Lot 18
  • 18

Mark Grotjahn

1,300,000 - 2,000,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Mark Grotjahn
  • Face (688)
  • signed and dated 07 twice; signed, titled, dated 2007 twice and variously inscribed on the reverse
  • oil and cardboard on linen, laid down on panel
  • 152 by 129.5cm.; 59 3/4 by 51in.


Gagosian Gallery, London

Saatchi Gallery, London (acquired from the above in 2007)

Sale: Christie's, London, Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 14 October 2011, Lot 36

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


London, Saatchi Gallery, Abstract America Today: New Painting and Sculpture, 2009-10, p. 67, illustrated in colour


Edward Booth-Clibborn, Ed., The History of the Saatchi Gallery, London 2011, p. 693, illustrated in colour 

Catalogue Note

A tantalising vortex of brightly coloured radial lines and rich, opulent textures, Mark Grotjahn’s Face (688) is an extraordinary example of the artist’s celebrated Face Paintings. This decisive series is a poignant development of Grotjahn’s iconic Butterfly Paintings, which he first embarked on at the turn of the millennium. Exhibiting a similar convergent one-point perspective to the Butterfly Paintings, yet devouring the picture plane with a more wildly variegated surface – with lines that merge and meld to form large almond-shaped eyes and a grimacing mouth – Grotjahn’s Face (688) attests to the artist’s spellbinding graphic boldness. Speaking of the freedom that this series permits, Grotjahn said: “The Face Paintings allow me to express myself in a way that the Butterflies don’t, I have an idea as to what sort of face is going to happen when I do a Face Painting, but I don’t exactly know what colour it will take, or how many eyes it’s going to have, whereas the Butterflies are fairly planned out...” (Mark Grotjahn in conversation with Jan Tumlir, ‘Big Nose Baby and the Moose’, Flash Art, No. 252, January-February 2007, online resource). In its intricately knitted mesh of painterly filaments and swirling forms, executed in total abandon, Face (688) is an utterly compelling example of this renowned and expressive series.

Charged with an enthralling vertiginous motion that rockets and ricochets across its raw surface, Face (688) innovatively challenges the strict formal organisation prescribed by Modernist painting with characteristic aplomb and flourish. Here Grotjahn inventively dissolves the boundary between the traditionally opposite poles of abstraction and figuration, by injecting a distinct humanity into the present work. Out of Face (688)’s prismatic framework emerge primary facial features such as eyes and a mouth, which jostle and vibrate beneath the emphatic streams of paint. As Mark Prince observes: “The facial symbols – which the context of the Face series leads us to expect – are everywhere and nowhere. Subject and object melt into each other, the human self into the otherness of the unhuman nature of leaves, branching boughs, dense undergrowth; or, in contrast with the organic implications of both, into the inorganic materiality of pigment” (Mark Prince, ‘The Divided Self’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Freiburg, Kunstverein Freiburg, Mark Grotjahn: Circus Circus, 2014, p. 27). In Face (688) Grotjahn has employed materials that have an innate, oragnic rawness, so that the vigorously scumbled paint mirrors the roughly hewn cardboard ground which in turn is rudimentarily torn, revealing glimpses of unprimed linen below.  

To create the hypnotic surfaces of works such as Face (688), Grotjahn uses a palette knife to build up complex layers of beguiling texture and arresting colour. Finely wrought grooves and lines of oil are meticulously applied to the cardboard surface, wet-on-wet, so that the seemingly rigid shapes appear to blend into previous layers, abolishing any coherent perspective. The sumptuously ridged lines of oil paint and audacious all-over expressionism of Face (688) emphasise the gestural application of paint, a daring achievement that places the artist in the same league as Modern masters such as Pablo Picasso and Willem de Kooning. The visual remit of the Face Paintings engages with a whole host of art historical references; the bold, heroic lines reflect the gestural vigour of the Abstract Expressionists; the complex, multi-layered perspective is immediately redolent of the perspectival logic of Cubism; whilst the retinal effects approach those of Op art and the Minimalist explorations of painters such as Josef Albers and Frank Stella. Rich with art historical references and endlessly engaging, Face (688) is a truly extraordinary example of this seminal series.