Chicago

Michelle Grabner

Ten In One Gallery

Michelle Grabner’s modestly scaled abstract paintings are neither mere formal exercises nor are they the products of her imagination or subconscious. Rather, Grabner looks for abstract motifs in the seemingly mundane things that surround her, for patterns that are merely waiting to be brought to light. In engaging both sides of the debate simultaneously, her work underlines the falseness of the abstraction/representation dichotomy. While her paintings mirror certain tendencies in Minimalist painting—for example, a predilection for evanescent, hand-drawn monochromatic grids that entirely fill the canvas—the patterns often begin to wobble as the lines in them meander and are interrupted by stains and other defects in the materials depicted. Although these works blur the boundary between abstraction and representation, they are deeply rooted in the phenomenal world. In fact, the titles of the pieces often name the impoverished objects, lifted from Grabner’s everyday environment, that these seemingly abstract paintings portray—items that include furnace filters, blankets, place mats, curtains, grapefruit bags, chicken wire, bits of painted walls, and the stitched backs of rugs.

The patterns Grabner finds in her sources are at once evocative and surprisingly precise. The incredibly various, even mesmerizing effects she can locate in the striations of a woven blanket, for example, or in the fencing material that she places against a pink background, reveal an entire abstract vocabulary. There is a mosaiclike quality to the obsessive rendering of thousands upon thousands of tiny squares and dirt-filled interstices in the painting entitled Rug Backing, 1995. In this depiction of a rug’s underside one can see the traces of the innumerable feet that trod upon the rug, sculpting and battering it into a curiously anthropomorphic abstract entity. Blanket Holes, 1995, also betrays traces of an object’s functional history—in particular the top-to-bottom tugging that stretched the blanket’s wool stitching—evoking with remarkable tangibility the sleeping bodies the blanket was used to warm.

Grabner is drawn to remnants of domesticity, seemingly insignificant things that silently permeate our lives and reflect our presences. Her paintings, in their emphasis on design, evince a yearning for order, but in the places where symmetry collapses into inchoateness there is an even stronger emotional pull, as the traces of time and experience endow these works with quiet stature.

James Yood