Looking at the abstract drawings of Felice Grodin, I get hints of punk and hip hop and old bricks and crystals, smoke and vine and thorns and robots and concrete. And I couldn’t tell you exactly how or why, but there’s something deep going on here, both fast and slow, meticulous and dynamic.
Grodin’s drawings are just so essentially urban, they have this electric density to them. A weaving of organic forms with geometric ones, the dynamic interplay of elements is mesmerizing. Her vocabulary is singular, evoking graffiti, and structural drawing, framed within the dynamic qualities of abstract expressionism, there is an emergent quality as well, like a hidden set of rules guiding spontaneous forms, so that the pen in hand is expressing almost digital concepts. There are several different forces at play in the work, different species clashing and working out mutually beneficial movements. One move looks like free form ink or paint strokes, having been traced, the resulting line drawing extruded to add a graphic like dimensionality. The result is and is not organic. Maybe not so much organic, more the interpretation of organic form through a mechanical process. I can always appreciate someone with the discipline to reduce the elements at play to only what is necessary for the expression. Refinement should make you smile, so feast your eyes, my friends, and smile.
Can you tell me a bit about your background?
I was born in Bologna, Italy – my dad was in medical school studying ophthalmology. Since his courses were in Italian, I always thought how challenging it must of been to study medicine in a foreign language. My parents always traveled so we moved back to New York and then San Francisco and then South Florida. Because I always liked to draw, I had wanted to be an artist but decided on architecture since it was both a science and an art. I did my undergraduate studies at Tulane University in New Orleans. Immersing myself in that city for five years had a deep effect on me. Both its physicality and culture have an underlying entropy and vulnerability. Experiencing Mardi Gras had both an exhaustive and regenerative quality that I think are the underpinnings of my work. From there I came back to South Florida and settled in South Beach in the early nineties, which at the time was the beginning of its resergence. It had similar aspects to New Orleans, but with the beach and the ocean, everything was bathed in the brightest sunlight and hidden within the deepest shadows. It was very sensual. These cities were not about affixed places or spaces but rather ritualized fissures of possiblity. I decided after being influenced by the experience of these types of cities and spaces, the space in between, that I would go back to school and focus on ‘anti-architecture’ for my Masters degree.
What came first for you, art or architecture/design?
I don’t think either came first – it was a sensibilty that arose from my experiences of the city. I think that I was interested in how to explore, represent, trap and intervene within fluid spaces… Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities came first…
How did your art practice develop? When did you decide to start showing your drawings?
I had done a studio in grad school that also effected me greatly. It was taught by Leslie Gill and explored the cross section of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, the city of Butte, Montana and in my specific case, Jackson Pollack. There was a mixture of violence, toxic erosion and Manifest Destiny. Out of the studio I created a set of notational studies of Pollack’s Arabesque. I was trying to see if there were patterns or tendencies – where he might of stepped in and out of the canvas or where he would congeal the paint strokes to create a darkness or depth beneath the surface . The tools that I used were standard technical ink pens, mylar paper and gesso but used in a visceral way. I eventually started to my own paintings and then drawings of them – cartographies. When I had done enough to warrant some feedback, I started showing them to people..
How did your formal education inform what you do? how was it valuable, or conversely, was it ever confusing or misleading?
My education informed everything. Being able to think spatially is something that I have learned. It is a medium that is both something we can control and alternately something that we have no control over.
How long did it take you to develop your drawing process?
I’m still developing it! But I would say that the initial body of work took a few years just to get a handle on. It’s funny to work backwards in the traditional sense – first painting then drawing. But what’s cool is that the paintings occur very quickly. Sometimes in minutes. The drawings can take months. It’s so interesting for me to experience thoughts, narratives and technical decisions along the way. It’s process on acid-
What artists have influenced you?
Tintoretto, Jackson Pollack, Francis Bacon, Louise Nevelson, Daniel Libeskind – particularly his Micromega drawings. My contemporaries here in South Florida have also had a great influence on me, especially Samantha Salzinger and Gean Moreno.
Your drawings have this tension between ordered space and emergent or chaotic form. To what degree is your architecture background informing this interplay? Is it a conscious effort to express something essential about Urbanism? or is the process more organic and intuitive?
The concept of emergence is something that I have read about in the last few years. I’ve been following some writings and lectures on new materialism and speculative realism. What’s interesting is that these philosophical perspectives are questioning the interrelation between knowledge and reality. I think advances in science and technology has had a profound effect on this and in the most extreme cases, there is the recognition that certain forms of high tech exceed the human range of processing. Thus notions of the post-human have arisen out of this context. By that I don’t mean of innovation in the newest gadget, but rather high speed algorithmic flows of information and value exchange, the manipulation of matter at a microscopic level and the notion that traditional forms of civic governance as well as urbanism have now to contend with virtual space. These render boundaries, borders and one can argue the Classical body obsolete. But then what forces push these porous boundaries and borders, and how does the body deal with both high and low frequencies? Therefore what is relevant for me as someone with an architectural background, is that I find these issues spatial as much as representational.
How long does a drawing take you typically?
Anywhere between one month for a smaller one and two to three months for a very large piece.
Can you talk a bit about the process of these drawings?
The base paintings are intuitive as well as scientific. I take the inherent properties of ink as I release it from the container to a board or mylar. Sometimes I like to do a kind of automatic calligraphy. Other times I mix two colors to see if a third condition emerges. Lately I’ve been layering and composing more than I had in the past. From there I draw a plan in ink and develop line weights and colors. Usually a hypothesis develops as to the suggestiveness of the piece. I will assign a title at this point in most cases. I then extrude the drawing into an oblique projection. There is an algorithm that is developed – a code as to groups of lines or colors and how they become systems that have tendencies within the drawings. It’s like I’m translating the force of the painting into a cartographic map. But the map has a life of it’s own – it’s both descriptive of something else and simultaneously exceeds that description. There is a presentness about the final drawing.
Pencil? Pen? yes or no underdrawing? any drawing aids/tools?
I use technical old school drafting pens. I use layers (three steps as discussed above) to produce the work. No drawing aids but since the drawings are freehand, I take the liberty to erase a errant line every now and then.
How fixed is the piece in your mind before you start? Does the drawing take it’s own spontaneous direction, deviating from the plan?
I have no fixed idea but sometimes the hypothesis is stronger than others. The drawing is in a constant state of manipulation always deviating without a plan.
What kind of research do you do? Are there lots of preliminary sketches before the final drawings?
I read things that I’m interested in and sometimes I’m able to make a lateral leap into the work. For example, when I was in graduate school I was immersed in the writings of George Bataille. I took a great seminar by the art historian Yves Alain Bois that connected his writings to publications as well as art. I would not call it research though as much as I would say that these things filter through the work. There are no preliminary sketches.
Is there anything that bothers you about your own work?
No. It’s a privilege to work in a medium that I love. I’m trapping a moment within each drawing that is a moment connected to what was before and what is after. There is no intrinsic meaning – only possibilities along the way.