I have an idea as to what sort of face is going to happen when I do a “face painting,” but I don’t exactly know what color it will take, or how many eyes it’s going to have, whereas the “butterfly paintings” are fairly planned out. They’re still intuitive, but I generally know where they’re going. It’s a different kind of freedom.
Gagosian is pleased to present an exhibition of new paintings by Mark Grotjahn. This is his first exhibition with the London gallery.
In Grotjahn’s first “butterfly paintings,” clusters of vibrant, gradated triangular forms were anchored to vertical tangents, vehicles by which to treat problems in classical perspective such as dual and multiple vanishing points. As he continues to mine this hieratic motif—which over the last decade has yielded extensive permutations that invoke narratives central to modernist painting, from the utopian vision of Russian Constructivism to the hallucinatory images of Op art—the allusions to the natural world have ceded to more specific aesthetic issues such as the monochrome, the serial image, and the sublime. Increasingly, he has restricted his use of color, moving through phases of blue and black, and now to red and yellow. In the new paintings he has closely subdivided the “rays,” making the chromatic distinctions ever more nuanced. With Untitled (Red Butterfly I Yellow P MARK GROTJAHN 07-08 751), Grotjahn revels in a highly controlled mastery of shade while continuing to embrace contingency. From the upper right-hand side of the painting, moving clockwise, the palette shifts from a darker red to an intense vermillion, contrasting with the acid yellow undercoat, which he deliberately reveals in the block-lettered signature.
As Grotjahn continues to refine the butterfly paintings so does he, conversely, appear to find release in the raw energy of the “face paintings.” Roughly painted on cardboard, with sections often cut away to reveal painted canvas beneath, they compel with their strident tones, scratchy textures, and cartoonish faces that loom from the surface. Inspired by Picasso’s primitivist explorations, they resemble tribal masks and other ritualistic totems. In Untitled (Red Face 773), an abstract face in yellow, gray, white, and pale green is traced in linear dashes and concentric whorls, its glowering eyes incised from the vivid red background.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Robert Storr, dean of the Yale School of Art.
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
New Capri, Capri, Free Capri
October 30–December 22, 2018
555 West 24th Street, New York
Extended through March 12, 2016
Untitled (Captain America)
January 19–March 12, 2016
980 Madison Avenue, New York