June 1995,
Volume 26, #6
Palo Alto, CA

WASHINGTON - Gail Grinnell at Francine Seders Gallery

Gail Grinnell's "new work" at Francine Seders Gallery embodies that common descriptive terminology both as process and as metaphor. Her acrylic and collage paintings represent a new departure from previous works. They seem "newly worked," that is, an abundance of direct evidence regarding her use of materials and methods is present as surface treatment in every piece. In a sense, the imagery is about work, or a context of working. The artist's use of various common collage techniques and materials, combined with painting and drawing, makes reference to a range of ordinary household tasks generally seen from a female perspective: washing, cutting, wrapping, folding, braiding, and other types of repetitive actions.

There are patterns to these routine activities, of course, and Grinnell makes use of patterns and motif elements as the basis for her compositions, deriving these from domestic sources such as wallpaper, shelf paper, printed cloth, and so on. Pattern imagery and patterned work are partners in a self-evident relationship, which Grinnell strives to break down and redefine; and she frequently succeeds, for the works do not read primarily as simple pattern imagery or patterned work. That, however, was not my initial impression of the work. Only after I began to examine the surfaces more closely did the elements of pattern cutting, blockprint motifs, acrylic-resist washes, and meshes of fabric and embossed paper, as well as other, similar procedures and materials that made up the blended and somewhat uniform texture of the overall piece, establish a link between these artistic conventions and the sources or references within the domestic environment.

From afar the works appear to have stylized contour forms, silhouettes and vaguely heraldic configurations that hover on an overall pattern field. The fields tend to seem more monolithic than atomic, and thus form a suitable ground for the scale increase used for certain overlay elements, for example, the painted linear contours of a braided ball in Cowgirl or the braided cords and rings of globular blossoms in Two. Similarly, the patterns of lacework and paisley are enormously magnified in a sort of cutout-resist and pentimento texture for the background of Seas of Cliche.

Closer examination also reveals the surfaces as choked and clotted, more visceral than one might expect at first. This, on the one hand, accentuates the process and the sense of being "newly worked." Among the larger pieces, simpler iconic or heraldic shapes can override the harsh unevenness of surface, and at a distance suitable to viewing canvases six to seven feet in dimension, the overworking of the surface helps to convey a rich density. Jackson Pollock certainly understood this effect.) Smaller works tend to suffer if the visceral surface element is too dominant. On the other hand, Grinnell employs some materials and methods that are more delicate, such as a parchment-like paper, stain washes and resists, and wavering densities of drawn and painted line, that prompt a more intimate viewing stance. But these matters are in the eve of the beholder. I recognize the strategic necessity for a bolder and harsher surface in relation to scale.

The emphasis in Grinnell's new work on patterns of working, and working with patterns, manages to downplay traditional or stereotypical connotations. Again, there is a certain self-evident aspect here, of breaking and redefining old patternsÑof the patterning process. Rather than craftwork or "women's work," it is simply work as process.

— Ron Glowen