Though Mark Grotjahn came into artistic maturity in the theory-heavy 1990s, his works eschew strict adherence to modernist discourse in favor of an aesthetic often based in the natural world. This early untitled painting employs the rich jewel tones used my many California artists to an almost scientific effect. In an all-over composition that could depict soap bubbles, swimming microscopic cells, or mere intricately imagined pattern, Grotjahn presents a work in line with one critic’s description of his oeuvre: “The works are formally elegant, perceptually perplexing and fascinating, and conceptually economical in an impressive way, in that while they don’t seem to be the product of heavy project programming or theory-crunching, they nonetheless compel their viewers into a demanding cerebral situation.” (1)
Mark Grotjahn received an MFA from the University of California, Berkeley in 1995, and that same year was an artist-in-residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine. In 1996 he moved to Los Angeles and opened Room 702, a short-lived gallery and artists’ space in Hollywood where he hoped to foster creativity and community among his friends and peers. Grotjahn devoted himself full-time to artmaking upon the closure of Room 702 in 1998, often paying the bills with his poker winnings.
Much of Grotjahn’s early work takes the form of performative interventions into everyday life, as with his extended series of “Sign Exchanges,” completed in the late 1990s. For these works, the artist would carefully reproduce by hand store signage hanging in windows and outside of neighborhood shops and bars, exchange his handmade signs for
the originals, and hang the originals in his gallery shows. The project blurred the lines between Pop art, appropriation, and the readymade while also engaging the community in which the artist lived and worked.
In the early 2000s Grotjahn began his most well known group of works, the “Butterfly Series.” This grew out of the earlier “Perspective Series,” in which the artist experimented with color, geometry, and the use of the vanishing point to create a sense of depth. These works most often featured three separate registers, each of which contained its own vanishing point defined by elongated triangles of pure color. The Butterfly works also employ juxtapositions of pure color, but here emanating out in concentric rays from a single central point or line. Grotjahn continues to paint in this mode, and in adopting a kind of signature style has maintained the capacity for experimentation and surprise. As one reviewer remarked, “he is using the immediately recognizable trademark as a means to interrogate the slippery nature of the artistic signature.” (2)
Grotjahn continues to live and work in Los Angeles.
1. Miles, Christopher. “Working Variables, Switching Games.” Artext, Fall 2002, p. 50.
2. Holte, Michael Ned. “Reviews: Mark Grotjahn. Artforum, November 2005, p. 259.
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