Artist Spotlight – Nora Griffin
A few months ago, Nora Griffin’s solo show, titled “Chartreuse,” opened at Fierman Gallery in the Lower East Side. I caught a glimpse of images of the work in digital form. The thing that intrigued me most was the shift in the new work, which seemed to have a looser quality and more painterly gestural activity compared to her previous work shown at Louis B. James Gallery in 2016 titled: “Modern Love.” Since I missed seeing the recent exhibition, I reached out to Nora to see if I could see her work in person. The experience I had with the studio visit was revealing and perhaps even more rewarding than seeing the works in the cubed gallery. Some of the art I saw, which came out of her painting rack and were large, standing well over five feet or more. I helped Nora move one work into the viewing space and was able to catch a glimpse of the materials she used for the painting. As an artist myself, I’m always interested in seeing what materials other artists use. I was impressed by her choice of strainers, the canvas, and how the object was initially started before they became paintings. It was at this point I began to recognize what I was about to see was something I had already suspected but was now being confirmed through physical evidence. Griffin’s method is highly calculated and very thought out in execution, which contrasts with the casualness of how they first appear.
Nora Griffin’s work incorporates painting motifs that recall the New York School of action paintings, some decorative elements, a reference to textile, and other areas of art history. These are evident in works such as “Neo 1,” 2016, oil on linen; 16” x 16” and “Untitled,” 2014, oil on canvas; 18″x18.” In works which incorporate a lot of surface activity, there are areas of fanciful brushwork, splatters, and drips. The expressionistic marks she employs no longer references an embodiment of emotion or a manifestation of unrest, but they can exist for the sake of being artful-looking to communicate something else. In the press release for her exhibition, she examines and poses the question: “Can a painting retain the memory of a specific place? This is a question that fuels my work, at a time where loss is everywhere. I think of painting as a container, a world where images, colors, feelings, and form can coalesce into an object.” The intentions of the new work come from the personification of place and memory, both personal and allegorically. As a result, the work blend intentions of recalling place and time with an awkward and measured intentional of a kitsch-like aesthetic. Griffin’s work is in active dialogue with some of her contemporaries and brings to mind the works of Jason Stopa, Nick Irzy, and Dianna Molzan, to name a few.
In her painting, “Stop Time II” 2018, oil and modeling paste on canvas, Flashe on wood frame; 67″x67,” she references Eadweard Muybridge by painting passages of his photographic contact sheet studies in black and white in various triangular shapes on the canvas. Not one of the three references run perpendicular to the edges of the object, which is ironic because so much of what makes the contact sheets compelling is the linear, as it relates to time. The use of a Muybridge image in her painting is metaphorical in what I believe Griffin is pointing to is motion and time, as it relates to painting and ultimately the role memory has in its creation. The outer blue-violet colored frame helps contain and isolate the work’s overall lemon/lime chartreuse color. Griffin has framed the time and making of the painting like the cells of Muybridge’s documentations. When one looks closer to the surface of the canvas, we notice there are areas that are built and textured. Griffin told me she built up the surface with molding paste first by flinging and tossing the material onto the canvas. Right in the center of the diamond-shaped canvas consists an area that reveals a textured square. The shape is not pronounced strongly and could be missed; the modeled area has been painted over with a lemon-lime colors and white. Upon the sculpted area, painted directly in the center of the canvas is a white circle, which contrasts enough with the acidic color that one might miss the modeled square. The memory of the textured square seems to echo what once was the orientation of the canvas. The use of the white circle appears to be a nod to technology. In the world of additive color, as it relates to film and projections in cinema, white is the color that is created when blue, red, and green light are mixed. The white circle is a meaningful attempt to echoes the mechanics, which are at work in the additive process of combining color; it refers back to the photograph and the shape of a lens.
Another curious element in the painting is that the gestures and drips do not confine themselves and adhere to any one direction. From the directions of the marks and drips, one could surmise the painting was made both in the horizontal and vertical orientation. The marks exude in various directions as an indication that the canvas was continually being turned in its making. The format of the work, which is of a diamond shape, resembles a road sign. The square form is tilted up on a corner, as if the painting was being rotated and has suddenly stopped. These attributes furthermore enhance the idea of motion or better to emphasis the fact that time has been stopped within the confines of the canvas. The work with evidence of its disjunctive process and apparatus as well as the disorienting sense of orientation does recall an area related to memory. The work’s surface agitation reminds the viewer of a specific type of gestural painting of the past. The color, as the artist has emphasized, has to do with a particular place in her childhood. Both elements come together that represent a dislocated form in the present and perhaps a glimpse of what holds for painting in the future. Simply put, we cannot have a present without the past to be able to move into the future.