“Serenity now!” (yes, that is a Seinfeld reference) came to mind when I immersed myself in Peter Gronquist’s pastel-colored painting show entitled Refuge at Joseph Gross Gallery (548 West 28th Street). A contrast to his edgy strapped-taxidermy animals that blatantly address gun violence, the paintings in Refuge hold a subtle quietness that act like a call and response to his previous work (with these paintings clearly being the conclusive latter). Using color and texture as his subjects, Gronquist has abandoned representational work to communicate a place of happiness and resolve.
To me, Refuge feels like church. Having a particularly chaotic life in a particularly chaotic city, I was both surprised and relieved to emerge from Gronquist’s exhibition feeling totally at ease. Although the color-field paintings hold up on their own, together they created a cocoon-like environment for me, a safe place for my mind to relax- and actually day dream. Anyone who has experienced the environment created with a room of Robert Ryman white paintings will understand the freedom felt with experiencing art that lets your mind rest. It is a coveted quality I can’t quite describe, and getting there is extremely difficult. But when successful, this type of art has the ability to allow the viewer to shut off the analytical/busy part of their brain, and instead just give in to the subconscious experiential facet that we equate with day dreaming.
Whatever it is, Gronquist has conquered it with Refuge. I focused on the subtle gradation of one color to the next, the gentle textural interplay of tulle, the thick white frames that seemed to elevate each color field as it floated through my daydream. I left the exhibition without anything to say (shocking for a blabbermouth like me) but feeling satiated, all knowing, more understanding.
While some may not find color field paintings to be a religious experience, those who are willing to let go of their brain clutter for a few minutes can experience the relaxing satisfaction that Gronquist’s beautiful new show inspires.