BERKELEY, CA.- Deborah Grants paintings are densequite literally loaded with obsessive code-like mark-making, collaged and drawn symbolic representations, and flat silhouettes, and with myriad personal, cultural, and art-historical references. Her work is a kind of hallucinatory exercise, sampling across time and genre to connect ideas based in history and personal experience with political and social issues of the present. Grants distinctive and highly graphic visual style marries aspects of abstraction and illustration in a restrained palette of black, white, and red. She is influenced as much by pop-culture sources like vintage Life magazine photography, comic books, MAD magazine, and pulp images as by art-historical referents like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Bill Traylor, and Jacob Lawrence.
Grants MATRIX exhibition will premiere in its entirety the long-term project Bacon, Egg, Toast in Lard, which includes several shaped paintings on panel and a sound component (created by artist Jennie C. Jones) in addition to the twenty-foot-long centerpiece painting, Suicide Notes To The Self.
This massive work operates on both a macro and a micro level: graphic silhouettes read crisply from a distance, grounding the nonlinear narrative, while up close, line drawings of symbols, figures, diagrams, machines, and collaged photographic elements signal the underlying themes of psychology, war, sex, and death. Grant conceived the painting to represent a kind of dream in which Jackie Moms Mabley, a pioneering comedienne on the African-American Vaudeville circuit, and Francis Bacon, an Irish-born painter known for his grotesque, often violent figurative portrayals, are brought together in a London pub called House of Chantilly by a time-traveling character named Random Select. Although the association of the two historical characters might appear random, their biographies converge: both lived as out gay adults and both experienced traumatically violent events in their youth, exorcising these demons in their creative work by directly confronting issues of racism (Mabley), violence (Bacon), and sexuality (both). For Grant, this imagined conversation prismatically refracts through their biographies to signal larger cultural concerns, creating a kind of third space between oppositional ideasfact and fiction, research and free association, order and chaos, symbolic language and abstraction, internal and external realities, violence and control, imagination and representation.
Deborah Grant was born in Toronto, Canada in 1968 and is now based in New York. She received her M.F.A. from Tyler School of Art in 1999. This is her first solo museum exhibition. Previously, her work has been exhibited in shows at High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Ballroom Marfa, Texas; P.S.1, Long Island City; and the Bronx Museum, New York.