Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Larry Groff, In and Out of Sight

Tuxedo, 28 x 28 inches, oil on linen mounted on board, 2014

Tuxedo, 28 x 28 inches, oil on linen mounted on board, 2014

Prince Street Gallery in New York City is having a show of my paintings July 29-August 16. The show features landscapes of my suburban neighborhood in the San Diego as well as a few paintings of the city’s industrial waterfront. Additionally there are fifteen landscape paintings from Civita Castellana, Italy where I painted for the past two summers

I’m grateful to the members of the Prince Street Gallery who invited me to show my work at this great artist cooperative with a rich 40 year history and many terrific artist members.  I’d like to invite any readers to my show, the opening is on Thursday, July 31 from 5-8pm and I will be available to meet anyone while I’m in NYC from Aug 1 – Aug 12 during gallery hours, just email me…. This is my first solo show in NYC and I wanted to use this as an opportunity to post an auto-biographical sketch and commentary about my work. Please see my website for more a greater selection of images and information.

The exhibition titled In and Out of Sight underscores my combining on site observation, the “In Sight”, with studio work or the “Out of Sight”.  Also, the in and outs of painting then repainting, putting on and then scraping off, keeping a painting open to an organic, painterly process that moves beyond literal rendering of the scene’s specifics. However, at the same time I’m drawn to specific characteristics of a place, especially things that evoke a quirky sense of rightness, mood or humanity.

Of course, many landscape painters take this approach, combining the excitement and specificity of painting from observation on one hand with the inventions and strategizing in the calm, protective comforts of the studio. Despite working mainly from life for many years and running this site about perceptual painting, I am not a purist with strict rules about only painting in front of nature.

Tuxedo is a painting I finished a few weeks ago. The title is from the name of the park where much of it was painted but also plays with its formal-wear meaning; formal painting issues being the reason to paint, not just for an otherwise ordinary view of my fortunately scenic neighborhood. By formal I mean such things as the musicality felt from the intervals and groupings of related and contrasting forms and how their positions in space, geometric configurations encourages the eye to move through gestural pathways in the painting. It is about the experience and discovery of the interactions and vibrations of light on color planes and shape relationships. This painting was primarily done on site but there were also many important decisions and changes made in the studio.

To me great landscape painting is abstract painting that also has a structure and is intrinsically bound to certain visual restrictions. These restrictions paradoxically can make the process more freeing. I increasingly find that by narrowing the range of choices you free up your mind to push ideas further and to look at design possibilities more fully.


Tug and Tanked at Tenth St Terminal 20×24 inches 2014

Each painting has its own rules about how closely to follow observed facts. Sometimes the most interesting thing to me is the chance arrangement of forms found in the chaos of nature that is far more interesting visually than the order I might impose on it. The visual surprises from nature can be a catalyst for bigger abstract ideas that would have been difficult or impossible from invention alone. Other times nature is just a jumbled mess and you first need to wipe out everything in order to see where a painting might come out of all of it. On occasion, a more laborious (and often less successful) manner involves putting in everything that might be tried, then as the painting progresses, gradually removing the non-essential – which is somewhat like how I’ve lived my life for many years.


ai piedi del Monte Soratte, 11 x 15 inches oil on paper mounted on board, 2013

I didn’t start drawing until my mid 20’s. At first, the main art I knew about was more along the lines of hippie decorating and protest-sign art. As a teen in the late 60′s, I lead a feral lifestyle, dropping out of high school to have as many adventures as possible. I left the hippie counter-culture to be more with the straight-laced radical anti-war protest and Marxist-Leninist type groups, and became a full-time activist for a few years. Eventually, I became disenchanted with the craziness and doctrinaire party lines and began to understand that being a revolutionary leader wasn’t a particularly wise career move. Since then I’ve have a hard time buying into notions of the one true path, and have tried to avoid art-world variations of “correct-thinking”.

I went back to school and got my GED and then went on to become a nurse (LPN) which is how I supported myself for 25 years, working in various hospitals in Boston. One of my more memorable early experiences with art was when the head nurse on the unit where I worked brought in some large art books on Bonnard and Degas. I had never seen these before and I was enchanted, wanting to marvel over these books every chance I got. I started experimenting with watercolor and I soon decided I wanted to learn drawing and asked a good artist friend, Matthew Mattingly, to teach me. We would meet once a week to travel around Boston drawing homeless people sleeping in the library, people waiting for trains in the station, study perspective problems of airline terminals and buildings in the North End as well as hiring models. The search for more exciting views sometimes brought us to the wilder parts of the city; industrial waste sites, trespassing in waterfront oil tank farms—places where gangsters from Charlestown might dump bodies. This visual thrill-seeking went on to become a long standing interest. Sadly, after 9-11, security police take their job far more seriously and I am far more careful about ‘no trespassing’ signs.

My first drawing efforts were exciting but rather pedestrian as art, still I started to learn the basics.  Drawing never came easy for me but it seemed important, and eventually became my obsession. I applied to Mass College of Art in the mid-80’s where I was lucky to study with George Nick. Immediately after seeing his slides, I  knew he had what I wanted.


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