Last week, Women’s Voices for Change posted Part 1 of an article written after a visit with Grace Graupe-Pillard in her New York apartment. Grace is an artist whose art practice includes making drawings, paintings, photographs, installations, videos, Internet-based artwork, and large public sculptures. She lives and works in New York City and in a converted synagogue in Keyport, New Jersey, with her husband, Stephen.
Grace Graupe-Pillard has always been interested in using the human body in her artwork. She learned to draw and paint the human figure by spending four years at the Art Students League of New York doing figure studies. Grace’s earliest professional artworks are larger-than-life oil paintings of nudes and portraits that were painted in the 1970s and 1980s. She is currently working on a large nude painting of herself, which will complete a triptych of three self-portraits.
But not all of Grace’s artwork is about the nude figure. Over time, Grace’s paintings, composite photographs, and other artworks have developed to include a wide range of personal and politically charged images, fragmentation of the picture plane, the juxtaposition of symbols inside of human silhouettes and keyholes, and cutout paintings. The names of her series reflect Grace’s interest in how our vision is framed as we look at the world around us through different perspectives: Silhouette (1988-1993), Nowhere to Go-One Family’s Experience (1991-93), Keyhole (1994-97), and Manipulation-Film (1999-2001).
All of Grace’s work is daring, honest and from the heart. One of her most beautifully personal series is based on the family history of her German -Jewish refugee parents during the Holocaust and the impact that history has had on Grace. Grace explores her family history through ten cutout paintings with pastel and a video, Nowhere to Go-One Family’s Experience, 2009.
The paintings were started when Grace’s father became seriously ill while in the process of working on a family tree. Grace’s parents helped her create the artwork by translating old letters for her from German, showing her familyphotographs and sharing their painful memories of Nazi Germany. With her parents’ help, Grace was able to incorporate the names of more than seventy relatives who died during the Holocaust in a moving tribute to their loss. Among the dead are Grace’s paternal grandparents. The artwork took almost four years to complete.
Grace’s family background helps to explain her more recent politically charged paintings. Grace is obsessed with the victims of political injustice and war. In an ongoing series Manipulation/Disintegration/Displacement, Grace paints refugees, prisoners of war, bombs, tanks, soldiers, and places like Darfur, Afghanistan, Gaza City, Rwanda, and Camp Delta/Guantanamo Bay.
To create these paintings, Grace takes an image from popular media, scans it into her computer when necessary, stylizes it using filters in Photoshop until the image is reduced to flat areas of color, and then paints the altered images with brightly colored paint on canvas or wooden supports. The result is a semi-abstracted image that has been sanitized and repackaged as a colorfully seductive painting, but the disturbing content is still present and can still be deciphered.
Grace uses the same technique in her series Desecrated Landscapes, 2010-12, and Disturbance Paintings, 2008-09. The Desecrated Landscapes are paintings of majestic landscapes that have been ravaged by war. And the Disturbance Paintings are stylized paintings of victims of war painted on solid-color backgrounds.
In a series called Interventions-It Can’t Happen Here, Grace uses the painted figures from the Disturbance Paintings, cut out from their backgrounds in Photoshop, and incorporates them into photographs that she has taken around her homes in New Jersey and New York City. The places depicted in the photographs all look familiar, and retain their photo-realistic appearance. The painted figures are carefully integrated into the photographs using Photoshop. The composite photographs bring images of war and destruction from faraway countries and transplant them to America. Grace wants Americans to be aware of and take responsibility for the acts of violence and destruction that their country is engaged in throughout the world.
Grace has always invented her own artistic techniques to achieve the visual results she has in mind. Before personal computers, Grace was, literally, cutting and pasting her images by hand and inventing elaborate and quirky ways to reassemble them in the darkroom. Now she uses flip cameras (low-tech video cameras), a computer, Photoshop, and Final Cut Express (a video editing program).
While new media has made it a lot easier for Grace to manipulate images, she still uses technology in her own unconventional way. She videos herself in motion and takes screen shots of frozen images in order to find the right body position for her nude composite photographs. After two knee replacements, Grace developed this video technique because it was impossible for her to hop around and hold the physically challenging positions for long enough to be photographed. She discovered that it was easy to put a video camera on a tripod, switch it on and start moving. She can capture thousands of positions in a few minutes of video. And she works without an assistant.
WVFC asked Grace what she would wish for herself in the future, if she had three wishes. Grace answered immediately that she would like to show her three nude self-portraits together at a museum or gallery. She would like to make really big prints of her Grace Delving into Art composite photographs and also experiment with projecting the images with multiple projectors on a larger than life scale simultaneously in a darkened room. And she would like to be represented by a gallerist in New York City or internationally who is really passionate about her work and interested in showing good work, regardless of an artist’s age or art-world status.
“That’s all,” Grace concluded. “My work has never really been about the art market, although I have made money selling my work and creating public artworks. My work is about examining life and learning. And, of course, communicating. I love to share!”