Grotjahn was born in 1968 in Pasadena USA to a German father and raised in the Bay Area of San Francisco, California. His style can be described as a return to the late Modernist period, combined with a hint of pop art. Growing up he was influenced by local California artist John McLaughlin, and was attracted to his abstract form. He also admired McLaughlin’s international success. Grotjahn also remembers looking at Picasso’s pictures from a young age. But it was at the age of 15, when he was given a copy of Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art, that he began to truly understand his own artistic style. The influence of Kandinsky and Picasso are undeniable in Grotjahn’s work.
Grotjahn’s career has been majorly successful. He graduated from the prestigious University of California, Berkeley and the University of Colorado at Boulder before becoming artist in residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Madison, Maine. While his time at Berkeley helped him to develop the skills he would need to be a successful artist, his distinctive style was at odds with the more conservative elements of the programme. He admitted to going his own way, abandoning the figurative work of his classmates and finding the Sign Exchange Program an inspiration.
Although these institutions developed his talent as an artist, it wasn’t until 1996 that he was able to open Room 702, his first art gallery in Hollywood. He had the belief that an art gallery run by artists would be much more innovative. This fostered an independent and creative space that he could share with his contemporaries and his career blossomed.
Unfortunately the gallery was short-lived and in 1998, shortly after the closure of Room 702, Grotjahn had a brief interlude of playing Texas Hold’em Poker as a way of earning money. This was a passing phase, however; he quickly returned to his art.
Grotjahn is probably most renowned for his butterfly paintings. The sharp and simple geometric patterns boldly invite the viewer to see their beauty. Sticking to certain motifs challenged his creativity, forcing him to explore different ways to use it. His work also encompasses challenges on perspective and this is enhanced by his use of recurring motifs. ‘The Butterfly Rainbow’ is probably the most beautiful example of this; the disappearing corridor is otherworldly and spurs the viewer to keep looking in the hope of discovering where it goes.
However, this is not to say that his creative journey has been without incident. In 2008 for instance, Grotjahn broke his shoulder and the amount of time that he could dedicate to painting was drastically reduced. In true ingenious fashion, though, this simply forced Grotjahn to experiment with painting styles and as a result the Face Paintings series was born.
Grotjahn has had exhibitions in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Royal Academy in London and The Carnegie International, among many other respected establishments. He has also won The Penny McCall Foundation Award in 2003 and The Award of Excellence for Artistic Contributors to the Fight Against AIDS in 2011. Grotjahn is now one of America’s most prestigious artists with his work retailing between US $500,000 and US $800,000. He has achieved success through his individuality and by creating what he truly loves.
By Ann Marie McCarthy