Mark Grotjahn - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Video

    Mark Grotjahn, 'Untitled (Orange and Grass Green Butterfly 45.02)', Lot 8

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 2 October 2019

  • Provenance

    Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘Because I have an active and obsessive eye, I’m interested in finding as much contentment as I possibly can. In my work I create problems and then solve them in order to feel peace’ – Mark Grotjahn

    ‘Grotjahn’s butterflies playfully blur the once rigorous boundaries between representation and abstraction, between surface and depth, and between the conceptual and the concrete in artistic production’ - Douglas Fogle, Mark Grotjahn: The Butterfly Paintings, exh. cat., Blum and Poe, New York, 2014, p. 37.

    Untitled (Orange and Grass Green Butterfly 45.02), 2013, beautifully exemplifies Mark Grotjahn’s adroit manipulation of perspective, drawn from his celebrated series of Butterfly drawings and paintings commenced in 2001. In these works, the artist investigates the possibilities of employing dual or multiple vanishing points, in an effort to heighten the constructed image’s intensity and convey a quasi-hallucinogenic effect. Alternating bands of orange and green that the artist has meticulously drawn with coloured pencil, Untitled (Orange and Grass Green Butterfly 45.02) meshes hard-edged spatial illusions with rich gradations of colour, conveying an image that expands and contracts simultaneously. Stretching over a metre tall, the present drawing was executed with Grotjahn’s characteristically laborious and precise method, whereby the artist’s entire body is mobilised as a tool to work through the support’s surface, processing and refining bevelled lines whilst continuing to engage with techniques of repetition and juxtaposition. The work’s destabilising effect, resulting from Grotjahn’s minutious process of creation, is typical of his Butterfly works, examples of which are held in the illustrious collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

    Comprising the artist’s trademark asymmetric - yet alluringly anthropomorphic - pattern, Grotjahn’s Butterfly drawings emerged from an earlier series of three-tiered perspective canvases, which explored the hypnotic effects induced by the collision of multiple vanishing points on a single horizontal plane. In his Butterfly works, Grotjahn shifts the axes laterally, complicating the potential boundaries of perspective: ‘The butterfly came because I tried to make some horizontal three-tier perspectives; […] I made the first two tiers vertical and I pointed the perspectives towards each other…It certainly became more a painting and less a representation’ (Mark Grotjahn, in conversation with Marta Gynp, ‘Mark Grotjahn’, Zoo Magazine, no. 38, January 2013, online). Emulating the eponymous insect’s delicate, cantilevered wings – designated by green and orange striations – as if they were spreading wide and rectilinearly towards the four edges of the canvas, Untitled (Orange and Grass Green Butterfly 45.02) retains a dominant vertical vanishing point at the centre of the drawing to form the Butterfly’s skeleton. The viewer, directly included in this vertiginous experience, is made to dream and travel beyond the surface of the image, propulsed in a visual vortex that eludes the external world’s functioning parameters of space and time.

    Combining myriad stylistic manifestations within his Butterfly works, Grotjahn has sourced inspiration from a number of his contemporaries to produce his trademark geometric motif. 'Grotjahn actually riffs from the whole range of abstraction’, writes Max Henry. ‘Malevich, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Frank Stella, Brice Marden et al…Grotjahn is actively encoding references including pop psychedelic associations.’ (Max Henry, Abstract America: New Paintings & Sculpture at The Saatchi Gallery, exh. cat., The Saatchi Gallery, London, 2009-10, p. 7). Combining the attention to colour that Kazimir Malevich and Mark Rothko focused on throughout their practice, and the investigation of the drawn line that Frank Stella and Brice Marden crystalised in their work, Grotjahn conjures a unique visual syntax that unfolds myriad art historical references. The dizzyingly abstract work of Bridget Riley also comes to mind; her intricate treatment of form and colour bears striking similarities with Grotjahn’s own scrupulous compositions, the two artists succeeding in achieving explosive rhythm whilst paradoxically enabling meditative contemplation.

    Carefully drawn by hand, and intricately impressed upon the paper in pencil, the present composition bears slight smudges and speckles of stray colour that originate from Grotjahn’s idiosyncratic and intimate process of creation. The entire scene is one of optically enticing fascination, meditating between the deliberate and the spontaneous. As Grotjahn explains, ‘the ”Butterfies” are fairly planned out. They’re still intuitive, but I generally know where they’re going. It’s a different kind of freedom, a different kind of expressionism’ (Mark Grotjahn, quoted in ‘Mark Grotjahn Big Nose Baby and The Moose’, Flash Art, January – February 2007, p. 84). Untitled (Orange and Grass Green Butterfly 45.02) for all its complexity and skill, serves as a lasting homage to Grotjahn’s supreme artistic vision and exquisitely skilled technical execution.


Untitled (Orange and Grass Green Butterfly 45.02)

signed, signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated 'M G 2013 GROTJAHN UNTITLED (ORANGE AND GREEN BUTTERFLY 45.02) 2013' on the reverse
coloured pencil on paper
114 x 88.8 cm (44 7/8 x 34 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2013.

£400,000 - 600,000 

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Senior Director
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


Rosanna Widén
Director, Senior Specialist
+44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 October 2019