Grotjahn makes conceptually grounded paintings and drawings that collide abstract and figurative elements to unsettle the conventions of each medium. Abstraction in art has been around for just over a century, and its definition and boundaries have long been contested, often alongside challenges to the viability of painting itself. By continuously combining the seemingly incompatible poles of abstraction and figuration, mimesis (or realism) and expressionism, rational logic and intuitive process, Grotjahn stakes a claim for the continued vitality of abstraction and the medium. The Aspen Art Museum's exhibition is the artist's first comprehensive survey, including work Grotjahn has produced from the late 1990s to the present.
In his paintings and drawings, Grotjahn combines varying schemes of one-point perspective—used since the Renaissance to produce the illusion of depth on a flat surface—to create his mesmerizing abstractions. By upending the horizon line in these works to form vertical butterflies, Grotjahn's paintings seem to float free of their perspectival grounding. In this way, the paintings oscillate between geometric abstraction and spatial illusion. And while the works appear at first glance to be rigidly formal and graphic, their surfaces are often layered over underpaintings, sometimes creating tonal shifts of color and textured surfaces that reveal the process of the works' own making.
In another recent body of work, Grotjahn uses sheets of primed cardboard mounted on linen to build up complexly layered surfaces with both brush and palette knife. Combinations of the basic elements of painting, like line, color, and texture, are gradually worked into penetrating face paintings.
For the 2011–12 ski season in Aspen, Grotjahn has designed five limited-edition lift tickets that feature his exuberant mask sculptures, which extend the artist's idiosyncratic investment in the process and ritual of painting into three dimensions. The five masks will also be on view in Aspen; visitors can encounter one on the peak of each of the Aspen Skiing Company's four mountains, and one will be exhibited at the Aspen Art Museum.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a lavish, fully illustrated catalogue that features essays by The Nation art critic Barry Schwabsky and Aspen Art Museum CEO and Director, Chief Curator, Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson.
Mark Grotjahn was born in 1968 in Pasadena, California, and lives and works in Los Angeles. He has had one-person exhibitions at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Kunstmuseum Thun, Switzerland; and the Portland Art Museum, Oregon. His work has been included in major group exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands; and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, among other international venues. Grotjahn was included in the 54th Carnegie International in 2004 and the Whitney Biennial in 2006. His work is included in numerous public collections, including the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Walker Art Center; Minneapolis; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.