MOSAIC PAINTINGS 1950-2010

The ArtLex Art Dictionary defines mosaic as a picture or design composed of small pieces of stone, glass, or paper called tesserae that are inset in a medium or adhered to a surface. The earliest known examples of mosaics date from the 8th century BC. Those examples were created in Mediterranean regions using pebbles. Greek and Roman artists and artisans further refined techniques and craftsmanship used in making mosaics during their centuries in power. Fine later mosaic examples can be seen in the famous Byzantine churches of Ravenna and Istanbul and in Barcelona in the brilliantly idiosyncratic early 20th century masterpiece Parc Güell by Antonio Gaudí. Today the term mosaic is used more broadly, and is frequently used to refer to collaged combinations of aerial photographs or more generically as “compositions made up of a variety of elements.”

ACME Fine Art’s exhibition of paintings opening on 12 November 2010 will be comprised of a group of modern and contemporary American mosaic artworks created from the mid-20th century forward. The tesserae in the examples selected by Gallery Director David Cowan for this exhibition are dabs or swatches of oil or acrylic paint applied to canvas or panel to a totally modern affect. Some of the mosaic paintings in the exhibition are nature-based abstractions. Others are entirely non-objective, and still others can be characterized as neo-plastic compositions. What they all share is the formal conceit of using distinct small pieces composed to create an artistically complete whole.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s a number of artists who were then studying with, or had recently completed their studies with Hans Hofmann, began experimenting with a painting technique in which small distinct dabs of pigment were applied over most –if not all- of the their canvases. Giorgio Cavallon can be credited with being one of the first to study and popularize this genre. Two of Cavallon’s rare 1940s mosaic canvases will be included in the exhibition.

Another artist who was among the first of this circle to explore mosaic composition in his work was John Grillo, who did so in his Provincetown studio as early as the late 1940s. A separate exhibition of twelve of Mr. Grillo’s important and brilliantly colored early mosaic paintings in oil and in watercolor will run concurrently with the aforementioned group exhibition at ACME Fine Art. Grillo explored the possibilities of non-objective mosaic expression well into the 1950s.

Other notable artists whose mid-20th century work will be represented in the group exhibition are William Freed, Robert Henry, Myrna Harrison, James Gahagan, Selina Trieff, and Jan Müller. Müller was an artist’s artist whose early mosaic explorations -in a variety of shapes and scales- were delightfully lyrical fully abstract color poems.  By  the mid-1950s Müller’s tesserae were arranged by the artist into figural compositions that led the way to his becoming one of the pioneers of the figurative expressionist movement.

The formal part-and-whole conceit that goes to the essence of the mosaic as a work of art continues to fascinate artists. This will be demonstrated through a wonderfully diverse group of contemporary artworks that have been assembled for the exhibition. Excellent examples by contemporary artists such as Helen Miranda Wilson, Erik Koch, Paul Bowen, and Aviva Sklan will also be featured.

ACME Fine Art’s group exhibition of mosaic paintings will open with a reception from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on 12 November and run through 23 December 2010. For further information please contact the gallery at 617.585.9551.

JOHN GRILLO THE MOSAIC PAINTINGS

An exhibition of twelve rare mosaic watercolors and oil paintings dating from the early 1950s by noted abstract expressionist artist John Grillo will open on Friday 12 November 2010 at ACME Fine Art in Boston. A reception from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. that evening will be held at the gallery. This will be Mr. Grillo’s first solo exhibition at ACME Fine Art.

John Grillo was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1917 and was raised in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was inspired to become an artist by an exhibition of portraits that he saw as a teenager at the Wadsworth Atheneum. Grillo’s first formal training was at the Hartford School of Fine Arts from 1935-39 where he studied painting. Grillo suspended his studies between 1944-46 to serve in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theatre of World War II. At the conclusion of his military service, Grillo enrolled at the San Francisco School of Fine Arts on the GI Bill. While in San Francisco Grillo played a seminal role in forming the San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism and he is today recognized as one of the most original and influential artists of that movement. In 1948, Grillo returned to the East Coast and entered the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts in New York, and later in Provincetown. Grillo went on to take up permanent residence on Cape Cod in the town of Wellfeet where he lives and paints to this day.

In New York during the 1950s, Grillo worked alongside such artists as Willem deKooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Nanno de Groot, and Lester Johnson. The mosaic paintings that are featured in this ACME Fine Art exhibition were executed between 1950 and 1952 and are a Grillos’ singular, personal, and directly painted response to the concepts espoused by his teacher, Hans Hofmann. Their exuberant spontaneity is immediately evident and they convey an almost contagious joi-de-vivre. Although the underlying structure of these paintings may not be apparent, they are loosely based on a grid structure overlaid with a series of interlocking painterly patches and/or circles of color. The overall effect is deeply emotionally expressive without being chaotic.

Also in the early 1950s, Grillo introduced the notion of the shaped canvas to his work. Two rare examples are featured in this exhibition: Oval Mosaic, a modern interpretation of the Renaissance tondo and Untitled Mosaic, where the artist used a tall trapezoidal wooden ironing board as a substrate. Perhaps these pieces prefigure works by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg who first began working with shaped canvases later in the same decade.

Although a number of his contemporaries explored the mosaic conceit in their work –Jan Muller and William Freed among them- Grillo was one of the few who painted purely abstract, non-objective mosaic paintings. Although intensely colorful, Grillo’s mosaics seem to emerge from a limited palette, often on a neutral ground with just a few, almost -primary hues. Grillo has said that, “Abstract painting is on a level with music. It’s a physical outburst from your whole being. It’s not the idea that is created and then you start painting. It’s always a challenge to shape something from nothing, to do the impossible.”  Grillo’s affinity with music is evident in the vibrancy and motility of his mosaic paintings.

Grillo’s work is featured in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, The British Museum, Walker Art Center, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Worcester Museum of Art, and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, among many others.

JOHN GRILLO: THE MOSAIC PAINTINGS will be on view at ACME Fine Art in Boston from 12 November to 23 December 2010. Gallery hours are 11:00 to 5:30 Tuesday through Saturday. The exhibition can be viewed on-line at acmefineart.com. Please contact the gallery for further information.