Gronk-o-Rama at Fullerton College!
Walking through "Gronk Un-Secret," the artist's mini-retrospective at Fullerton College's Art Gallery, is like taking a tour through the abstract personal imaginings of a friend generous enough to let you see the world from his point of view. Rarely are the photographs (hidden by the gallery's reception desk), etchings, paintings, linocuts, drawings and mixed-media pieces on display obvious. The legendary artist—founding member of Chicano art collective ASCO, a titan in his own right and the school's artist-in-residence this semester—certainly lives in his Own Private Idaho, but Gronk is generous with himself. Enter with an open heart and a questioning mind, and I believe you won't be disappointed.
The first images are small linocuts and a large painting from the artist's "La Tormenta" series. A woman dressed like an opera singer in long dress and gloves, stands with her back to us in all of the pictures, but the circumstances she finds herself in change with each picture. It's a fairly conventional stage in one, complete with plinth and crimson curtain; in another, there are skeletal Waiting for Godot trees, but there is no audience, save the suggestion of unformed things milling about in the dark. In IV Tormenta, green and black surround the diva as thin silver slashes flash like fish scales glimpsed underwater around her. It's not readily apparent if the green, black and silver is a curtain or something else, whether she's pulling back the drapes or gripping her head like Munch's The Scream seen from the back. A thick yellow inferno or bright burst of sunlight blasting through a devastated architecture confronts her in another. In the largest picture, she's a monolithic presence, her solitude and grace enhanced by music from the soundtrack of a documentary about the "Tormenta" project playing in a side gallery.
In the larger part of the gallery is the overwhelming, magnificent, Picasso-influenced painting Barcelona. While I've never visited the city that gave Picasso his start, I could very well imagine that the bold red, orange, blue, black and green Gronk uses are more accurate a description of the city than any travel guide could supply. More alive than a photograph, it felt like the colors reached out and yanked me by the lapels into the canvas.
Meanwhile, Gronk's acrylic and mixed media To the King's Health slyly mocks the conventions of royal portraiture. Thick, ungainly wood replaces gilt frames—here painted and chalked haphazardly as if it has been street tagged—surrounding the pale death mask of the royal visage, his lips and eyes bloody red, more Grim Reaper than Mighty Ruler; the faded, scotch-taped crown on the top of the frame the pièce de résistance. Nearby is a less-than-reverent take on Catholicism, with a set piece the artist created for the Los Angeles Theatre Center's stage production of Culture Clash's Bowl of Beings. The scapular-holding baby Jesus has a Sacred Heart shining from a television screen on his lap, as He sits on a Virgin figure surrounded by angels. What made me look over my shoulder for the Catholic League as I laughed out loud was the image of people burning in hellfire at the Holy Duo's feet—one of them is a nun.
Gronk has said in interviews that he tries to create a new piece of art daily—often in the journals he has kept during the 25 years he has been an artist. Those journals get their day in the sun with the bulk of the remaining work on display, named Notes to Oneself and Drawings From Notebooks. The imagery is spontaneous, willfully unpolished, sexual and repetitive: Fires spurt from rocks like tiny volcanoes; doughnut-shaped rocks balance on the head of a nude figure, who supports five stones leaning dangerously to the side; there's a torso thing with the suggestion of a spinal cord and ass crack, bookended on both sides by flames; crosses and half-crosses scurry about as if announcing invisible gravesites. I'll refrain from trying to figure out what the artist is telling himself with the phallic protrusion poking from a torso where an arm would normally be, as a Dali-esque crutch rises from the ground to give it some support. I'm just happy he shared it with me.
This review appeared in print as "Gronk-o-Rama! The legendary Chicano artist makes a rare OC appearance as Fullerton College's artist-in-residence."
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