Wednesday December 13, 2017 | by Joseph Modica

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Gregory Grenon on what's behind his edgy reverse paintings on glass, now on view at Traver

With awe and fear informing each brush stroke, artist Gregory Grenon’s newest collection of paintings continue to explore the subject that has captivated him for over 30 years -- the many shades of the feminine character, a study in the artist's uneasy view of his subjects. The exhibition, on view at Traver Gallery in Seattle through December 23rd, 2017, is titled “Torture and Delirium like These” and features 22 works of verre églomisé, which involves painting on the reverse side of glass.

Grenon’s vivid portraits of women (and sometimes horses) is a continuation of a decades-long series. Having grown up in a household with three sisters and raising a daughter of his own, Grenon is no misogynist, and he openly acknowledges the power women wield. But his work presents a complex range of emotions that he incorporates into the presentation of his feminine subjects, who he imbues with his own intense and conflicted feelings. He discovered the technique of applying oil paint on the underside of glass on nighttime painting session in the late 1970s where the only canvas he could find was a sheet of glass. A technique developed centuries ago to create more vivid depictions of revered religious icons and their immaculate acolytes, Grenon deploys verre églomisé to capture his female subjects with the intensity he feels about them, seeing them as powerful, frightening, and intimidatingly beautiful.

“I don’t paint women as you want them to be.” said the artist in an all-capitalized artist statement on his website. “And I don’t paint women as they should be painted. I simply paint women as they are.”

Grenon was born in Detroit, where he grew up with his parents and three sisters. He spent time living at the famous art district Cass Corridor neighborhood, where, he said, they made but didn't discuss art. Grenon moved to Chicago as an assistant printer, and it was in this capacity he learned about the use of color. He then moved to Portland, Oregon, to escape the grime and crowds of city life, and where he began to draw women, with a particular focus on their hands and faces. Grenon has been making art since 1968, some of his earliest work involved lithographs in black and white.

Since he began painting on glass in the 1970s, he has sought to create works that demand attention and evoke responses from viewers. He contrasts muted colors with eye-catching bright ones to create visual intensity and "turn heads as far as across the street," as he put it in an interview with the Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet. Unlike a stained glass piece where light passes though the colored glass, in reverse glass painting, light travels through clear glass to hit the paint and then passes back through to the viewer, activating color and texture. The techniques he uses is a callback to the his days working as a print maker, where the flat colors of his art behind glass are reminiscent of paper behind glass.

The colors he chooses are not necessarily flattering to his subjects, but he does not try to be. Color is aggressively used to reject viewer expectations, and to introduce a lingering tension.

“It can disturb the hell out of you, and you love it -- and yet you cannot wait to see it each day.” said the artist in an email exchange with Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet. 

Painting women has enthralled Grenon, becoming an obsession. “If I couldn’t paint women and people the way that I do I would not paint at all,” he said. “I guess it’s the way they generally look and look back at you. My pictures talk to you without saying a word.” 

The equine forms that he sometimes paints, a rare variation from his usual portrait subjects, have the same effect on him. “I don’t understand the horses,” admitted the artist. He finds horses beautiful and is in awe of the “power the wield,” an echo of his female subjects. It's clear that Grenon is seeking to demystify that which confounds him, hoping to convey something about his experience of people or horses, struggling with a process and capturing a wide range of emotions in his attempts to express them in paint. It's a process that take months, sometimes needing a second, third, fourth look to fully absorb. For Grenon, it's a never-ending quest. 


Gregory Grenon
Through December 22
Traver Gallery
110 Union Street #200
Phone: 206-587-6501

GLASS: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for 35 years.