Interview with the American artist Peter Gronquist

 Peter Gronquist,Untitled, 2014, oil enamel, lace, resin and acrylic on plexiglass, 48x48 inches, Photo by Natalie Poette


Peter Gronquist is an American artist represented by the Joseph Gross Gallery in NYC. Over the years he has become known for his taxidermy pieces, both realistic and surreal. In a bold departure from his former approach to contemporary art, Gronquist is now exploring a new path that revolves around abstract painting. His gestural brushstrokes create a conceptual background that transcends form and meaning. He also plays with perception and three-dimensionality by pointing towards a hidden third dimension whose structure lies behind the surface.

Deianira Tolema: How did you start making art and developing a recognizable style?

Peter Gronquist: I started making art as a young child. Both my parents have always had a predisposition for art and creativity, so I think that contributed to mold me artistically at an early age. I have a self portrait that I made when I was five years old. It says: "I want to be an artist." I began to develop my style after I left art school, although I didn't necessarily have a point of view of my own until that time.  My style actually consists of a variety of different styles because the main objective for me is to experiment with different mediums and concepts (I'm fascinated by both new ways of reproducing the images that I have in my head and new materials).

Tolema: What’s the difference between making art and producing a sellable product?

Gronquist: Ideally I like to make whatever I want and hope that the result will be well received.  I definitely make work that I would want to see, but sometimes we have to walk a line (when I realize that I'm suddenly not making art for myself anymore I know it's time to change things up). The current show is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. I could go on selling taxidermy forever, but the bottom line is that I'm constantly trying to exceed my own goals to be able to set new ones.

Tolema: You are from Portland, Oregon and you are also represented by some of the most interesting contemporary art galleries, like Shooting Gallery in San Francisco and Joseph Gross Gallery in NYC. Would you tell us more about the path that you’ve been through so far?

Gronquist: I grew up in Portland, moved to NYC when I was 18 and went to SVA. Then I attended the San Francisco Art Institute for two years, moved to Oakland and began to make art.  Recently I’ve moved back to Portland with my wife and two children.  My work has been displayed in hundreds of shows later and I really do enjoy working with these gallery owners and directors, mainly because they believe in me and my vision.

Untitled (detail), 2014, Peter Gronquist, mixed media, 30x30 inches, Photo credit Natalie Poette.jpg

Tolema: Who came up with the idea behind your past show hosted by the Joseph Gross Gallery in NYC?

Gronquist: I've been wanting to get back to painting for some time, now. When my taxidermy work took off about five years ago I almost decided to stop painting.  I mean, I still painted every now and then, but it was kind of pushed aside for a while, so when my new abstract gestural works started to sell really well, Joseph Gross offered me an all painting solo show at his Chelsea gallery (this is basically what happened).

Tolema: Does your work have anything to do with history of art and aesthetics or what is it about, exactly? Surely it seems to have a deep connection with the American culture.

Gronquist: It depends on which work you refer to specifically. Everything I do is directly related to my passion for art and my subjective experience of reality. I spent my whole life walking museums and looking at any kind of art to absorb as much as possible, so that influence is undeniable. My boldness in style is indeed a reflection of my Americanism (a lot of my earlier work parodied American macho culture and my taxidermy work surely speaks to my American northwest upbringing). 

Tolema: So what is art supposed to be about nowadays, in your opinion, especially in a city like New York, where artists, art dealers, auction houses, art writers, collectors and gallery owners have the power to dictate the direction of the art market not only here in the States but also in the rest of the world?  

Gronquist: I don't pretend to know what art is supposed to be about.  I just like to manipulate matter itself to create alternate realities. It’s amazing to think that I can visualize something in my head and then turn it into a perceivable object. Anything else is secondary.

Tolema: Do your new works represent a renovated level of freedom and sincerity that you weren’t able to express properly with your former representational works?

Gronquist: Yes, I think that leaving the figurative and representative painting has been very liberating. When my baby daughter died a couple of years ago, I abruptly left the figure and started focusing on more abstract works.  I feel like when you paint a figure or an object, the piece usually ends up revolving around that particular subject.  Leaving this concern behind allows me to paint pure emotion and is the most sincere thing that I can do.  It induces painting to be more about “pure things” (light, color, movement, surface, and a rawness that was not yet well defined in my earlier work).  

Tolema: What about the future?   

Gronquist: I'll be showing with the Joseph Gross Gallery in March 2015. WM




Deianira Tolema

Deianira Tolema is an Italian writer based in Williamsport PA.

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