Untitled (Free Capri 50.29)
In his work, Mark Grotjahn starts with art historical structures such as multipoint perspective, abstraction, and figuration. Using accumulation and repetition, he creates vibrant paintings filled with bursts of color. Grotjahn often revisits a single motif for years, the daily process in his studio shifting the direction and aesthetic of each piece. In 2001 he began the Butterfly series, his most well-known works that look like pinwheels, or off-kilter perspective drawings. He started the Capri series in 2016, experimental paintings created on the Italian island. Over time the works increased in scale and ambition, reading like landscapes of sediment. Across fields of solid colors on cardboard, Grotjahn ropes cascading lines into strata, which are frequently showered with arrays of vertical marks. In the Free Capri works, a related series, Grotjahn scrapes paint off the surfaces, then puts it back in thickened grids.
Mark Grotjahn’s painting and drawing recall various origins of image making. He mixes the ordered world of the Renaissance with modernist moments that question that order; he shows the transformation of abstract systems into figuration and vice versa; and he allows certain optic tendencies to surface and then quickly undermines them. Typically, Grotjahn uses a set structure (often several vanishing points) from which improvisations and modifications emerge. Strict pinwheel fields of color, for instance, pull apart and transform from work to work, sometimes morphing into butterfly wings or masks, globs of paint or thin washes of color.
Untitled (Butterfly with Eyes CB and SL 768), 2008, is based on traditional tools from the history of painting. In a simple inversion of Renaissance perspective, the painting employs two slightly disjointed vanishing points. From each point, bands of color of varying thicknesses create a twisting, dizzying display. Although the basic format is ordered, the surface has a handworked or personal feel; flecks and dashes of paint mar the solid colors and the circular orientation seems to evolve into a human face.
Grotjahn’s variations expand indefinitely while never completely pulling away from a system, which allows many visions of representation and abstraction to coexist. Untitled (Butterfly with Eyes CB and SL 768) recontextualizes perspective, confronts traditions of op art (which place vision firmly in the physical sciences), and offers new discoveries about the sources and inspirations for modern art. Grotjahn is savvy to these theories and histories, playing to the inherent strength of painting. His works are unabashedly visual and display the density of a medium that is hundreds of years old.