Untitled (Black and Canary Yellow Butterfly) #699,
coloured pencil on paper
121.6 x 100.3 cm (47 7/8 x 39 1/2 in)
Signed twice, titled and dated 'Mark Grotjahn Untitled (Black and Canary Yellow Butterfly) #699 2008' on the reverse.
£250,000 - 350,000
Sold for £457,250
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Provenance Anton Kern Gallery, New York
"I don’t feel restricted, or I don’t want to feel restricted, by any rules." Mark Grotjahn
Mark Grotjahn's acclaimed Butterfly series focuses on the rigours of form and colour, while drawing on the imperfect elements of the natural world. ln this series, each half of the pictorial plane represents the opening wing of a butterfly with lines of colour radiating from the centre. For Untitled (Block and Canary YeUow Butterlly)#699, 2008, the rays of colour, alternating lemon yellow with dark ebony, emerge from (or disappear into) a vanishing point at the very centre of the work. Other works in the series are asymmetrical, unlike the present lot, but in all, the vanishing points of Grotjahn's butterfly works recede into an undefined space. The butterfly wings unfold from a thin vertical axis - a sliver of an opening into a sort of alternate reality.
Grotjahn's hypnotic butterfly motif draws the eye inwards towards the unknown,becoming almost hallucinatory. The forms appear to stretch and shrink,a pproach and recede, play and taunt the logicof linear perspective. The use ol black and yellow in the present lot provides a stunning visual contrast, evoking Lichtenstein's simplified colour schemes,advertising iconography, and the drama of comic strip action bursts. The colour choice lends a Pop art sensibility, adding historical resonance to the work. In Lichtenstein's Sunrise,1965, a sky full of blue lines illustrates the setting sun in the upper portion of the canvas. While the resplendent sun is absent from Grotjahn's masterpiece, the gleaming radiance is evident from the centre point of the drawing as the wings beat with vigour.
In his pattern drawings, Grotjahn draws on traditional perspectival techniques refined since the Renaissance era. His iconic butterfly compositions nod to the history of modernist painting, particularly that of Suprematlsm. His skewed angles and radiant tonal colour echo some of the very first lnstances of forms and colours in Kazimir Malevich's early 20th century abstract paintings. In a similar way to Frank Stella, Grotjahn plays with vanishing points and investigates perspective, creating an illusion of depth and volume. He expertly renders three dimensional space on a two dimensional surface. His artwork destabilises the traditional perspective of lines that break at the horizon. The present lot displays an off-centre radial symmetry, with its starburst pattern forming a disjointed pinwheel motif. Form and colour are infused with life and individual existence. Grotjahn's delineation of colour is reminiscent of Mondrian’s defined colour fields and Rothko’s use of solid blocks of colour. In Mark Rothko’s Untitled, 1953, a study of the luminescence of yellow spans the canvas; in Grotjahn’s Untitled(Black and Canary Yellow Butterfly) #699 a parallel examination is witnessed as the yellow bands radiate across the page, revealing and concealing the multifaceted hues of the primary colour.
Grotjahn is inspired by storefront graphic design and the off-kilter, makeshift qualities of handmade 'mom and pop' shop signage. IntentionaI scratches and imperfections on the surface lend a handmade aesthetic to the typically hard-edge appearance of geometric abstraction, subverting the illusion of perfection and attestingto the production process of his otherwise carefully controlled compositions. Recallling early 20th century advertising and 1960s graphics, Untitled (Black and Canary Yellow Butterfly)#699 is at once vintage and contemporary. Its relevance to art historical canons renders it perennially current.