Peter Gronquist: Refuge
Joseph Gross Gallery
June 9th – July 2nd, 2016
By LORI ZIMMER, JUN. 2016
Known for brazen, blinged-out taxidermy sculptures that are an opulent commentary on America’s lust for both guns and consumerism, Peter Gronquist’s new exhibition at Joseph Gross Gallery took me pleasantly by surprise. Refuge, on view through July 2nd, is a drastic and mature departure from the artist’s in-your-face sculptural works, evoking subtlety and serenity with a collection of paintings that give a nod to the Color Field movement of the 1950s and 60s.
Although none of Gronquist’s familiar taxidermy animals with highly-polished weaponry are in sight, the exhibition seems to continue the narrative that these sculptural works have come to represent. (Being a person who loves to assign narrative to a grouping of art works, I admittedly may be taking my own liberties in this interpretation.) Appropriately entitled Refuge, the narrative continues with Gronquist’s gilded prey finally finding their sanctuary, represented by creamy color fields that bring to mind contemplation and meditation equally. The ten large-scale paintings swirl with subtle colors that radiate and intertwine like auras, gently fading and mixing from one hue to the next.
This jump into non-representational painting still bears an element of chaos that Gronquist’s other works possess. Not all of the calming color fields convey total asylum, several are interrupted with structural manipulations that disrupt the tranquility of the works with blips of energy. In “Glitch 1” and “Glitch 2,” the paintings burst from their seams, unable to be contained by the frame, in a zigzag shape. The stability of his thick, stoic white framing, which is uniform throughout the show, enters a surreal realm in “Master Cleanse.” The cool blue-and-green hued painting peels off the wall and bends forward in a melting motion that feels as if the work could slide right off into a liquid pool on the floor.
Refuge isn’t the artist’s first foray into the traditional picture plane. The Great Escape, a solo exhibition at Joseph Gross Gallery in 2014, paired abstract oil and enamel pieces alongside Gronquist’s “infinity” pieces (three of which appear in Refuge), each bearing bold, crimson, gestural markings. Four pieces in this show continue this mark-making with more subtlety: “Eyes Open”, “Warm Places,” “Guiding Light” and “Bold Strokes.” Gronquist transforms the blood-red strokes of past works with the use of tulle, which is placed on the canvas before painting. With this gauzy material, the aggressive energy of past pieces is alluded to, but takes on an ethereal and organic quality that harmonizes with the overall tone of Refuge.
Gronquist is known for taking risks and trying new styles and mediums. But the pieces in Refuge feel like a mature leap forward, staying true to his narrative while showing that the artist has a softer side. WM