Mark Grotjahn

United States 1968

Hard-edge Painting, Op Art

Mark Grotjahn
Mark Grotjahn
United States
October 27, 2016
Music, Gestalt, .

Painter Mark Grotjahn is best known for his exploration of perspective. His career started in mid-90’s and since then has taken a couple of major turns. He began with colored pencil drawings which were followed by oil paintings. Through his oil paintings, pencil and cardboard works and sculpture, Mark started to experiment with the perspective often employing multiple vanishing points in his museum and gallery work and it’s at this time that Grotjahn started getting noticed for his unique art. In the Butterfly paintings from 1997, he created complex compositions of radiant, tonal color. This was under the great influence of many artistic milestones such as Russian Constructivism and Op Art. His Butterfly work was interrupted in 2008 when Grotjahn tore his rotator cuff and broke a shoulder bone in an accident. This unfortunate turn of events forced him to adapt his work style to his injury to a less intensive painting. By drawing simple geometric untitled face parts on paper and linen Mark began his Face Paintings and Untitled series.

The artist's gallery exhibitions were held mainly in New York and Los Angeles, showcasing his famous untitled pieces
Mark Grotjahn – Untitled (Solid Black Butterfly Separated by Cream Lines Drawing in Five Parts), 2006 – 2007 – Courtesy of Kaikai Kiki Gallery

Butterfly Art – New Untitled Randomness

Besides perspective, Grotjahn also explored the ideas of color restriction, seriality, and the sublime. His art style originated out of sign making. He would reproduce an interesting graphics and slogans from various stores in Los Angeles, where he’s located to this day. After creating a faithful copy he would trade it with the store owners for the original signage. The transition from perspective drawings to perspectival paintings opened the doors to what later became his signature work – The Butterfly Paintings. Using multiple colors, Mark Grotjahn’s work is an interesting combination of rationality and intuition not often available in gallery and museum contemporary world. Although there was a lot of experimenting and chance, all of the untitled paintings followed a strict work system. He would first start by mapping out the triangular radii with a black pencil. After creating the skeleton, he would carefully pick a precise number of color pencils. The main rule for the color-picking was for the color to make sense in correspondence on to another, meaning they had a connection according to their value and intensity. After picking a satisfying number of pencils he would choose them randomly one segment of the painting. At the end of 20th century, Grotjahn started to focus more on the investigation of the radiant motif in his work, which can be seen in his later Butterfly paintings. Using Renaissance techniques in order to expose the perspective of his subjects, he managed to create an illusion of narrowing and expanding geometries. Although all of these paintings seem very ceremonial, their true essence lies in emitting a succession of parallel lines which create the illusion. Probably the most intriguing proof is the fact these parallel lines are never parallel to the edges of the canvas. His untitled work might look as if it’s strictly glued to aesthetic ideals of modernism, but there are many references to nature. The butterfly motif alongside flowers and water in his untitled pieces enabled him more than one opportunity to break this misconception and participate in worldwide museum and gallery exhibitions. The probabilistic elegance inwrought with systematic rules created untitled paintings which are both mysterious and direct. With the unique approach, Grotjahn managed to create a two-way street between abstract and figurative. His sculpture and paper based untitled works became an indispensable part of gallery and museum universe of New York City and beyond.

Besides perspective, Grotjahn also explored the ideas of color restriction, seriality, and the sublime in his Butterfly series, available in many museum shows

Mark's untitled works painted on blue linen were exhibited in New York City and Los Angeles

Face Art – Forced Creativity

Mark Grotjahn stopped artwork his Butterfly work in 2008, after tearing the rotator cuff and shoulder bone after hitting a patch of ice while skiing. The accident made it impossible for him to paint more than two hours in one take. As retiring from art wasn’t an option, Grotjahn found a new and simpler painting technique. Face Paintings is a series of large vertical faces based on a simple untitled geometric structure of the eyes, nose, and mouth. Using cardboard sheets which are prepared and mounted on canvas, a brush and a spatula Grotjahn creates layers of oil paints with the end result being almost sculpture alike. These mask sculptures made of cardboard expand the possibilities into the 3D world. While a great number of these sculptures rest on a stand, some are mounted on the wall, and thus create a direct reference to painting works. Although the approach changed, Mark Grotjahn kept the radiant motif while changing from complex geometry to a more ritualistic kind of art. Art which originated in misfortune directly portrays his struggle and overcoming the odds of his disability. This personal feel can be seen on the surface of the sculptures through the flecks and dashes of color which seem as if were done in a hurry, but the more you look at it the more they seem to resemble a human face. His mask sculptures have a strong misleading effect. Each layer creates a higher and deeper form but remains in the sphere of direct approach by hiding nothing. The bronzes, cardboard and contemporary oil paintings are painted with power, often with fingers in a wild range of deep purple and blue with green accents. Although many of them are expressive and compellingly rendered in an abstract way, others seem to be primarily supported by Grotjahn’s signature in initials. The faces in which Mark Grotjahn adds more features achieve an even greater degree of foreignness and contact with the unknown. Tubes for a nose and holes where eyes should be, sometimes remind of Picasso’s fascination with a mask covering the human face in order to hide what’s behind.

