Gregory Grenon

Jamison/Thomas Gallery

You stand before a woman’s face, her visage twisted by emotion. Her attitude—rendered in a kind of trenchant punk expressionism—fixes you in the present moment, in the heat of an emotional confrontation. Gregory Grenon pushes to an extreme the frontality of his images, denying them the distance and homogeneity that a portrait or narrative reading would afford. He starts by painting on the backside of a sheet of Plexiglas: the details are built up first, then the broader areas of oil are layered in behind. Blues, grays, and greens are striated through the whites of the flesh tones, black through the yellow of hair. This reverse process on glass makes the brushwork feel both coldly opaque and vibrantly translucent, giving it a nervy emotional punch. The ground holds its own against the figure, and the normal pictorial hierarchy of broad-drawing over detail equivocates. Grenon, too, contrarily acknowledges how a white gallery wall will inevitably frame an image as an esthetic product—he spreads key colors right across the decorative carving of the antique picture frame or the old-fashioned window sash surrounding the painted glass surface, eliding flat image into three-dimensional space. He often paints a strip of red surrounded by a strip of green as a kind of border. These complementary colors effectively neutralize the arbitrary division between image and wall, between picture plane and real-world object. Maneuvered by all these devices, one is catapulted into a very immediate, present-centered drama and impinged upon by the straining relationships of a social world, by the artist as the psyche’s seething, tetchy projections.

Grenon takes a risky turn here, in terms of both handling and subject matter. Skew planes contort the images’ bracing frontality. The head of a woman talking on a phone, in Make Up Your Mind, 1988, is shown at an angle from its shoulders, and the wall behind is slightly diagonal. The color effect in Put It In My Mouth, and Birds of Paradise, both 1988, is subtle and sinuous. The brushwork is both sensuous and blunt. Sex has been moved to the forefront. In I’m Not Saying Anything, 1988, a woman sits back in an easy chair, wearing garters, high heels, and translucent underclothes. The image and its shrill, slaty coloration speak in an accusatory and unsettling voice. The increased intimacy of the images doesn’t soften the sense of conflict, but makes it appear all the more perverse. What seems to be emerging in. Grenon’s new work is a very complicated, very human pornography.

Jae Carlsson