New York

Grace Graupe-Pillard

Hal Bromm Gallery

This show represents a breakthrough for Grace Graupe-Pillard. It features repeated images that act together to form political statements. In earlier works, Graupe-Pillard used pastels to make large-scale, realist images based on everyday photographs of people. She blew these images up to make overlooked people seem heroic, almost mythic. In these images, she exposes the negative flipside of such mythifying.

Graupe-Pillard still uses pastels in rich, saturated colors, including lots of flesh tones and shades of purple. In two new pieces she employs freestanding shaped canvases mounted on wood. 10 Cents a Ride, 1989, is cut in the shape of a young girl riding a mechanical toy car that rises up like a rocket. The artist sharply underscores this naive state of bliss by superimposing onto it a stark image of a street person holding an empty coffee cup for panhandling. Graupe-Pillard compresses this forlorn figure into the constricting boundaries and false shelter created by the girl’s silhouette. In Balance/Woman, 1989, the cut-out figure is of an athletic young man doing a handstand on a skateboard. The image indulges in the fantasy that young people can literally defy the pull of the world. On the back, the artist places a haunting image of a withered old woman within the sinuous contour of the boy’s figure. The silhouette provides a fluid abstract motif that instills a freshness and dynamic tension into the woman’s face, and that offers an acute commentary on human decay.

On the wall hung the “Boy With A Gun” series, 1988–89. The eleven identically-shaped pieces represent Graupe-Pillard’s most concise serial effort. Each piece features a cut-out silhouette of a boy in a soldier’s uniform, holding an oversized gun. This diminutive but dynamic shape acts as a contoured framing device for a variety of images, from skulls to nudes to the homeless and imprisoned. No matter how potent or defiant the interior image may be, the soldier boy’s silhouette is a constant reminder of the oppressive presence of violent power. Boy With A Gun/Pointing Finger, features an image of a man with an intense gaze, who sits wrapped in a colorful print blanket. From beneath the blanket, the accusatory finger comes out at the viewer. Graupe-Pillard’s preferred strategy is to let readable forms and a sophisticated esthetic work to make her social parables more clear and affecting.

Jude Schwendenwien