Mark Grotjahn kept the radiant motif while changing from complex new geometry to a more ritualistic art in his Face series

In 2011 Mark won an award for his untitled linen work on blue paper
Mark Grotjahn – Exhibition at Anton Kern Gallery – image via

Mark Grotjahn: One Artist – Two Opposite Art Forms

Mark Grotjahn’s contrasting bodies of work, the Face, and the Butterfly paintings — are two main milestones in his career until 2011 when he won a major award for his museum and gallery works. The former was distinguishable through their elaborate textures and primitive style, the point where planning met taking a leap of faith; the latter with their densely layered and nuanced monochromes. Like the artists before him, Mark Grotjahn distances himself from his influences by deconstructing the approach to how a piece of art is painted. Thus, his works are an homage to the art before and a greeting to the art that’s yet to come. Grotjahn is the recipient of the 2003 Penny Mccall Foundation Award and in 2011 he was given the amfAR’s Award of Excellence for Artistic Contributions to the Fight Against Aids.

The artist is represented by Gagosian in New York.

Mark Grotjahn lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

Featured image: Portrait of Mark Grotjahn – image via

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Mark Grotjahn: Pink CoscoGagosian Gallery, LondonSolo
2016Summer SchoolThe FLAG Art Foundation, New YorkGroup
2015#crowdedhouseHarper's Books, East HamptonGroup
2014 Mark Grotjahn and Tabwa Masks Frieze, London, UKSolo
2014UntitledNasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, TX [cat.]Solo
2014UntitledSouth Willard, Los Angeles, CASolo
2014Circus Circus Kunstverein Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany [cat.]Solo
2014Mark Grotjahn: Butterfly Paintings Blum & Poe, New York, NY [cat.]Solo
2014Variations: Conversations in and Around Abstract Painting The Los Angeles County Museum of Group
2014Art, Los Angeles, CA (through March 2015)Group
2014Cast From Life Skarstedt, New York, NYGroup
2014The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World Museum of Modern Art, New York, NYGroup
2014Liquor Store Paradise Garage, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2014Room by Room: Monographic Presentations From the Faulconer and Rachofsky Collections Dallas, TXGroup
2013UntitledShane Campbell Gallery, Lincoln Park, Chicago, ILSolo
2013 Looking at Process de la Cruz Collection, Miami, FLGroup
2013 Carnegie International Contemporary Galleries Reinstallation, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PAGroup
2013Prima Materia Punta della Dogana, Venice, ItalyGroup
2013The Show Is Over Gagosian Gallery, London, UKGroup
2013Busted Friends of the High Line, New York, NYGroup
2013Pattern: Follow the Rules, Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, Lansing, MIGroup
2013Selections from the Permanent Collection The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles, CA (curated by Bennett Simpson)Group
2013DSM-V The Future Moynihan Station, New York, NYGroup
2012UntitledAspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO [cat.]Solo
2012Untitled Gagosian, New York, NYSolo
2012Now’s the Time: Recent Acquisitions Guggenheim Museum, New York, New YorkGroup
2012Ancestral Figure Gagosian, Paris, FranceGroup
2012The Venice Beach Biennial Armand Hammer Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2012Contemporary painting, 1960 to the Present: Selections from the Collection San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CAGroup
2012In Living Color The FLAG Art Foundation, New York, NYGroup
2011Nine Faces Anton Kern Gallery, New York, NY [cat.]Solo
2011Three to Five Faces Shane Campbell, Chicago, IL [cat.]Solo
2011 Absence-Presence: Contemporary Abstraction Sonoma Sate University, Rohnert Park, CA Group
2011Contemporary painting, 1960 to the Present: Selections from the Collection, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CAGroup
2011Human Nature: Contemporary Art from the Collection Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA Group
2011Malevich and the American Legacy Gagosian Gallery, New York, NY Group
2011California Dreamin: Myths and Legends of Los Angeles Galerie Almine Rech, Paris, France (curated by Hedi Slimane) Group
2011Selections from the Collection of Buck A. Mickel Richard Gray Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2010Untitled Kaikai Kiki Gallery, Tokyo, JapanSolo
2010UntitledPortland Art Museum, Portland, ORSolo
2010 Seven Faces Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, CA [cat.]Solo
