With its striking monumentality, monochromatic surface and precisionist sweeping vectors, Mark Grotjahn's Untitled (White Butterfly Blue Big Nose Baby Moose) from 2005 is an example of the artist's playfully subversive nature as he straddles the realm between non-referential minimalism and the individualistic hand of the artist. While at first the composition is deceptively straightforward, on closer inspection the intricacies and hours of meticulous focus spent on the construction of the canvas surface begin to come to light, and are revealed in the surface of the paint. Besides the depth of the application of the paint, Grotjahn uses a complex system of multiple one-point horizon lines from which vectors and angles originate, resulting in mesmerizing effect. With bright azure paint, the artist has etched the year, '05', and the title, derived from a childhood nickname, "Big Nose Blue Baby Moose," on the opposing sides of the canvas, causing disruption on the pristine white of the face of the painting. A nod to the graffiti and street art stylings from his hometown of Los Angeles, the gesture maintains Grotjahn's hand as the artist, as well as states his claim and ownership of the work.
With such force and energy, the expressive gesture of the artist is never lost in the composition; rather, he presents it front and center, never hiding. Using a perfect marriage between precisionist geometric abstraction and dramatic impasto, Grotjahn painstakingly creates an incredible depth of the layering of the paint. Through the paint his now iconic butterfly motif, which has become in many respects the equivalent of Barnett Newman's "zips," becomes brilliantly luminescent in the paint's sheen. The built up surface of the paint is disrupted as he jabs and cuts into it, unearthing the previously hidden surfaces; "these acts of destruction come out of love: wanting to know something so intensely that it must in fact be destroyed to be known" (H. Zuckerman Jacobson, "Disruption," Mark Grotjahn, exh. cat., Aspen Art Museum, 2012, p. 56). This violent and passionate way in which Grotjahn approaches his compositions is evident in the way the painting exudes the life and even soul of its maker. From this power and energy, it is almost too personal; as if the viewer is penetrating into a profound relationship between artist and canvas. While the precise technique and craftsmanship is remarkable in Grotjahn's work, what makes it more interesting is when it is not perfect; the imperfections, the disruptions, give the work its unique character and bring the painting to life. This near violation of the sacrosanct purity of the all-white composition brings the sublime transcendental quality of the work back to earth, reminding the viewer that this is an art object, as jarring as it is seductive.
While strikingly abstract, White Butterfly Big Nose Blue Baby Moose is a remarkably personal work and serves as a conduit for the artist. The astounding technique and highly analytical nature of the work are not cold or calculated but rather act as pathways and detours to understanding the art more fully, creating an experience in the painting. Undeniably vivid and full of vitality, White Butterfly Big Nose Blue Baby Moose astounds in both its intricate poignancy and its ability to convey the expressive nature of the artist.