(Nashville, Tennessee, 1937 - )
Red Grooms has enjoyed a long, successful career as an innovative printmaker. Although he began by orchestrating happenings, and making films and installation pieces, he is better known for his prints. Regardless of medium, Grooms has managed to maintain his own distinctive voice and style.
Charles “Red” Grooms was born in Nashville, Tennessee on June 7, 1937. (1) He began taking art lessons at age eleven, and has been producing art ever since. After high school, Grooms attended The Art Institute of Chicago, but stayed for less than a semester before moving back to Nashville. After Christmas break, he moved to New York to attend the New School for Social Research. He stayed an entire semester there, but moved back home to Nashville and attended Peabody College where he made Minstrel, his first print, in 1956.
A year later, Grooms moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts where he studied with the modernist painter Hans Hoffman for a short time. Grooms moved to New York and then back to Provincetown where he began staging happenings, his most famous of which was Burning Building (1959). While in Provincetown, Grooms and two of his friends, Dominic Falcone and Yvonne Andersen, made several movies, as well. In terms of his printmaking career, the most interesting products of this period were posters Grooms designed to advertise his happenings or movies. By 1968, Grooms was back in New York where he made a name for himself in the art world with his installation City of Chicago (1968). In 1971 Grooms worked for the first time with a professional print shop, Bank Street Atelier. The resulting work was Nervous City. Ruckus Manhattan (1975) also gained Grooms notoriety, and became one if his best known installations. Many of his later prints would contain elements from, or references to, Ruckus Manhattan. By 1976 Grooms was primarily producing prints, etchings and lithographs in a variety of styles, publishing 22 editions in that year. (2)
Grooms attempted to produce a three-dimensional print, a paper sculpture assembled with a hot-glue gun, in 1971 for his No Gas series, but he made his first truly three-dimensional print, Gertrude, in 1975. Shortly after, he began making the three-dimensional prints such as Deli that are city scenes encased in Plexiglas.
Many of Grooms’ prints fall into two subject categories: depictions of the city, or portraits of famous people, most specifically artists. Most of the artists Grooms depicts are modern or contemporary artists, from Henri Matisse to Jackson Pollock. Today, Grooms is still making both two and three-dimensional prints. His works have been described as combining “the high-art aestheticism of French modernist artists, the spontaneous aggressive draughtsmanship of the Abstract Expressionist painters, and the low-art spectacle, humor, and plain zaniness of comedic movies.” This is an apt description of Grooms’ oeuvre, which continues to surprise and entertain viewers even today.
(1) Groom’s life and career are summarized in Walter Knestrick, Red Grooms: The Graphic Work, Essay by Vincent Katz, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001.
(2) Knestrick, p. 27.
(3) Knestrick, p. 22.
Kate Lamar, 30 July, 2007
(rev. MLA, 2 August 2007)