2010The Maginot Line David Castillo Gallery, Miami, FLGroup
2010Benches and Binoculars Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN Group
2010 The Artist’s Museum: Los Angeles Artists 1980 – 2010 Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA Group
2010Group Show 2010 Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris, FranceGroup
2010At Home-Not at Home: Works from the Collection of Martin and Rebecca EisenbergHessel Museum of Art, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY (curated by Matthew Higgs) Group
2010 Mark Grotjahn, Jonathan Lasker, Sol LeWitt, Allan McCollum, James Siena, James Welling Bravin Lee Programs, New York, NYGroup
2010 Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection New Museum, New York, NY (curated by Jeff Koons) Group
2010 Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NYGroup
2009UntitledGagosian Gallery, London, UKSolo
2009Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2009Beyond Black, White, and Gray L&M Arts, New York, NYGroup
2009 Just Like This Train, PHIL, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2009 15th Anniversary Inaugural Exhibition Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2009Minimal Means Initial Access, Wolverhampton, UK Group
2009Private Universes: Media Works Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX Group
2009 Mapping the Studio: Artists from the François Pinault Collection Punta della Dogana, Venice, ItalyGroup
2009The Chef's Theory Five Thirty Thr33, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2009 Abstract America: New Painting and Sculpture The Saatchi Gallery, London, UKGroup
2009Compass in Hand: Selections from The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection, MoMA, New York, NY [cat.]Group
2009 American Flavors Galerie Daniel Blau, Munich, Germany Group
2009Mark Grotjahn and Jonas Wood: Collaborative Works T&Sn’Kreps, New York, NY Group
2009Saints and Sinners Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA Group
2008 Dancing Black Butterflies Gagosian Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2008 Eyes Wide OpenStedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands Group
2008 Oranges and Sardines Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, [cat.]Group
2008 For What You Are About to Receive Gagosian Gallery, Moscow, Russia Group
2008Pretty Ugly Gavin Brown’s enterprise & Maccarone Gallery, New York, NY Group
2008Geo-Metric-Prints and Drawings from the Collection Museum of Modern Art, New York, NYGroup
2008 Friends and Family Anton Kern Gallery, New York, NY Group
2008Always There: a Group Show with Grey Paintings - Part 1 Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2008Kaikai Kiki Artists Kaikai Kiki Gallery, Tokyo, Japan [cat.]Group
2007Untitled Kunstmuseum Thun, Thun, Switzerland [cat.]Solo
2007Blue Paintings Light to Dark One through Ten Anton Kern Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2007The Complexity of the Simple L & M, New York, NY Group
2007 Fit to Print Gagosian Gallery, New York, NY Group
2007Past, Present, Future Perfect: Selections from the Ovitz Family Collection, H&R Block Artspace Kansas City, Art Institute, Kansas City, MO Group
2007USA Today: New American Art from The Saatchi Gallery Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, RussiaGroup
2007L.A. DesireGalerie Dennis Kimmerich, Düsseldorf, GermanyGroup
2007 Painting as Fact – Fact as Fiction de Pury & Luxembourg, Zürich, Switzerland (curated by Bob Nickas)Group
2007Warhol and… Kantor - Feuer, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2007James Turrell, Mark Grotjahn, Carl Andre, John McCracken Galerie Almine Rech, Paris, France Group
2007Very Abstract and Hyper Figurative, curated by Jens HoffmannThomas Dane Gallery, London, UK Group
2007Like Color in Pictures Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO [cat] Group
2007Hammer Contemporary Collection: Part 1, curated by Gary Garrels Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA Group
2006UntitledWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NYSolo
2006Red Eye: L.A. Artists from the Rubell Family Collection Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL Group
2006Modern Primitivism Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago, IL Group
2006 The Monty Hall Problem curated by Slater Bradley Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2006Dark Matter White Cube, London, UKGroup
2006 The Last Time They Met Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, UK Group
2006 Whitney Biennial: Day for Night Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY Group
