Through a twenty-four month almost meditative process of pedantically rending each fragment of various international studios and factories, Andrew Grassie has pieced together a show that provokes questions regarding ownership of art as something both material and conceptual. Amongst his nine works, none of which exceed twenty-four by thirty-point-one centimetres, the viewer is inspired to try to painstakingly retrace the photorealist’s technique as he jumps from shelf to masterwork of art to broom, and in doing so, becomes intimate with not only every work of art, but also every seemingly mundane object whose presence is intricately acknowledged.
The paintings incorporate ideological nods to the 1990’s, a time during which there was a focus on an intimacy arising out of introversion and everyday objects. In the 2010’s, with decontextualized everyday objects situated in the spaces of institutions, artists such as Andrew Grassie can find their artistic identity even in trying to represent reality down the to most minute details, and people in general can find an unquantifiable connection to spaces that are “other” – a shift which has possibly come about as a response to our increasingly globalized everyday lives.
Though it took him approximately six weeks to complete each piece, the themes of the show have been cultivated since the artist first began to photograph and paint. Having graduated from a fine arts and painting degree in the 80’s, Andrew Grassie has taken a long and meandering route to find his answer to the question of personalization in art. The inception of his style came about after having photographed his pieces and then painted them, only to repeat the process each time the paint had dried. Eventually, each copy became not only an uncanny reflection of its predecessor, but through the deductive power of comparing the two and and subtracting their common denominator, also of their creator.
Then, empowered by this idea of ownership, Grassie used it as a lens through which to question external issues. Through the evolution of his political and aesthetic exploration, this artist once was drawn to photographically document and fortuitously curate a narrative that didn’t really exist. In his 2005 Tate exhibition, Grassie photographed works of art – some of which were preoccupied with the human body including works by William Blake, Henry Moore, Hans Bellmer and Picasso – that occupied the spaces in which his own painting would later be exhibited. The crux of the show? Contrary to Grassie’s depictions, the pieces never interacted; having in reality been there at different times. This duplication of space and juxtaposing construction of time arose to question the fabric of reality in almost a quantum physical way.
Though other artists’ works, such as those of Martin Boyle, Jeff Koons, Hank Willis Thomas, Arie Van Selm and Christopher Kopac, still remain as subjects in Grassie’s pieces on display at Johnen Galerie’s Fabrication exhibition today, they can in no way be seen as sitting centre stage. The scenes are not limited to spaces, but factories play a key role in the subject matter of his current show. Contrary to the cluttered atmosphere of some pieces, the contents of the paintings are sometimes meticulously staged, producing an intentionally palimpsest-like relationship between the objects. Now, having returned to his earlier technique of photographing and painting, without the added layer of stitching together time, Grassie has come up with a core different from his previous exhibition at the Tate.
In response to his father’s ailing health, poet Dylan Thomas once proclaimed “Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright, Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light” – a message of fighting in spite of obscurity and restriction. That’s just what Grassie has done through his medium of painting. The artist who has been limited in his ability to render other artists’ works this time around, just as his style holds a liminal loyalty to reality, still emerges as immensely present in his works, perhaps even more so than other artists in their pieces. He does not try have a style, instead his character is what emerges when he tries to have none. It is innate, and thus is more powerful than the constraints of reality and the ownership of others’ featured in his work.
With this privilege, Andrew Grassie unyokes the scenes that his painting capture for his audience. He chose to place and depict the every-day as gloriously as the ornamental, and in doing so allows for his audience to build a connection to his subjects just as he has. To see which works speak strongly to you, whether they are of the spacious ateliers of L.A., or the messy halls of London, you can visit Andrew Grassie’s paintings at the Johnen Galerie through till February 27.