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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ye Olde Classmates: Gary Grier

Gary Grier and I met as room mates at the SVA dorms. Actually we were considered suite mates, but as "Suite mate" sounds uncomfortably close to "sweet mate" most of us stuck to "room mate". Gary was pretty reserved and I usually took his silence as a cue that he didn't want to talk to me. He was the first to move into our floor and quickly snatched up the coveted double-sized room with the balcony overlooking downtown Savannah. He often sat out there alone listening to a single song loop for hours at maximum volume, sometimes rap and hip hop, sometimes r&b, the Bee Gees, and occasionally gospel. Now and then, on a walk home from class he would wave from the balcony with a gold-teethed smile, but we never had a conversation.

Four years later in New York when Jeff Koons took me on as a painting assistant, to my surprise I found Gary at the color mixing table. Jeff put us together on a project in which we created a sort of parody of one of Jeff's donkey paintings as one of those things at a carnival that you stick your head in to get your picture taken. We quickly became close friends, and have stayed in touch since.

The American tradition is strongly present in Gary's work. Wyeth is in the dryness of the air, and his figures seem trapped in a Hopperesque world of isolation and quietude. They loop like songs on repeat. There's the guy on the bike again, the beat up car Dad, and Grandma. His canvases tell a lonesome tale of the dirty south, but not a hopeless one. Church steeples sometimes stand bathed in sunlight to beckon drifting souls from their bikes and cars. Even the walls cry out "Jesus Saves" as they pass by. Sometimes his sitters stare out from windows with a Vermeer-like longing, and Gary himself stares out the same way at us from the easel. There is an earnest soul searching in these canvases, and this is the reason behind them.

Early on at SVA Savannah our teacher Anthony Palliser became a mentor to Gary, and he occasionally appears in Anthony's paintings.

"Gary Running" by Anthony Palliser

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