Anne Grgich work 1979-2009

Masked Faces Confronting a Hostile World: Notes on the Art of Anne Grgich

The annual Outsider Art Fairs in New York City's SoHo district can generally be counted on to provide a rich and intense visual experience for collectors and other interested viewers, but they hardly make an ideal context in which to see an artist's work for the first time. These multi-gallery exhibitions of art by self-taught individuals from all over the world are always crowded with so much raw and powerful work-- much of it by the loosely defined genre's most well known exponents, such as Wölfi, Darger, Traylor, and Finster-- that it can be hard totally focus one's attention on the relatively small portion of work by lesser known artists. And yet it was in this setting that I first laid eyes on the work of Anne Grgich. Despite the small scale and overloaded surroundings, Grgich's multi-layered, expressionistic collage paintings and drawings grabbed my attention as soon as I glanced at them.

My initial exposure to Grgich's work at the MIA Gallery's booth at the 1994 Outsider Art Fair prompted me to seek further information about the artist and to look at other examples of her art. Subsequently my appreciation for her work grew, as did my interest in the anomalous position she occupies within the so-called "outsider" art field. This subset of the contemporary art world is a domain that, unfortunately, is governed in large part by commercially driven stereotypes, from which Grgich deviates sharply on most counts. She is an obsessive image maker whose art doesn't derive from techniques and theories she picked up in art school, and in that sense she is self-taught. The crisis and instability that have marked much of her personal life also place her in the company of many other artists who have been described as "outsiders." But all artists-- all people-- have serious personal problems to deal with and psychological demons to face. While "outsider" artists have often been categorized as naive in matters of art as well as life, that distinction certainly doesn't apply to Grgich.

An artistically savvy uncle, who recognized her talent when she was still a child. introduced her at an early age to Modernism and, in particular, the works of Schwitters, Dubuffet, Beckmann, Klee, and Miro. She took an art class at the public high school she attended in Portland, Oregon, where she grew up, and in the early 1980's  studied for two months at the Portland Museum Art School. Several years later she won a scholarship to the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where she logged a full semester. In between these brief art school stints she sought out the fringes of West Coast youth culture, hanging out with....others who shared her disaffection for mainstream, middle-class white culture in which she was raised. During her late teens and twenties, Grgich was involved in a series of accidents that left her injured and in pain, which led to several years of drug dependency. Nevertheless, in the midst of what she called the "craziness" of her life in those years, she continued to make art at a prolific rate and began showing it in gallery exhibitions. Her productivity came to a temporary halt for a few months in late 1983 and early 84, due to the insidious influence of an exploitative Christian cult that she joined in what she describes as a partly drug-induced state of "paranoia and confusion." With the help of friends, she extricated herself from the cult, but unfortunately, she burned most of her drawings, paintings, and writings during the period when she was under its influence. After leaving the fanatical religious group, she threw herself back into her creative activities and worked feverishly at her art through the late 80s-- a period that witnessed momentous changes in her life, including a highly troubled two-year marriage, the birth of her son, a bitter child-custody battle, and the death of her mother in a hit-and- run auto accident. During these years she lived a fairly restless existence, moving back and forth between Portland, San Francisco and finally Seattle, where she has made her home since 1988. 

Grgich perceived the painful experiences that dominated her life during the 80s as a "cycle of terror" that kept her constantly on edge, but she managed to survive those harrowing times to see better days in the 90's. Her circumstances in recent years have been far more conducive to art making, and she has broadened her artistic range accordingly. In addition to the large-scale oil paintings and art-historically referenced portrait collages she has recently been working on, she continues to make the elaborate painted books that evolved from her teenaged journals of the 70's, and which have constituted the central thread in her art. These distinctive works are characteristic of Grgich's transformative aesthetic. With their layers upon layers of imagery, her recent books embody an uneasy dialogue between innocence and experience. In creating them, she typically begins with old children's storybooks, preferably from the 1950s, then she draws paints, and collages her own images directly over-- and without thematic reference to-- the original texts and illustrations, occasionally allowing isolated fragments of the printed materials to remain visible.

The mask-like, slit-eyed faces that stare back at the viewer from the patched and impastoed pages of these books represent people she has know of figures from her highly- charged imagination, like ghosts from her tortured past or apparitions out of a hallucinatory drug experience. She compulsively works and reworks these pages until they leave her possession for the growing number of exhibits and collections in which her art is represented. Despite the similarity of this process to the obsessiveness with which many "outsider" artists create their work-- and also in spite of her imagerys rawness-- Grgich's books are highly sophisticated works that deserve to be taken seriously within the larger framework of contemporary art. To pigeonhole or ghettoize her art in the culturally problematical subcategory of outsider art is to do it a disservice. Although highly personal and idiosyncratic, her work metaphorically alludes to social and psychological issues that are increasingly pertinent to all of us, and especially to this country's younger citizens. It is an art which confronts and stares boldly back at an often violent and hostile world that appears to be falling apart at the seams. 

Tom Patterson is a writer and independent curator who lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and writes regularly about contemporary visual art and artists. he is the author of St. EOM in The Land of Pasaquan, among other books and exhibition catalogs. His work also appears in publications such as Art Papers, the New Art Examiner, and ARTnews. Catalog. MIA Gallery; Masked Faces Confronting a Hostile World: Notes of the Art of Anne Grgich

Published in conjunction with a one-person exhibition of paintings by Anne Grgich. August-September, 1996. Includes the essay "Masked Faces Confronting a Hostile World: Notes on the Art of Anne Grgich" by Tom Patterson.




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NY Times Magazine, shoots Grgich's solo NEW ORLEANS exhibition at Barristers Gallery For ARTICLE on new orleans travel Friday Dec.5, 2007

Museum Creation Franche, March 2005, Issue #24; "Life Pulsating, Troubled, Exalting -work by Anne Marie Grgich," by Colin Rhodes.

American Visionary Art Museum, High on Life/Transcending Addiction Virtual Tour, Bridge to Compassion 2004 Patterson, Tom, "Art Along the Boundaries, an appraisal of the liminal artists working on the boundaries of Outsider Art"

Raw Vision, issue 46, 2004

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Smith, Roberta, "Outsider Art Review," New York Times, January 24, 1997

Grossman, Bonnie, Memories and Visions: Self-Taught and Outsider Artists West of the Rockies, Univ.of Nevada, Reno 1996

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Patterson, Tom Bandwagon Reactionaries and Barricade Defenders, New Art Examiner, September, 1994.

The Chuck and Jan Rosenak Collection/Smithsonian Folk Art Registry, Virginia, 1994