New York

Mary Grigoriadis

Mary Grigoriadis’s paintings may smack of origins as diverse as Byzantine, Navajo, and folk Sicilian. “Poly-ethnic,” one might call her icons, so definite in form but scrambled in reference. Titles such as Giotto’s Oranges, Etruscan Amber, and Rain Dance insinuate meanings supported by color, or less surely by design, but not by both at once. If you’re cued by New York art ideologies, you may well find her pictures unsettling, and not only because they’re so rabidly votive in presence. Grigoriadis has seen fit to “sit” her symmetrical and frontal imagery on the unprimed, linen surface in high, disdainful relief. The really very thick oil paint is piled up and outlined at the edges, deliberately alienated from the ground. We’re not very accustomed to such traditionally associated art materials repelling each other. It’s almost as if ham and eggs had decided they weren’t on speaking terms. Chevrons, curlicues, scallops, and a ubiquitous hemicircular form comprise part of her vocabulary. All of these are regularly frosted on with a continuous scythelike, striping, or vortex motion. This rigid eccentricity of structure and matter does look quite unintegrated, but I find it replete with intelligent chutzpah, to use an ethnic word of my own. For example, while the fibrous canvas must have drunk up an enormous amount of oil vehicle, the paint itself has been varnished with such a reflective gloss that it is as if propellers are spinning within otherwise inert roundels. The shine also recalls lacquered, tin ex-votos as the overall layouts mix tantric looking and Art Déco allusions. It is a halfway prolix, archaizing art, with fetishistic and folkloristic overtones, subtly colliding with each other. Yet the mind that conceived it is not one that participates at all in peasant lore. Rather, it asks the question: why must abstract art always uphold so falsely a generalized, subject-less disposition of its features? The boldness with which this question is answered in the negative makes Grigoriadis’s show, for me, a fixating event. A PR flyer that accompanied it speaks typically and vacuously of virtuoso painting, as if the sole interest of these works to the spectator lay in the artist’s dexterousness. How can the gallery have been so wrong? How could they have passed over in silence her hieratic stance, her symbolic coloring, her animistic, embroidered compositions? Well, New York taste, still hobbled with old-guard modernism, is antipathetic to these elements. For artists interested in challenging such taste—a worthy thing to do—the way is open for a more articulate position.

Max Kozloff