PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009
To create the riveting surfaces of the present work, and the Butterfly series as a wider whole, Grotjahn employs a fastidious system of production. In Untitled (Pure Crimson Red Butterfly 818), the artist has devised a rigorous architectural schema of diagonal lines, which beam from an off-kilter vertical axis that bisects the opulent rouge ground. The resulting rich crimson orthogonals recede into differing vanishing points effecting a hypnotically complex and intriguing composition. To create such a spatially complex work, Grotjahn followed a rigorous process whereby he first methodically mapped out the triangular radii in pencil before progressing on to fill in the contours, always working from left to right and top to bottom to form solidly opaque planar segments. Grotjahn's systematic ritual for laying down the butterfly form is in contrast to the arbitrary process by which the aberrant markings appear in the open expanse of his drawings: he works on smaller drawings placed on top of the paper, allowing his hand to stray off their edges. In this way, Grotjahn adds a diaristic layer of marks, many of which are completely obscured when the larger drawing is complete. In the present work Grotjahn's iconic composition of complex, skewed angles and radiant colour both challenges and expands upon the paradigms of classical and Modernist painting. The hypnotic, dizzying creation that is Untitled (Pure Crimson Red Butterfly 818) is flamboyant and electric yet deliberately enigmatic at the same time.
Commencing in the late 1990s in the Bay City area of San Francisco and Los Angeles, Grotjahn's dynamic practice was born from the humble origins of sign making. Conceptually inspired by unusual graphics and storefront signs discovered around the city, he would replicate them and present them to the stores' owners. In turn, he would trade these handmade copies with the shop owners in exchange for the original signage, which Grotjahn then exhibited as his own. In 1998, his practice evolved into conceptual perspectival studies with two or more vanishing points, a technique that playfully subverts the canonised Renaissance understanding of one-point perspective. As Grotjahn recalls: "I started to think about why I got into art in the first place. I was always interested in line and colour. I wanted to find a motif that I could experiment with for a while. I did a group of drawings over a period of six to twelve months. The drawing that I chose was one that resembled the three-tier perspective, and that is what I went with" (Mark Grotjahn in conversation with Arcy Douglass, Portland Art, 6 October 2010, online). Taking this initial concept one step further, in the present work Grotjahn masterfully tilts the central axis ninety degrees, severing any ties to landscape painting that the horizontal orientation may have suggested. Methodical and exacting, Untitled (Pure Crimson Red Butterfly 818) brilliantly summarises the artist's revolutionary use of perspective and geometric manipulations of space.
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