Due to its thoroughly landlocked geography, South Dakota is often thought of as wholly isolated from New York, Paris, London and other major wellsprings of world art. The Eide-Dalrymple Gallery’s retrospective of painter Carl Grupp—a South Dakota native and Augustana alumnus—makes a thorough case to debunk this notion.
Viewed as a whole, the show “Why Are We?” is a diverse, career-spanning compilation that demonstrates the artist’s wide range of both historical and contemporaneous influences. Within the realm of traditional oil painting there is a variety of still live pictures, self-portraits, abstract color fields and figurative landscapes. However, Grupp’s drawings, lithographs and watercolors are also included. The multimedia savvy on display is a point of admiration for those artists currently teaching at or attending Augustana.
“I’ve never seen this much variety. I’m really impressed with the range of expression,” graphic design and painting professor Tom Shields said.
With all that was assembled, the exhibition had to be split between the Eide-Dalrymple gallery and the Center for Western Studies. The pieces on display in the gallery function as a broad survey, spanning from Grupp’s early career to the present. These include everything from psychedelic renderings of floral arrangements to intricately detailed lithographs to some of his earliest drawings and paintings. The lattermost pieces, most dated in the 1960’s, evoke the fascination of an artist’s beginnings and demonstrate the tension of a period when Abstract Expressionism was being gradually phased out in favor of Andy Warhol’s pop art. According to Shields, Grupp’s earlier pieces additionally unearth the origin of his longevity and vitality as an artist.
“Carl is a wonderful draftsman, [a fact] which is revealed particularly in the lithographs and figure studies,” Shields said.
Those works presently housed in the Center for Western Studies serve to provide greater depth, elaborating on particular themes in Grupp’s oeuvre or presenting new ones to be sorted out. One series of heavy sketches, channeling elements of both Goya and Rembrandt, conveys different manifestations of some ghoulish carnival playing out in the artist’s head. The effect of transitioning from these stark compositions to the rainbow pop of watercolor mountains is pleasantly jarring. One still life of similarly bold coloration was intended for a show that encouraged patrons to use 3-D glasses.
“The warm and cool colors create such strong spatial effect you can almost reach out and dip your hand in,” Shields said.
The most compelling niche of Grupp’s career is his perennial chain of self-portraits. Their abundance may partly be a matter of practicality; an artist quote on one nameplate reads “I was the most obliging model I could find.” Whatever the underlying motive, each appears to have been limned with a great degree of integrity and even self-deprecation. While their reference to Van Gogh is evident in the way Grupp positions himself as a model, such posturing is not overworked and the bearded visage staring back at the viewer is brimming with tousled humanity.
“I was very impressed with his artwork, especially his self-portraits. I know they invoke an emotional response from a lot of people,” senior art major Emmy Van Ert said.
“Why Are We?” runs from September 12, 2013 through December 13, 2013. The show is free and open to the public and has received a bevy of positive notices from those who have already attended.
“If you go through this show and you don’t see something that’s for you, then you are missing something,” Shields said.