I was first exposed to Portland artist Nicholas Von Grainger when I saw his solo show at local gallery Art323. The show was a part of first Thursday, a monthly art walk in Portland’s Old Town district. I distinctly remember being immediatly taken aback upon encountering his paintings.At first this was largely due to their dramatic scale and vivid use of color. Quickly though, it became apparent that this was not the usual first Thursday fluff. Von Grainger has a truly adept, meaningful, and sparse brush stroke. His use of space and color is visually effecient with out sacrificing effect. Not many local artists dare to work in oil, and even fewer succeed at the level of Von Grainger. Von Grainger has achieved something that few abstract painters outside of those you read about in text books have: he has created emotional and intellectual resonance.
I thought about his pieces for months, until once again encountering his work at another local gallery. This time, I took the initiative to track him down and have a quick chat with him about his past, present, and future artistic intentions……
Former Obsession Nicholas Von Grainger (Oil on Canvas. 60″ X 48″. 2007)
Lost Moment of Bliss Nicholas Von Grainger ( Oil on Canvas. 36″ X 36″. 2008)
Jon Miller: Your portfolio contains artwork spanning several years. Every piece is an abstract done in oil. What caused you to gravitate towards this medium and style? Has it always been your preferred niche, or did you grow into it?
Nicholas Von Grainger: I would say that I have grown into it. I have painted for as long as I can remember. I have explored other modes of creation during my artistic training but I always have come back to painting. However I was not always an abstract artist, nor did I [always] work with oils. Most of my early works, if you can call it that, were landscapes or fantasy based; stuff that occupies the minds of young boys. When I started thinking seriously about my art I fell in love with the impressionists and the abstract expressionists. The idea that one could express so much with so few visual components fascinated me. As I began thinking of going to art school, my cousin (who is quite an accomplished artist in his own right) introduced me to oil paints. As soon as I started using them I knew that I couldn’t go back to acrylics. There is something about the visceral sculptural quality of the paints and the colors you can achieve that makes them, in my mind, far superior to acrylic paints. That coupled with the long history of artists that have used them sold me. In fact, I came to a realization that I was attempting to paint in acrylic images based off of images that where painted in oil. I was inevitably frustrated by it.
JM: Many of your paintings include abstract objects. Can you elaborate on the meaning behind them?
NVG: The objects in this body of work are best described as non objects, or rather the ghosts of objects. They are intentionally non dimensional, like thoughts fleeting in and out of existence. I think of most of my paintings as snapshots of the subconscious. Maybe it is my subconscious or not, but mainly the paintings depict a conceptual consciousness as described by psychoanalytical theory. I feel that images in the subconscious are distorted and abstracted to allow for the transference into affecting our conscious thoughts which are awash with images generated and processed during and though our day to day existence. Furthermore my images are purposely devoid of depictions of the true carnal nature of existence to allow the viewer to linger and ask questions.
JM: The inclusion of these “non-objects” in most of your pieces as well as your love of the textural and dimensional qualities of oil both seem to be indicators that your expression as an artist is at least somewhat based in the world of sculpture, whether literally or just aesthetically. Is this something you have explored in the past? Do you see your paintings as sculptural art?
NVG: Yes. I have often thought of myself as a sculptor that paints. But I also think of myself as a painter that sculpts. I’m concerned with the creation of physical objects. Part of this creation is the construction of what I’m making; I need to make it stand up whether that means hanging on a wall or creating an entire supporting environment. At this moment in time, painting is the outlet of my vision. I do sometimes think of the paintings as wall hung sculptures, but I never use that as an excuse to ignore the dimensional illusions of the painting.
In an Instant Nicholas Von Grainger (Oil on Canvas. 72″ X 96″. 2008)
JM: I love the contrast between the relaxing blues and creams you use as background, and the striking, almost violent reds you use in some foreground objects. These red objects seem to exist on a separate dimensional plane from the other non-red floating objects. What is the meaning behind them, and why did they begin to emerge in your more recent paintings? Is their resemblance to geographical structures purposeful?
NVG: The red objects have several functions and meanings; they are at once reproducible stamps that I insert in my images and unique chaotic objects. The creation and destruction of the illusion of depth in paintings has always fascinated me (i.e. Japanese wood block prints where the clouds both create the illusion of space and at once flatten the image). I find the play in space causes the eye to flip back and forth into the different perspectives which in my mind creates beauty within the work. I have taken to calling these marks beauty stamps. The origin of the shape was as an incidental in one of my paintings. I noticed that the shape that was created was very similar to shapes that I was creating digitally using fractal geometry. So I set about creating these chaotic shapes based on a complex rule system that allows me maintain a similar but not identical pattern. I use them when the painting conceptually calls for them. They represent both emotion and feeling. They hide what can’t be seen. They interrupt the flow of the work and provide, much like the subconscious mind, the multiple overlaying thoughts in the painting.
JM: It is surprising to me that such a strong element in your work was created by using rule sets and fractals. This seems to further emphasize the duality present in your paintings between structural and emotional thought (i.e. right vs. left thinking). Do you think that as your work has progressed it has moved away from the emotional?
NVG: I cannot separate myself from my existence, so the work will always retain emotion. That said; yes the progression is more and more towards an analytical break down of an emotional existence. I seek to understand and ask questions of our mental and physical existence. To accomplish this I am exploring emotions scientifically, or at least psychoanalytically. Conceptually the duality in the paintings between the analytical and the emotional reflects our existence in this world.
Void Nicholas Von Grainger (Oil on canvas. 36″ X 36″. 2008)
JM: Who are some of the artists that inspire you?
NVG: There are so many artists that I have looked at and gleaned some piece of knowledge from that it would be impossible for me to list them. But artist that I go back to over and over again, in no particular order, are Matthew Barney, Odd Nerdrum, Francis Bacon, Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Stills, and Louise Bourgeois. As far as local (Portland, OR) artists go, I really like the work of Jennen Naggy, Jason Tregor, M.K. Guth, David Eckard, and Lucinda Parker.
JM: I can absolutely see the appeal that local painter Lucinda Parker would have for you. Both of your art seems to explore similar ideological space. However, her abstract studies portray the “subconscious non-objects” with-in a realm that is chaotic and, seemingly, bordering on violent. Your paintings create a space that is entirely calming.
NVG: My understanding of Lucinda’s work is that her subconscious non-objects are derived from a reaction to the natural environment which is infinitely chaotic and sometimes violent. Conversely my work is a reaction to introspective analysis. While the natural environments are often represented or present in my work, they are abstracted and simplified. The chaos is ever present but it is just not as energetically represented. I feel that in order to understand or analyze a subconscious thought it needs to be taken from the complexity of reality. It is still present in my work. It is just muted so the truth of the concept can be represented.
JM: What direction do you see your art moving towards in the future?
NVG: Currently the progression in my work has been going towards deeper subjects and situations. As my understanding of my research deepens, I’m finding the complexity of my objects is directly correlated to the complexity of the theories I am studying. My imagery is becoming more discordant and the surfaces are getting worked harder.
As to what I’ve got going on right now I just launched a new portfolio website at www.graingerstudios.com and I’ve been looking for a new gallery to represent my work.
Object 3 Nicholas Von Grainger (Oil on canvas. 60″ X 72″. 2006)