The Future is Angela Grossmann

Saturday, April 7, 2012

John Mackie for the Vancouver Sun: Angela Grossmann prepared for an interview with The Vancouver Sun by writing some notes on her iPhone. But when she scans them, she looks at me, looks back at the phone, and smiles.

“Mmm…, mmm…, no, that was a heavy quote in case you were one of these heavy art guys,” she says. “I’d put you on the ‘not really’ side.”

She scans some more (“Um, … no … no … no … hmm, no,, I don’t think so,”) until she finally finds something she likes.

“You didn’t ask me how do you know when you’re done,” she states.

How do you know when your paintings are done?

“That’s funny you should ask that,” she replies. “There isn’t really a set answer to that. Why did I give you that question? Just skip that one, no-one cares about that.”

There have been numerous stories written about Grossmann, who’s been hailed as one of Vancouver’s best painters since the mid-‘80s. But none of them prepare you for her engaging personality and wit.

Grossmann is meeting the press because she’s just launched her first local solo show in seven years. It’s called The Future IS Female, and includes both paintings and collages.

The title was inspired by a button she used to wear when she was a student at Emily Carr back in the early ‘80s.

“At that time it didn’t feel like [the future was female],” says Grossmann, 55, now a part-time instructor at Emily Carr. “It was a provocative thing to wear it.”

It’s still provocative, so she decided it would work for a show featuring only images of females. Some of the paintings are small, improvised works she rips off in half an hour, using a single tube of paint. The collages, on the other hand, can take eons.

“The thing about the collages, although they look slapdash, maybe, or casual, they’re much more difficult than actually using paint,” she says.

“Another thing I like to do, for some reason, is give myself a handicap. If I can make it more difficult for myself to extract the image, or extract meaning from the image, I will do that. I like to struggle with the thing, to find it, so I know when I’m doing it that it has… strength. These are difficult. They’re exhausting, in fact.”

The most striking collage bears the title of the exhibition. It features black and white images blown up, cut out, and reassembled into a piece that has so much movement it feels like it might leap off the canvas.

“She’s made up of hundreds of different images, so it’s not really clear who she is,” says Grossmann. “But she is somebody of a certain age, [and] really coming into contact with who she is, or trying to find her identity. So she’s trying on lots of different kinds of clothes or images, and finding an identity that fits.

“That’s why it’s shattered and going in and out of focus, with lots of different parts to it. There’s parts where it looks like she’s being held back, or pushed forward, and it’s all of those awkward things about becoming a woman.”

Look closely and you’ll see it is on an unusual canvas – an old awning.

“I’ve always used materials that have had another use before,” says Grossmann. “I like it for its colour, I like the seams on it, I like the rivets at the top. It already had a character to it when I found it.”

Her unusual canvases have been one of the hallmarks of her career. She scours flea markets and antique stores looking for stuff to paint on. In the past she’s made art from suitcases and a couch cover; this time out, two paintings were done on old player piano rolls.

This all sounds rather Bohemian, and in fact, she comes from solid Bohemian stock. She was born in London, where her mom painted the walls with “dramatic” murals and antiwar posters.

“Now that you bring it up, funnily enough, [it’s] not so distant from the kind of work this looks like,” she notes.

The family moved to Toronto, then Grossmann came west to study at Emily Carr.

She shot to local fame as part of a Young Romantics show in 1985 at the Vancouver Art Gallery with fellow students Attila Richard Lukacs, Graham Gillmore and Derek Root.

“I think we all got Canada Council Grants the year of our graduation,” she says.

“So with that money, we all left. I went to Paris for a year, Attila went to Berlin, Graham went to New York and Derek went to London. I was basically gone about 10 years. Then I came back, via Montreal, [where I] did a master’s degree.”

A good example of her current painting style is Blue Sheets, a beautiful blur of a sensual female wrapped in blue. Look closely, and there’s also a ghostly outline of another body.

“That’s because it was another painting, a completely different character that I didn’t like,” she says.

“But I liked certain bits or a colour on it… you can see that the drips go [in another direction], because it was that way. Then I turned it around and found something else.

“I find things in the paintings. I don’t go in with a preconceived idea of what to do, I just find things. I allow myself to imagine things, or see things.”