Grotjahn’s formal focus on one-point perspective relates to academic conventions of painting developed by Leon Battista Alberti during the Renaissance in order to skillfully render depth within a flat surface, opening the two-dimensional plane miraculously into an infinite three-dimensional space. Here, a central vanishing point marks the center of the butterfly’s “abdomen,” while flying rays dart outward, fluttering across the diagonal trajectories of the slightly skewed “wings”—their tremoring vectors conjure the sensation of being captured mid-flight. Summoning natural world phenomena, while investigating the fundamental tenets of abstraction, the artist achieves a result that is as aesthetically seductive as it is rigorously analytical. Grotjahn’s Butterfly works operate within the tension between the ostensibly incongruous poles of abstraction and figuration, complicating the formal correlation between the winged insects that they reference and the pictures’ purely geometric organizations of shapes. As Douglas Fogle notes, “Grotjahn’s butterflies hover precipitously close to the line between abstract geometry and illusionistic spatiality, displaying a kind of graphic unconscious that constitutes a paradoxically systematic disruption of a rational and orderly system.” (Douglas Fogle, “In the Center of the Infinite” in Parkett 80, 2007, p. 117)
Since 2001, Grotjahn has employed his now-iconic butterfly motif with single, dual, and multiple vanishing points across a highly regarded series of paintings and works on paper. As remarked by Michael Ned Holte, “The butterfly has become to Mark Grotjahn what the target is to Kenneth Noland, the zip was to Barnett Newman, and the color white is to Robert Ryman. Grotjahn’s abstracted geometric figure is suitably elusive. In fact, the more familiar it becomes, the more he refines its ability to surprise and, perhaps paradoxically, takes it further away from actual butterflyness.” (Michael Ned Holte, “Mark Grotjahn,” in Artforum, November 2005, p. 259) Thickly layered, the riveting Untitled (French Grey Fan 10-90% Butterfly with Warm Grey 90% Between) stuns in its exceptional clarity and mesmeric beauty. The refined precision and symmetry of its black-and-white palette act as counterpoints to the formal architecture of the composition, modulating color in such a way that strengthens the dynamic volume of the surface. In the reductive palette of the present example, Grotjahn’s composition reverberates with incredible urgency, pronounced elegance, and magnificent composure. Intricately wrought and carefully choreographed, Untitled (French Grey Fan 10-90% Butterfly with Warm Grey 90% Between) envelops the full force of Grotjahn’s extreme acuity for spatial relationships, endlessly engaging anyone who stands before it in a dynamic optical experience. The radial bands of binary black and white possess an unnervingly seductive inner force, a concentrated energy that draws the viewer into its hypnotic hold and refuses to let go.
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