With only three and half years under his belt since finishing off his MFA, Evan Gruzis has made short work of the New York art world with works in the Whitney collection, group shows at David Zwirner and Harris Lieberman, and solo exhibitions at the ultra-cool Deitch Projects and The Hole Gallery. Berlin too has seen a fair share of Gruzis, with two previous solo shows at DUVE Berlin, and now his third, “Alpha Wave,” on March 9 – April 20. Ahead of the opening, berlin art journal’s Jordan Nassar stopped by the gallery to talk with Gruzis about breaking with cultural signifiers, neural relaxation and show and tell.
Jordan Nassar: First things first: Where do you live? Where are you from? Did I read you live between New York and LA?
Evan Gruzis: Evan Gruzis: No, I was living in New York for the last 10 years, and LA before that for three years, so just the past 10 years have been kind of between New York and LA, I guess. I still have my studio in New York, in Redhook, but I'm spending part of my time in the Midwest. So we're in Milwaukee right now, and I have another studio there. I'm also going to go to the Chicago Art Institute and do some visiting artist stuff there, so that's cool too. I've never really done stuff like that before. Then we'll probably move to upstate New York after that. We want to move back to New York in a lot of different ways, but I don't think we want to move back to the city. A lot of people our age are moving up to the Hudson area; there are a lot of artists up there. But we're trying to travel and do some residencies a little bit before we put roots down anywhere.
JN: Your first solo show was here with Alex at DUVE. Tell me how that happened. How'd you meet Alex?
EG: Yeah that was my first solo show. I met him through Birta, who was half at the gallery at the time, at a group show I was in in New York. She happened to be with a curator I know from the Whitney, and her boyfriend at the time, Joachim Pissarro, who taught at Hunter. She saw my work and was like, “Oh cool, I have a gallery in Berlin” and so on… and then like 6 months later they offered me a show.
JN: And now, four years later, this is your third solo-exhibition at DUVE. So give me the sneak preview of this show—what's it about?
EG: Well, this show is, formally, the first all-abstract show I've done, so that's kind of major for me. I don't know how I really feel about abstraction. I kind of think abstraction doesn't really exist, so that's one thing I'm dealing with in my work. In the Polychromes I did a while ago, they could be called abstract, but I see them as representational pieces because they represent light, in a certain way. I'm sort of in this process of reduction now, so this is the first show where there's no representational imagery, no still-lives, that type of thing. This is also the biggest I have ever worked. I have the three largest pieces I've ever made on paper here. They're 130 by 180 cm, roughly, which for watercolour is really big.
JN: So no more sunglasses, palm trees and digital clocks?
EG: I think that I'm sort of draining out a lot of the cultural signifiers I had in my work. Six years ago, five years ago I guess, I was using these cultural signifiers, like the sunglasses. At the time, I was using them in a really cynical, ironic way, but it just kind of got absorbed by the zeitgeist and the style—by pop culture and stuff. In a way that helped the work become accepted and popular, but it was not the intention of the work originally. I'm starting to avoid that now, but I think I can build upon some of the abstract themes that I've already started. So, in the beginning when I was doing these venetian blind images, for example, now I can just abstract that into a pure field of stripes. In a way, it's the same image, but it's dealing with it on a totally different level. I think I'm zooming in on stuff. It's not part of a bigger image. There are not a lot of figures—actually there are no figures in the show. I think the show is more meditative. The title, “Alpha Wave,” is the brain wave state of deep relaxation. I wanted to have these pure tonal fields that are representative of this certain state of mind, and also reference looking and seeing and how the brain interprets things.
JN: So the show is just the watercolour works?
EG: No, I also have a video in the show that's a film of this LED display that's programmed to represent the flickering light of a television screen. So if you're not home, you can have this LED light that makes it look like someone's home watching television. I don't know why you wouldn't just leave the television on, I guess it uses more energy, but yeah, it's just this display. Taking a film of that, of this object that is representing a television through the ambient light and then playing it through a television, creates a closed loop. But at the end of the day, it's still an abstract video of colour. Even though I don't think you get into an Alpha Wave state when watching TV, it's sort of a passive state, and that's something I'm also interested in.
JN: Is there something that has led you towards this more meditative state? Or is it just a natural progression of the work?
EG: God, that's a good question. I don't know…
JN: Or maybe it's a reaction to big changes. Maybe you need to find a more meditative state, so your work is becoming that meditative state?
EG: That's quite possible, yeah. I think the work is just maturing. Abstraction is difficult to pull off, in a way, without breaking from the old work. It's sort of growing into it's own; it doesn't need images to tie it to anything anymore.
JN: But also, over the past years and the past works, you've developed, in a sense, a key to the abstraction. If you look back, you can see where this is coming from. It's just that now the works have a more focused manifestation.
EG: Yeah, that's absolutely true. But I think in some ways it's spiritual too. With ambient light, for example, there's sort of a reverence for ambient space, in a way. Before, I would reference voids literally through texts and images, whereas now, I'm sort of just creating that. Another piece that ties into the video, it has a sort of letterbox composition, with black bars on the top and bottom. The image is 16:9 which is a movie screen ration, but it's totally abstract. It's very lightly splattered. I'm still using the same techniques, like the splattering technique, and the same palette, but it's the abstract image that references the delivery of images.
JN: How do you describe your colour palette—the greyscale, the fades and fields, and the very Miami-colours?
EG: I mean, I don't use earth tones, really. You could say blue is an earth tone, because the sky is blue, but the colours are very artificial. With this show, I'm also thinking about the colours on your retina, and retinal after-images. You have this dull purple when there's light coming into your eyes, and this teal-aqua colour of after-images and things like that. It’s a totally artificial palette, but it exists within the body. So I'm trying to find that space, that alien, artificial thing that everyone's experienced at some time.
JN: To an extent, the earlier works, with the culture references, have the same colours. But in the older works, it comes off much more as this Miami-neon—when those colours are on sunglass or something—whereas now, just having the colour fields and nothing figurative in the works, it almost becomes a bit new-age, like auras or something.
EG: Totally. I've never seen all the works together in the same place at the same time; I made them and shipped them in phases, so I'm interested in seeing the effect. But I think that the pieces are becoming objects in and of themselves, in a good way, and I'm learning how to do that. Some of these use acrylic and graphite on the surface, I'm using different finishing techniques, some areas are glossy and some are matte, which I've never really done before. And then there are these small python skin works that I did, which are a little more experimental.
JN: But it still feels like there is a very tangible line, like you can see where this stuff is coming from and how it's developed, focusing and zooming in.
EG: Yeah, it's like with writing, there’s a difference between showing and telling. I feel like I'm getting the hang of showing people.
[Images: Evan Gruzis, "Alpha Wave," Installation views DUVE Berlin, 2012; courtesy the artist and DUVE Berlin]