2006Delete,How to Make a Perfect Ghost Anton Kern Gallery, New York, NY Group
2006 Figures in the Field: Figurative Sculpture and Abstract Painting from Chicago Collections Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL Group
2006Mark Grotjahn, Richard Hawkins, Jay Heikes Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago, IL Group
2006 Gone FormalismInstitute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, PA Group
2006Painting in Tongues curated by Michael Darling Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA Group
2005UntitledBlum & Poe, Los Angeles, CASolo
2005UntitledStephen Friedman Gallery, London, UK Solo
2005 Mark Grotjahn: Drawings Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CASolo
2005 The Painted World P.S.1, Long Island City, NYGroup
2005Plip, Plip, Plipty! Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2005Drawing from the Modern, 1975-2005 Museum of Modern Art, New York, NYGroup
2005Think Blue, Blum & Poe Los Angeles, CAGroup
2005New WorkNew Acquisitions, curated by Klaus Biesenbach and Ann TempkinGroup
2005Tête à Tête, curated by Augusto Arbizo, Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, New York, NY The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY Group
2005Seventh Annual Altoids Curiously Strong Collection (traveling exhibition), Consolidated Works, Seattle, WA; Bluse Star Art Complex, San Antonio, TX;Soo Visual Arts, Minneapolis, MN; New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, NY; Luckman Center Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Group
200454th Carnegie International Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA [cat.]Group
2004Colored Pencil curated by Geoffrey Young KS Art, New York, NY Group
2004 The Thought That Counts, curated by Jason Meadows Sister, Los Angeles, CA Group
2004I, Assassin, curated by Slater Bradley Wallspace, New York, NY Group
2004 Now is a Good Time curated by Dean Valentine, Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York, NY Group
2003UntitledAnton Kern Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2003 Inaugural Group Show Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, CA (SEP)Group
2003 Conversations Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2003Pink Gallery Min Min, Tokyo, JapanGroup
2002Mark Grotjahn: el gran burrito Boom, Chicago, ILSolo
2002UntitledBlum & Poe, Santa Monica, CASolo
2002 The Stray Show Boom, Chicago, ILGroup
2002 Play it as it Lays, curated by Paul McDevitt and Declan Clark London Institute, London, UKGroup
2002L.A. On My Mind: Recent Acquisitions from MOCA's Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2001 Jennifer Bornstein, Mark Grotjahn, Dave Muller, Florian Maier-Aichen Blum & Poe, Santa Monica, CA (OCT)Group
2001Sharing Sunsets, curated by Julie Deamer Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson, AZ Group
2001Out of Bounds: Working off Paper, Harriet & Charles Luckman Fine Arts Complex California State University, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2001 Superman in Bed: Kunst der Gegenwart und Fotografie Sammlung Schürmann Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, GermanyGroup
2001David Brody, Mark Grotjahn, Wade Guyton, Siobhan Liddell Gorney Bravin + Lee, New York, NY Group
2000Untitled Blum & Poe, Santa Monica, CASolo
2000H20, Works on Paper Los Angeles, CAGroup
2000'00, Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2000Drawings From Los Angeles, Studio Guenzani, Milan, ItalyGroup
2000Young and Dumb, curated by Pentti Monkkonen Acme, Los Angeles, CA Group
1999 After the Gold Rush, curated by Lia Gangitano and Joseph Wolin Thread Waxing Space New York, NY Group
1998UntitledBlum & Poe, Santa Monica, CASolo
1998Flowers in the Office Brent Petersen Gallery, Los Angeles, Solo
1998 Entropy at Home Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Aachen, GermanyGroup
1998 Winter Selections 1998Drawing Center, New York, NYGroup
1998Works on Paper Derek Eller Gallery, New York, NYGroup
1998 Phenomenology: Michael Byron and Mark Grotjahn Elias Fine Art Gallery, Boston, MAGroup
1997 Brent Petersen, Mark Grotjahn, Paul Sietsema Gallery 16, San Francisco, CAGroup
1997 Helmut Federle, Günter Umberg, Mark Grotjahn, Ingo Müller Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco, CAGroup
1996 Backroads (with Doug McConnell) Four Walls, San Francisco, CA Group
1995Access Southern Exposure, San Francisco, CA Group
1995Skowhegan Drive-in collaboration with Doug Corson, Mark Grotjahn, and Mel Chin, Skowhegan , School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, MEGroup