artist profile by simon herbert


“Joe,” 2007, acrylic on canvas, 21″ x19 1/2″
Photo: Courtesy of Metro Gallery

Gronk has collaborated many times in his extensive artistic career: a radical East Los Angeles artist dedicated to creating new expressions of Chicano identity, he was one of the founders of the 70s performance art collective Asco. Since then, he has produced opera sets with director Peter Sellars (Ainamadar) and instigated alternative art actions with enusing generations of artists.

Gronk’s latest project-initiated jointly with emerging painter Ricardo Garcia-is perhaps the most formal and literal expression yet of his desire to examine the collaborative urge. Their upcoming two-man exhibition, entitled “Momento,” combines canvases that each artist has worked on separately; the original canvas being divided and sent to their respective studios. The final results will be re-combined just prior to the opening, maintaining Gronk’s perennial interest in installation-style process.

“I asked myself ‘Can I communicate with a visual artist?’ If not, then how could I hope to communicate with another person? As an artist you have to allow, to work alongside others,” Gronk says. “You give yourself up to collaboration, but as an artist that’s when you are learning, it’s the best position to be in. It’s the greatest job in the world to be able to share.”

Both artists’ styles in these canvases certainly combine in a harmonious fashion: Gronk’s warm earth-tones and repeated lines play well off of Garcia’s abstractions, which are slightly more figurative in suggestion. Yet one suspects the process wasn’t initiated from a desire to fuse or complement two styles. Rather than a painterly experiment in mix ‘n’ match, this is driven by a more conceptual engine concerned with establishing patterns of individual codes and vocabulary.

“I met Ricardo online on MySpace, and I noticed similarities between us. We discussed the prospect of a collaboration; maybe we work together side by side, he starts on the left, me on the right and we end in the middle-but the better process was to separate and bring the results together at a later stage.”

As a politically engaged artist, Gronk evolves projects with context as a constant consideration, and the manner of the two artists’ original meeting became integral. “Our online communications, addressing each other via computer, made me wonder if we could translate this exchange via a much more ancient medium. Could we evolve it into a painting? The same kind of language, the same imbedding of codes, the same process of evolving messages? It’s interesting to me that MySpace has a dynamic of public comment on a homepage, and private messages that can be sent to individuals, that has parallels with the public and private aspects of an artwork’s life; in the studio and in the gallery.”

It’s an intriguing and enervating prospect: the World Wide Web becoming merely the latest manifestation of communities – in this case painters – establishing viral sites of niche interest (one imagines Pissarro, Monet and Gauguin in a chat room.) Two things are certain: that surprises will occur, and that Gronk welcomes them.

“Absolutely, accidents happen. When I first started painting – because of the Chicano stereotype -my colors were described by critics as ‘fiestas,’ whereas I also lived not far from the glamour of Hollywood and saw my colors as more redolent of [fabled film director] Vincente Minnelli’s creations. Over the years, working with pop art and cartoons my characters have dissipated into repeated patterns, abstract forms. Ricardo holds on more to figurative elements. I like to step back a lot, I look more than I paint. Ricardo’s the opposite, he likes to paint a lot.”