Published: June 1, 2004
From June 4 through September 6, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts will present the largest collection of Red Grooms’ prints ever assembled for an exhibition. “Red Grooms: Selections from the Graphic Work” includes more than 120 works, both two- and three-dimensional, covering 40 years of printmaking by the renowned artist and Nashville native.
Created between 1956 and 1999, the works reveal the practiced hand of a master draftsman who has experimented with an array of printmaking techniques ranging from delicate soft ground etchings to an 8-foot high woodblock print, to 3-D graphic versions of “Sculpto-pictoramas,” the large-scale environmental works for which Grooms is best known.
This exhibition focuses on themes that have been central to Grooms’ work since the late 1950s. Galleries focus variously on images of the city and its denizens, icons of popular culture such as Elvis Presley, portraits and self-portraits and heroes of the art world.
Grooms introduced the theme of the city in 1962 with his first commissioned print, “Self-Portrait in a Crowd.” The image of a jaunty, striding figure wearing a stovepipe hat on a busy street signals the artist’s confidence in his quickly rising career. In 1967, Grooms created his first life-sized installation, inspired by nostalgia for the “Windy City” of Chicago, where he had studied art in the late 1950s. Four years later in 1971, Grooms portrayed the densely swarming streets of New York City in his first print portfolio, “No Gas.” In later works, Grooms continued to portray New York with exaggerated street perspectives, outlandish people and a high degree of nervous energy.
Portraits and figures comprise another theme in the exhibition. Like a number of other young artists active in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Grooms began turning to ordinary subjects, such as his friends and family members, and depicting them in a simplified representational manner. He forged his own style of figurative expressionism, often including his own image as an actor on the stage of life. This gallery features a self-portrait of the artist making a print and an image of the collector, his friend Walter Knestrick.
Beginning with the tiny linocut “Five Futurists,” 1958, Grooms celebrates his own existence as an artist by paying homage to many of the important figures in the history of Western art. His fascination with the prolific Spanish painter Pablo Picasso is reflected by four prints. Although he respects such artistic “heroes,” Grooms is not afraid to have a little fun at their expense, as seen in “Nineteenth Century Artists,” 1976, a series in which he spoofs the fathers of modern art from Realist Gustave Courbet to Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne. Elsewhere, Grooms simulates the styles and subjects associated with earlier artists, such as Paul Gauguin’s roughly carved woodcuts of the South Seas, Edward Hopper’s light-filled New England beach scenes and the tall, thin figures of Alberto Giacometti.
“Red Grooms: Selections from The Graphic Work” is organized by the Tennessee State Museum and curated by Susan Knowles from the collection of Walter G. Knestrick. Locally, the exhibition is sponsored by First Tennessee. The exhibition catalog, Red Grooms: The Graphic Work by Walter Knestrick will be available for purchase in the Frist Center Gift Shop.
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is at 919 Broadway. For information, 615-244-3440 or www.fristcenter.og.
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