations.
Grotjahn was born in Pasadena, California. He received a BFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder and an MFA from the University of California at Berkeley. While studying in California, he began his first major project, Sign Exchange (1993–98), in which he painted replicas of signs that he saw in stores around Los Angeles, then had the store owners display his hand-painted versions in place of the originals. In 1995 Grotjahn was an artist-in-residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Madison, Maine. He moved to Los Angeles a year later and, with his classmate Brent Petersen, opened the short-lived gallery Room 702.
In 2001 Grotjahn began the Butterfly series. These geometric paintings and drawings explore the constructs of dual and multi-point perspective and take on various forms as Grotjahn alters their composition and color. A selection of multicolored and monochromatic Butterfly works on paper were exhibited in 2005 at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. In 2018 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presented 50 Kitchens (2013–18), from the same series, a work with more than fifty parts that all evolved from a single composition and incorporate residual traces of earlier drawings. Continuing his investigations of symmetry, perspective, and form, Grotjahn began the Face paintings in 2003. These expressive, anthropomorphic works of cardboard on canvas often feature sections cut away to reveal painted canvas beneath. As the series progresses, the faces become less apparent and more abstract, their curved lines creating void-like apertures.
Alongside his painting practice, Grotjahn has been making masks since 2000, painting cardboard boxes lying around his studio and affixing paper tubes between cut-out “eyes.” The Masks (2000–), although originally approached as a less formal project, came to assert themselves as a new armature for his painting. In 2010 Grotjahn started casting the Masks in bronze. In many of the sculptures, he incorporated and retained remnants of the bronze casting process, such as the sprues and runners, into his final work. As he does with his paintings, Grotjahn often boldly signs the Masks, allowing his signature to come forward as a compositional element. In 2014 the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas presented the first museum exhibition of Grotjahn’s sculpture, including small-scale and larger freestanding works.
In 2016 Grotjahn began the Capri works (2016–), seeking to break away from the Face paintings in favor of a more experimental, spontaneous working process. The first Capri works, New Capri, were modestly scaled paintings created for a private presentation at Casa Malaparte in Capri, Italy. Following this exhibition, Grotjahn created the Capri paintings (2016–), followed by the Free Capri series (2018–), in which he introduced the technique of scraping out areas of thick paint, then placing the resulting “slugs” in rows and grids elsewhere on the canvas.
As the Butterflies, Faces, Masks, and Capri series continue to expand, Grotjahn uses Instagram to further experiment with repetition and juxtaposition, employing the grid format to freely arrange images in different combinations, in a form of visual tic-tac-toe. Throughout his work, by finding variations within his immediately identifiable style, Grotjahn reveals the complexities of authorial gesture.
New Capri, Capri, Free Capri
October 30–December 22, 2018
555 West 24th Street, New York
June 24–September 17, 2016
Grosvenor Hill, London
Extended through March 12, 2016
Untitled (Captain America)
January 19–March 12, 2016
980 Madison Avenue, New York
September 13–October 27, 2012
980 Madison Avenue, New York
May 30–July 31, 2009
Britannia Street, London
Dancing Black Butterflies
February 26–March 11, 2008
980 Madison Avenue, New York
The Nature of Mark Grotjahn
Michael Auping writes about the origins of Mark Grotjahn’s Capri paintings and their relationship with nature and landscape.
Mark Grotjahn: Capri
Mark Grotjahn speaks to Sam Orlofsky about the stories and processes behind his Capri series, on the occasion of his exhibition New Capri, Capri, Free Capri in New York.
May 27–June 2, 2020
In his paintings, drawings, and sculptures, Mark Grotjahn interweaves and revitalizes various historical modes of abstraction, probing the limits between gesture and geometry, impulse and exactitude. His works unfold according to precise yet mutating rubrics, resulting in an expansive vocabulary of visual motifs that migrate from one series to the next in almost obsessive permutations. By finding variations within his immediately identifiable style, Grotjahn reveals the complexities of authorial gesture.
Photo: Olivier Zahm
Mark Grotjahn: Casa Malaparte is available for online reading from May 27 through June 26 as part of Artist Spotlight: Mark Grotjahn. The book documents a presentation of paintings and sculptures by the artist at the landmark modernist house designed by writer Curzio Malaparte on the Italian island of Capri. The exhibition marked the first presentation of Grotjahn’s Capri paintings.
Mark Grotjahn: Casa Malaparte (New York: Gagosian, 2017)
Virtual Studio Visit
Klaus Biesenbach in Conversation with Mark Grotjahn
In the Virtual Studio Visit series from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, director Klaus Biesenbach digitally connects with artists around the world. Here, he speaks with Mark Grotjahn in his Los Angeles studio during a visit recorded in late April 2020. Together they discuss life under lockdown and Grotjahn’s work, from his student days to the present.
Still from “Virtual Studio Visit: Klaus Biesenbach in Conversation with Mark Grotjahn”
May 20–August 19, 2018
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Conceived as one work, Mark Grotjahn’s 50 Kitchens (2013–18) takes its inspiration from a single Butterfly composition that Grotjahn made to meet the dimensional specifications of a wall in his kitchen. The more than fifty subsequent chromatic drawings explore pairs of radiating colors and together create a prismatic display. Grotjahn began making his Butterfly compositions in 2001. This exhibition was the first presentation of 50 Kitchens at LACMA.
Installation view, Mark Grotjahn: 50 Kitchens, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, May 20–August 19, 2018. Artwork © Mark Grotjahn. Photo: Museum Associates/LACMA
May 31–August 17, 2014
Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas
This exhibition was the first dedicated museum presentation of Mark Grotjahn’s sculpture, which the artist began producing privately in 2000, alongside his painting practice. It showcased many never-before-seen, three-dimensional works, ranging in size from small, intimate compositions to larger-scale freestanding works. Combining common cardboard boxes and tubes and cutting them to roughly resemble masks or faces, Grotjahn then scraped these assemblages and cast them in bronze, which he either left raw or elaborately painted.
Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (Scribble Scrabble French Mask M31.b), 2013 © Mark Grotjahn
May 16–July 27, 2014
Kunstverein Freiburg, Germany
Circus Circus was Mark Grotjahn’s first solo exhibition in Germany. Both adopting and commenting on a range of art historical influences, from Renaissance-era drawing technique to Abstract Expressionism and Op art, the works on view demonstrated the artist’s ability to combine the opposing modes of abstraction and figuration. The presentation included a new series of large-scale paintings.
Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (Circus No. 2 Face 44.19), 2013 © Mark Grotjahn
February 17–April 29, 2012
Aspen Art Museum, Colorado
Featuring work produced from the late 1990s to the early 2010s, this exhibition was Mark Grotjahn’s first comprehensive museum survey in the United States. The presentation included paintings from his Perspective and Butterfly series that explore the constructs of dual and multi-point perspective, as well as from his expressive and anthropomorphic Face series. Five Mask sculptures were also on view, on the grounds of the museum and on four nearby ski mountains.
Installation view, Mark Grotjahn, Aspen Art Museum, Colorado, February 17–April 29, 2012. Artwork © Mark Grotjahn