This is a little virtual exhibitions of new paintings by John
Griefen, seen in his studio last Spring. The paintings struck
me then as some of the most original paintings I've seen in recent
years. The why of originality is always elusive and the what almost
as. What strikes one about a painting like the one above is what
it is not: it isn't an "all-over" painting -- at least
not quite. What seems to make it "not quite" is the
intensity and emphasis of the ground -- an lime-green that seems
to leach through into the "figure" which floats upon
it as if made of air, in this case made of frothy paint. The figure,
such as it is, is thickly and rapidly painted. This sense of rapidity,
as if the paint was laid on unthinkingly by the artist who then
turned and walked away has been a characteristic of Griefen's
paintings for several years now, giving his paintings a sense
of radical naturalness. They seem somehow to have "just happened,"
and in the process just happened, as if by accident, to be beautiful.
What is new in these paintings is light, intense color.
In the past, high-key color seemed incompatible (or at least uncomfortable)
with thick paint. But these new Griefens seem to luxuriate in
it. They contain some of the most forthright color that I've seen
in painting -- color that doesn't seem worked or adjusted or inflected,
but on the other hand doesn't seem raw and vulgar. These new paintings
are miracles of beauty in an age of beastliness and beasts and
to my eyes suggest that Greifen is one of the seminal artists
of our time.
Most paintings painted on glass or plexiglass look unconvincing -- a great exception being the painting Jackson Pollock made while being filmed. But even that painting (now in the National Gallery of Canada) requires complex and intrusive framing. Grefien seems to have surmounted that problem. The color doesn't float in and of tself, but the painted shape -- thick and a trifle awkward -- seems liberated from gravity. In the process, the colour seems to gain in luminosity.
-- Terry Fenton, Oct. 2001
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