Gronk: “RUINS” at Lora Schlesinger Gallery

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Tormenta
2014
Acrylic on canvas
110″ x 861⁄2″
Photo: courtesy Lora Schlesinger Gallery

Theatricality lies at the core of Gronk’s creative process. A Chicano artist living and working in Downtown Los Angeles, who first gained fame as a founding member of the multi-media arts collective ASCO in the 1970s, Gronk explores various mediums including murals, performance art, painting, print-making and set design. “RUINS,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at Lora Schlesinger Gallery was inspired by Gronk’s preparation and experience designing and painting the set for Peter Sellars’ adaption of “The Indian Queen,” the final and unfinished opera by Henry Purcell. The narrative of the opera concentrates on the confrontation between two cultures-the Europeans and Mayans of the New World. The cultural collusion on stage manifests in the narrative of the scenery behind the actors as Gronk embraces two distinctive styles of painting. A performance of the opera recorded at Teatro Real, Madrid, plays on a TV monitor positioned in the corner of the main gallery so that the viewer can
experience the tension between the characters while viewing “RUINS.”

The old and the new ways of mark making are celebrated in a series of mixed-media works on paper and monoprints. Mixed-media works such as Pyramid 6 are dense in texture and possess a weight like a stone. The outlined profiles and rudimentary lines feel like they have been scratched or carved onto the paper surface. Working with a limited color palette of black, red, and off-white on a russet, stone-color surface, Gronk presents early hieroglyphic renderings that allude to the caves of Lascaux. Alternatively, monoprints like Untitled (GN14-002), are inspired by the dense graffiti-stained walls of Los Angeles. The paint is applied in smooth and lucid gestures in a palette of jet black, vibrant blue, stark white and crimson red.

A single work stands apart from Gronk’s rigorous study of abstract forms-a large-scale work on raw canvas and acrylic titled Tormenta. An anonymous woman separates the black theatre curtain with outstretched arms. It is the moment that the performance begins and the crowd is lulled into silence. We never see the woman’s face as the viewer assumes the vantage point of Gronk’s sets, positioned behind the actors. With a single gesture the woman opens a portal into a world where the body becomes one with performance.