Mark Grotjahn is among the most accomplished and preeminent painters of his generation.
Mark Grotjahn was born in Pasadena, but grew up in the Bay Area. His father Michael, a psychiatrist (whose patients included David Geffen), had emigrated from Berlin, Germany in 1936.He received his MFA from the University of California, Berkeley, and his BFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder. In 1995, he was an artist-in-residence at theSkowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Madison, Maine. When he moved to Los Angeles in 1996,he opened a gallery called Room 702 in Hollywood with his classmate Brent Petersen and started showing and working with other artists. Despite an invitation to move into the 6150 complex on Wilshire Boulevard—which already housed other renowned galleries Room 702 closed after less than two years, and Grotjahn became a full-time artist. In the late 1990s, he turned to poker for income, spending many months playing Texas hold ’em in a casino in nearby Commerce, California.
In the mid-1990s, Grotjahn began working on a stream of densely worked colored pencil drawings, followed by oil paintings, which focused on perspective investigations such as dual and multiple vanishing points.The way Grotjahn paints grew out of conceptual sign making; he would faithfully reproduce peculiar graphics and phrases from local storefronts in his native Los Angeles. He would then trade these handmade copies to the storeowners in exchange for the original signage.
Later Grotjahn began working with colored pencils to develop “perspective drawings” and then perspectival paintings. In his multi-colored drawings, Grotjahn’s working method is systematic and rigorous but also allows for intuition and chance. He first begins by mapping out the triangular radii in black pencil. For each work in this series of drawings, Grotjahn then sets aside the required number of color pencils, choosing colors that “hold together” in value and intensity. Having laid them next to him, he chooses one pencil at random and uses it to color in a single, pre-segmented wing section.
Since 1997 Grotjahn has been exploring the radiant motif in his paintings and drawings. This sustained investigation is illustrated in his Butterfly series. Here, he draws on Renaissance perspectival techniques for the structures and subjects of his multiple-vanishing-point butterfly patterns in order to create the illusion that his geometries stretch, shrink, approach, and recede.While they appear at first glance to be rigidly formal and graphic,the Butterfly Paintings essentially consist of a radiating sequence of parallel lines are executed in thick oil in such a way that an illusion of perspective is generated by the painting’s butterfly form.The horizontal and vertical lines are rarely, if ever, horizontal or perpendicular to the edges of the canvas.
Grotjahn stopped painting the Butterfly works in 2008, after tearing his rotator cuff and breaking a shoulder bone after hitting an ice patch in a ski accident.As he could not paint for more than two hours at a time, he discovered less intensive ways of painting. A series of large, vertical Face Paintings is based on the simple geometric structure of eyes, nose, and mouth. Using sheets of cardboard that are primed and mounted on linen as the ground, Grotjahn employs brush and palette knife to extensively build layer upon layer of oil paint to almost sculptural ends.
Grotjahn’s mask sculptures extend the artist’s idiosyncratic investment in the process and ritual of painting into three dimensions. Cast in bronze from spontaneous cardboard assemblages and often painted with the fingers, most of them rest on pedestals, while a few are wall-mounted, referring directly to painting.