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 Hendrik Grise  (1914 - 1982)

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Lived/Active: Illinois/California      Known for: abstract painting, nudes

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Hendrik Grise
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Abstract study
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Hendrik Grise (1914-1982)

By Professor Mark Axelrod

In 1982, Hendrik Grise (pronounced Gr-ice) died at the age of 68.  In terms of contemporary artists, dead or alive at the time, his death went as unrecognized as his life.  The 80s were a time of De Kooning and Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg, among others, artists who had already pushed the “plastic arts envelope”; however, more than a quarter-of-a-century after his Grise’s, there will be no retrospective of his work since his art literally lay scattered among antique store relics, weather-beaten storage facilities and bankrupt art galleries from Orange, California to High Street in Herefordshire, United Kingdom. 

Grise studied at the Art Institute of Chicago though there is no archival record of his attendance there and at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts; he received an LA Times Award for Retail Art and worked for Robinson’s, Broadway, Neiman Marcus and Marshall Field and taught drawing, painting and commercial art throughout the 50s and early 60s.  In 1964, he had an exhibit at Chaffey College of some 30 black and white drawings of which few remain. 

Because there is no catalogue of the works extant, just what the writer meant by the terms s/he used are open for speculation, but what I found most engaging about his work is that one can see how he would have been successful in drawing retail ads and how he then employed certain techniques of commercial ads into his nudes.  It would appear that he parlayed his background in retail art as a point of departure to create a collection of nudes that both showed his facility for drawing and his facility for using color that were both boldly colorful and uniquely imaginative and certainly a product of the 70s.

What Grise appeared to have done was to use his background in fashion design and expand the technique.  One usually thinks of line art as being monochromatic and in a number of Grise’s works he uses monochromatic color, but adds a flare to it so that the straight and curved lines are replaced with sweeping gestures of color.  Though line art displaces color for form and outline, Grise’s work displaces form and outline for color and the majority of his watercolor nudes express that choice of color over line. 

What truly distinguishes Grise’s work from his contemporaries (circa 1970s) is that it is replete with self-reflexivity, a notion marked by or making reference to its own artificiality or contrivance, which was seen more in the fiction of the 60s and 70s (and still today) than in painting.  The kind of self-reflexivity one might read in the works of writers such as John Fowles or Italo Calvino, John Barth or Donald Barthelme, among others, parallels a lot of what Grise was doing in many of his nudes all of which have no titles; that is, the self-conscious artist whose painting hand takes a prominent place in Nude Reclining with Pen in Hand (my title) or in his pen and ink drawing of himself, peering around what might be an easel and canvas in Grise Spying on his Model (my title).  Grise often paints himself into his nudes as the “voyeur” in the guise of the “teacher.”  This insertion of the artist into the art, thus baring the artificiality of the artwork itself, was a major hallmark of postmodern fiction writers.  Whether Grise knew of those writers and of the technique is open to speculation since there is no record of that; however, there is clearly a confluence of imagination that is seen as if all roads led to the same place at the same time.

There is scant biographical information on Grise’s life and virtually nothing on his art.  It would appear that he languished in the Los Angeles art climate of the 60s and 70s and, perhaps, aware of that marginalization spent his time pursuing teaching and painting on his own.  The only evidence that he exhibited in a gallery other than the gallery at Chaffey College was a February, 1983 (sic) exhibit at the Chaffey Community Art Association’s Museum of History and Art during which time he shared space with two other artists.  Other than that, there is no evidence that he exhibited anywhere. 

Although he taught for 30 years at both Chaffey College and Cal State Los Angeles, any record of his work is unavailable and there is little in writing that even alludes to his work.  One can only speculate on the reasons for that apparent dismissal; however, as his health began to fail him (he suffered from diabetes) and his eyesight began to deteriorate (if was said that he needed to use an apparatus to keep his eyelids open) he apparently shifted from painting nudes to painting abstracts and some of his abstracts are as engaging, on a less formidable level, as Pollock’s. 

