MARK GROTJAHN: Butterfly Paintings and Drawings

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The so-called Butterfly paintings and drawings of Mark Grotjahn (American, b. 1968) combine analytical hard-edged abstraction and one-point perspective to make 2D images appear as 3D objects. This type of abstraction is the means by which the perspective system reveals itself—and vice versa. They consist of two distinct phenomenological and theoretical universes that neither cancel each other out, nor represent anything. With two means and no ends, one would expect a more ascetic, conceptual type of image, but Grotjahn’s paintings are lavishly decorative and unabashedly entertaining. This lack of anxiety about the picture plane, flatness, figuration and illusionism is the clearest sign that the modernist endgame has either ended or come full circle.


Wade Guyton (American, b. 1972) was the subject of a mid-career retrospective, Wade Guyton OS, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in late 2012. The following description of the artist’s work is taken from the museum’s website:

Over the past decade, New York–based artist Wade Guyton (b. 1972) has pioneered a groundbreaking body of work that explores our changing relationships to images and artworks through the use of common digital technologies, such as the desktop computer, scanner, and inkjet printer. Guyton’s purposeful misuse of these tools to make paintings and drawings results in beautiful accidents that relate to daily lives now punctuated by misprinted photos and blurred images on our phone and computer screens.
Guyton’s striking work may been motivated by a printer test sheet or error with an accidentally good-looking image, but they hardly “relate to daily lives now punctuated by misprinted photos and blurred images,” as the press release somewhat sentimentally suggests. For starters, most daily lives do not come equipped with Epson Stylus Pro 9600 inkjet printers, a now obsolete, but surprisingly still expensive, large format machine, used mainly by professional printers. This kind of machine (mal)functions differently than your old HP All-in-One, and requires a considerable level of expertise to wield it for creative purposes. Secondly, Guyton’s pictures are staged errors, deliberately induced, under controlled circumstances. Chance plays a role in his art, but in no way defines it.

Much has been made of Guyton’s use of digital means of reproduction alone, but what that point means to emphasize has nothing to do with analog v. digital media, but the fact that Guyton’s work is conceived and realized entirely mechanically, from computer to scanner to printer, without any actual human mark-making involved. The status and implications of art produced this way have been debated since the 15th century in the context of printmaking and in the wake of Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, mechanically-generated art should hardly raise eyebrows. This kind of point is not made much in the context of large-format photography, which utilizes similar machinery, because one does not expect a photographer to realize his/her images by hand; in the case of a painter, as Guyton is often styled, the question still comes up.

Painting has been reborn, reconceived, redefined and rebooted many times long after the actual craft of painting ceased to dominate art education and production. Despite its displacement as the pre-eminent medium, the word persists, applied to all manner of two-dimensional media in which pigments are involved, often to highly incongruous effect. The case of Guyton could be imagined as a Magritte painting—a printer connected to a laptop, above which ceci-ci est un pinceau is inscribed. Like carved-stone sculpture, there is a sentimentality about painting—we admire Masaccio and Rembrandt and Chardin and Manet and Picasso and resist the notion that the medium in which they excelled is approaching extinction. Media and image technologies will come and go, but the continuum of image makers is unbroken from the caves at Lascaux to the present moment, so don’t by afraid to call a printer a printer.

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