While at first glance, Mark Grotjahn’s oeuvre appears to be bound purely to an aesthetic in modernist discourse, references to nature and movement are plentiful. His butterfly motif, one of several recurring connections to the natural world along with flowers and water, has yielded extensive possibilities in both painting and drawing. His ongoing Butterfly series focuses on perspectival investigations, such as dual and multiple vanishing points, techniques used since the Renaissance to create the illusion of depth and volume on a two-dimensional surface. These iconic compositions of complex, skewed angles and radiant, tonal color allude to the multiple narratives coursing through the history of modernist painting, from the utopian vision of Russian Constructivism to the hallucinatory images of Op Art. The extreme elegance of Grotjahn’s works is often tempered by visible scuffs and markings that attest to the contingencies of process in his otherwise highly controlled compositions.
Centering each work is a single stroke of color from which rays (or wings) emanate. The paintings are essentially monochromatic, but the luster of the painted surface vibrates and oscillates, offering comparison with Barnett Newman’s “zip” paintings. Resembling abstract butterfly wings, the works also call to mind “the butterfly effect,” introduced by a mathematician and meterologist in the 1960s, which maintains that the slightest movement of a butterfly’s wings could eventually cause a tornado to appear—a ready amalogy, perhaps, to Grotjahn’s quietly provocative experiments within the history of abstract art.
Mark Grotjahn was born in 1968 in Pasadena, California, and currently lives in Los Angeles. He received his MFA from the University of California, Berkeley, and his BFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Recent solo exhibitions include the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2005); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2006); Kunstmuseum Thun, Switzerland (2007); Portland Art Museum (2010) and Aspen Museum of Art (2012). Group exhibitions include 2006 Whitney Biennial, New York; the 54th Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2004); Whitney Biennial, New York (2006); “Painting in Tongues,” Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2006); “Oranges and Sardines,” the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2008). His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Cleveland Museum of Art; Des Moines Art Center; Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Tate Modern, London.