Joachim Grommek, Untitled, 2017, acrylic on cotton, 106 1/4 x 78 3/4".

Joachim Grommek, Untitled, 2017, acrylic on cotton, 106 1/4 x 78 3/4".

Joachim Grommek

Joachim Grommek, Untitled, 2017, acrylic on cotton, 106 1/4 x 78 3/4".

To make his paintings, Joachim Grommek combines trompe l’oeil techniques with abstraction. In his recent exhibition “High End,” Grommek presented new works on canvas alongside three slightly older paintings on chipboard (all Untitled and numbered). Although the new paintings were separated by fundamental formal differences from the earlier works, they were exemplary of his play with the illusionism of the concrete. The compact compositions in small square formats consisted of a large color field, set just a bit off center, in combination with stripes and bands in different hues grouped along the edges. Here and there, a section of unpainted support medium showed through, revealing the characteristic fine-grained texture of chipboard. The works had a casual feel, one that was heightened by the pieces of adhesive tape and film loosely arranged on their respective surfaces: Some were imprecisely aligned; others sported uneven torn edges.

The apparent lack of finish is very deliberate. In this instance, the deception began with the support: Although Grommek really did paint on chipboard, he first applied a white primer before producing a consummate painted imitation of the original surface. For evidence, inspect the edges of the pictures (Grommek never frames his works): The porous profile left by the saw is unquestionably wood-colored, but a hairline layer of white primer beneath the seeming chipboard surface proves that the latter is painted on. The appearance of low production values is a highly artificial illusion. These subtle details act as pivots in what is effectively a complete reversal of the viewer’s perception: Banal physicality metamorphoses into ingenious trompe l’oeil. Similarly, the strips of tape layered atop each other looked so real one was almost tempted to touch their rubbery thickness or smooth plastic surfaces and maybe even try to peel one off. The colors, too, were exactly right, from the signal red of gaffer tape to the deceptively realistic brown of packing tape and a length of slightly yellowed transparent Scotch tape. In reality, all these surfaces are painted.

Grommek’s new works offered a very different version of this unfailingly perplexing simulation of reality. The motifs looked like digital printouts on canvas; many were streaky or faded, as though someone had used a low-quality scan or had forgotten to put in a fresh toner cartridge. The artist cultivates the visual appeal of the flaw as a stylistic device—a medium-format piece from 2018, for example, whose densely staggered dark-gray fields with white “misprinted” lines à la Wade Guyton, was all painting; no digital technology, scanning, or printing was involved. Instead, Grommek placed pieces of corrugated cardboard beneath the canvas and then evenly applied paint with a roller for a frottage effect that makes for a strikingly convincing printed look. A gap between two cardboard pads yields the characteristic scanning-error stripes. His mastery reveals itself in the details, thanks to which pure painting simulates the look of a cavalierly manufactured print.

For many of the new paintings—for instance, a couple of large ones from 2017 and 2018 in which pale-red, gray, and blackish-blue shapes spread out over the canvas like a pattern of stains—he applied a thin layer of gray primer, simulating the faint gray or colored haze a printer produces when the background color is not set to 100 percent white. For the softly contoured and vaguely wet-looking off-color fields populating these pictures, Grommek squeegeed heavily diluted acrylic paint onto canvas laid over corrugated cardboard, producing fake plotter streaks. Upon close inspection, his ostensible presentation of the banal turns out to be technically elaborate painting brilliantly executed by an artist conscious of the subtlest nuances of his medium.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.