Vaguely Ironic Slightly Sarcastic

Mark Grotjahn Untitled (Butterfly with Eyes CB and SL 768) 2008

“… We are living in an age of skepticism and as a result the practice of art is inevitably crippled by the suspension of belief. The artist can continue as though this were not true, in the naive hope that it will all work out in the end. But given the situation, a more considered position implies the adoption of an ironic mode. However, one of the most troubling results of the cooptation of modernism by mainstream bourgeois culture is that to a certain degree irony has also been subsumed. A vaguely ironic, slightly sarcastic response to the world has now become a cliched, unthinking one. From being a method that could shatter conventional ideas, it has become a convention for establishing complicity. From being a way of coming to terms with lack of faith, it has become a screen for bad faith. In this latter sense popular movies and television shows are ironic, newscasters are ironic, Julian Schnabel is ironic. Which is to say that irony is no longer easily identified as a liberating mode, but is at times a repressive one, and in art one that is all too often synonymous with camp. The complexity of this situation demands a complex response. We are inundated with information, to the point where it becomes meaningless to us. We can shrug it off, make a joke, confess bewilderment. But our very liberty is at stake, and we are bamboozled into not paying attention.” [Thomas Lawson Last Exit Painting]

Mark Grotjahn Untitled (Captain America Drawing in Ten Parts) 2008

“During this time, from 2016 to the present, I made a lot of lines that did not feel right. And when a line does not feel right, either I paint over it or I scrape it. In this case, I started scraping the lines. As I scraped the lines, I’d look at the palette knife, and as I scraped, the slugs would form along the palette knife. I created different kinds of rolls than what happened with the brush. And they looked interesting. Actually, they looked more like caterpillars than slugs. They are beautiful as individual things. I would take them off the palette knife and cut them off of it. Then I would roll another one with a palette knife and cut that one off. I’d stick them on a painting to see what it looked like. Then I started deliberately scraping paintings so I could get slugs. What I now say is I’m “harvesting slugs.” I would put them on a palette knife and line them up. I would string them at the top of a painting as if they were popcorn on a Christmas tree. I’d see how I felt about that. It was poetic and nice. I’d ask myself: “Where are you going to put them on this time? Are you going to put them on the top? Are you going to put them in the right corner like a signature? Are you going to put seven here, and two here?” Since I didn’t like contemplating their placement, I ended up putting them exactly in the middle. And that was another thing or another question I would ask myself: “Are you going to make a grid out of them? Are you going to put that grid right in the middle of this nice painting?” Then I started making more and more grids. The grids got bigger and bigger. I was experimenting with that. It became a process of putting down some lines, scraping them, getting lines that worked. Splattering them. Putting on the slugs. Finishing the painting. Done. And that’s how it is now. It’s fairly systematic in the way that my series “Butterflies” is. Within the system, I’m allowed to experiment.” [Mark Grotjahn in conversation with Phyllis Tuchman]

Mark Grotjahn Untitled (New Capri XIX 47.19) (2016)

“What does it all add up to? In the Butterfly series, viewers saw the palette change, going from monochrome hues to multi-colored works. Each graphically clear painting was a smart example of branding. In his monochrome versions, Grotjahn often added his name, which could be seen as a sarcastic nod to Robert Ryman as well as a further way of trademarking his work. In this series, Grotjahn utilized Renaissance perspectival systems and vanishing points — often misaligned — to evoke the illusion of depth while depicting a radiating form on a flat surface. The results were handsome, mannered, and brittle.
The combination of old master devices and minimalist forms is not a new move, having been central to the work of Peter Schuyff in the 1980s. The problem that Schuyff encountered is one that Grotjahn has had to face: how do I get myself into a new body of work that employs a different — and therefore fresh — set of mannerisms?” [John Yau on Mark Grotjahn]

Mark Grotjahn Untitled (Copenhagen Blue and Scarlet Lake Butterfly Porsche Drawing 41.98) 2011

“Abstraction is a language primed for becoming a representation of itself, because as much as it resists the attribution of specific meanings, the abstract mark cannot help but carry with it an entire utopian history of modern painting. Murillo and Smith are not alone in their acknowledgment of the received meanings of their expressionist marks. It would be difficult to identify a contemporary abstract painter who is not self-consciously referring to that history. “How can you look at a drip without thinking of Jackson Pollock or Sigmar Polke?,” Kerstin Bratsch asked rhetorically during a recorded conversation with painter Amy Sillman. An abstract gesture is “not empty anymore but loaded with historical reference.” It is characteristic of an atemporal painter to see and utilize style, as if it is a bit of iconography; some even use specific stylistic gestures and strategies in a manner akin to a medium. What atemporal painters do not do is use a past style in an uninflected manner; in other words, as a readymade. By avoiding this, they not only definitively separate themselves from the 1980s legacy of appropriation, but also place themselves in opposition to the use of style as a paean to some sort of “time-warp cult” or worse, as a kind of “zombie burlesque” parody.” [Laura Hoptman Forever Now]

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