One can easily try to associate a painter with another painter as easily as one may try to associate one writer with another writer, but if one reads Kafka or Beckett or Joyce, one doesn’t really need to be told one is reading Kafka or Beckett or Joyce.  The distinctions should be readily apparent.  Without looking at the signature, whether in pencil or in the stone, one immediately recognizes the work of Chagall or Picasso or Matisse without a guidebook, but there is an unmistakable “signature” to Grise’s work as well.  There’s a movement and a temperament to his work that engages itself immediately and that engagement is pervasive. 


Dr. Mark Axelrod is Professor of Comparative Literature, Director of the John Fowles Center for Creative Writing, Director of English Graduate Studies, Department of English, Chapman University.

He has done extensive research on the artist's work and how it relates to certain postmodern writers and writings of the 20th century.


Biography from David Terrence Fine Art:

Hendrik Grise was born in Michigan on June 5, 1914 and died in Monterey Park, California on February 7, 1982. 

He trained in commercial art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Professional Art School, and Dallas Museum of Art.  He concurrently taught commercial art at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga from 1950 to 1980 and worked in Advertising Art Departments at many large retail department stores in the Southland.

Other than participating in a 1970’s exhibition titled Three Artists/Three Points of View at the Museum of History and Art in Ontario, Ca., Grise apparently had little interest in selling or exhibiting his art to the public.  He was most active in the 70s up to his death.  He specialized in abstracts and human figures.  In both genres, the process of painting was on an equal footing with content.

In abstract painting he was primarily influenced by Mark Tobey (whom he knew) and his concept of “white writing,” which blended occidental and oriental motifs in a mystical, calligraphic art.  In paintings of figures he was profoundly influenced by German artist Hans Bellmer, who was both his contemporary and a commercial artist like Grise.

Grise’s abstractions are designs of strong colors executed in poster paint on paper.  Rejecting the dominant abstract rends of the 1960s, he used an extensive array of amorphous shapes, daubs, sinuous lines and squiggles, arabesques, circles, arcs, and triangles in a freewheeling, fluid style, where a sense of spontaneity is a conspicuous hallmark.  Sometimes Grise inserted objective elements, such as planetary bodies, into his abstractions to stimulate a closer visual relationship between his work and the viewer.

Grise’s figure paintings, which were executed on paper in poster paint and/or watercolor, almost always depict nudes to explore multi-layered sexual themes.  Grise’s work has a special connection between him and his proxy “mentor and hero” Hans Bellmer.  Bellmer manipulated the female body for the purpose of a complexly motivated male imagery, explored the notion of perversity inherent in sexuality, and believed in sexual liberation, regardless of price.  Although their imagery is dissimilar, they share many basic notions which underlie their images.  His nudes are highly expressive, sexually evocative, usually racy, and often very graphic.  His exaggerated and distorted anatomical features have Freudian implications.  There are no “innocent” figures in his visual narratives; all in some way are complicit figures.

In his approach to exploring sex, Grise had no counterpart, either in Bellmer or his contemporaries in Los Angeles.  Singularly, Grise extensively experimented with the concept of “self-reflexivity,” a historical device that gained popularity among writers in the 1970s but untried to any meaningful extent by other artists of the period.  In literature and art, self-reflexivity refers to the inclusion of the writer or artist himself into the context of the work.  Grise applied the device by inserting himself in the guise of a wide range of sexual personas.  At times, Grise appears as a relatively conventional-looking artist, gazing and peering at this model, and at other times he portrays himself as fantastical, lusting for his model.  Sometimes his presence is known through insertion of his paint brush or body features, such as his hands or lips.  His personas revolve around sexual desires.  They take the viewer deep into the libido, which is manifested through anatomical exaggerations of the models and the artist.  It is likely that Grise’s personas are beyond self-revealing; they may be a de facto representation for the libido of Everyman and Everywoman.


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