Drawings from Grossi's Subtle Body series, hanging at Johalla Projects. (Photo by Paul Meister)
The night before Adam Grossi opened his show at Johalla Projects, ending Friday, he was still deciding where to hang some of his paintings and drawings. The drawings (acrylic ink, pencil and colored pencil on paper) got lost on the exposed brick, so he hung them on the bare, white walls throughout both rooms in the space.
On the white background, the drawings popped with color — which seems to be Grossi’s goal. For his Subtle Body series, consisting of 17 drawings inspired by models in L. L. Bean catalogs, he used the color as a way to “penetrate the superficiality of these images,” he explained on his blog.
When he first came up with the idea, he envisioned the series as using “large orbs of saturated color as a backdrop upon which to trace the hard-edged contours of figure.” Each drawing is, essentially, the outline of an L. L. Bean model, often cropped at the waist, with bright circles of blue, red, yellow, and green. “I’ve been fantasizing about seeing through the L. L. Bean models,” Grossi wrote.
The mail-order clothing company also comes into play in the exhibit’s name, “A Variety of Fits.” It’s the headline of a page in the catalog, he says. “In its original context, it’s quite literal: they have these various clothing options with a variety of fits to suit a variety of bodies.” With the catalog is the promise and expectation that “an individual will find what they’re after from within a specific field of options.”
He calls that expectation a quality of “suburban articulation of desire,” a concept that inspires much of his work. Born in Reston, Va., the state’s first planned residential community that was meant to combat the monotonous architecture and consolidated wealth of typical suburban America, Grossi sees the town as a not-entirely-successful utopian experiment. “My hometown remains the most successfully integrated community I’ve ever lived in, both ethnically and economically speaking,” he says. But it has been overrun by the “hegemonic forces of suburban ‘pleasantness’ that are very much the norm in suburbs across the country today,” he continues. “I am fascinated by the tension between the idea of pleasantness in normative culture and the complexity of real experience beneath the veneer of those norms.”
The four paintings Grossi (featured earlier this year in Chicago Art Magazine as an “Artist You Should Know”) includes in his first solo exhibit are also commentaries on “normative culture.” In “Call and Response” (48×48″, acrylic on canvas over wood panel), which he finished within the past week, he painted what looks like a pile of folded shirts, labeled with colors like “dusk,” “bright mariner,” and “putty.” On top, he layered large bright-red splotches, labeled “tomato.”
But then there are also pieces like “Rolling Cloud” (five panels, 48″ x 16″ each, acrylic and ink on canvas over panel), white, cloud-like structures painted over a black background that, on first glance, may not seem related to the rest of the works.
But, says Grossi, there is a connection between all of the pieces in “A Variety of Fits,” even if it’s not immediately apparent. They’re all about “the relationship between visible surfaces and less tangible interiors.”
“The relationship between the works is complex,” says Grossi. “There is an element of trust in hanging them all together, I think, trusting that all the work has deep connective tissue, and trusting that viewers will be able to sense it.”
See Grossi’s work at Johalla Projects, 1561 N. Milwaukee Ave., Friday, 6-9 p.m.