Jon Groom

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ORIGINS OF MIND AND HEART

Robert C. Morgan

The painter Jon Groom envisions his art in terms of life experience. As art and experience begin to unfold in relation to one another (as earlier suggested by the philosopher John Dewey), the artist may begin to see himself more definitively within the context of an evolution. This is not a forced intention, but the reality by which a work of art reveals itself. Throughout his career as a painter, Groom has sought the foundation of intelligent feeling as a preeminent focus in his work. Over the years, this has become a perennial concern. Through color, line, texture, and form, the artist transforms the surface into a luminous phenomenon by giving an exemplary holistic presence. In Groom's case, this is largely contingent on the knowledge he has obtained through spiritual practice, corporeal understanding, and geographical awareness. Together these learned attributes cohere as a form of nature.

The Welsh-born Groom (currently living in Munich) has argued that the most advanced painting today does not succeed as a static form acquired solely through conceptual or academic learning. While aware of the achievements of other painters in the history of Modernism, Groom understands his artistic jour- ney as a personal one. Just as breathing oxygen nourishes the body, so painting nourishes our visual senses. There is something fundamental about the bristling sensate paintings of the past three years - whether on paper, linen, or tin - that suggests they are meant to fulfill a certain essential rhythmic, bio-psychological necessity. We learned this from Groom's previous large-scale exhibition last year at the Stadtischen Museum Engen, titled "A Luminous Night's Journey," where the brushwork and geometry of these paintings tend to be generally darker, yet paradoxically more earthy in its range of tonalities - as if the light were emanating out of the earth itself - than in brighter primary works from 2005-07.

To paint is not something that appears from the outside realm of existence but is fully within it. By being fully within it, the opportunity for a transcendent view of reality may begin to happen. While this may be difficult to objectify - perhaps, because it should not be either objectified or quantified - this has become the criterion by which Groom judges for himself the success of what he paints. This exhi- bition in Copenhagen is perhaps one of the most naked examples of what it means to be a painter that I have witnessed by a living artist in recent years. It is an exemplary exhibition in that it touches us through a form of heightened senso- ry cognition, a term I have been known to use in the past. Even as, this essentially aesthetic experience is something that is neither bound by a particular time and place or is it limited to one kind of art or one genre being offered in today's art world. Historically, the singular concept of a criterion in art has expanded into a pluralistic criteria. Therefore, when I look at Jon Groom's paintings - constructed from the mind and heart, as he works in a self-assured, tactile way, reminiscent of Cezanne, Morandi, or Georges de la Tour - I recognize that he has literally and unequivocally pushed through the imminent surface of wet pigment, modulating a shape or revealing a previously unseen or unknown form of luminosity. This offers the viewer a precise, yet heroic consolation, an exhilarating rebuttal, to all the virtual excess, poisonous aerosol, and dismemberment of passion, love, and psychic power that has filtered mistakenly into art in recent years under the aegis of mindless investment.

Traditionally, Groom's work appeared geometric in its subtle displays of hard-edge pictorial organization, even if the edges were blurred and the shapes bled openly into surrounding areas of color as seen in his watercolors, the concrete square and rectilinear shapes were carefully measured in relation to one another and in accordance with the peripheral dimensions of the painting's edges. The recent work seen this exhibition is selected from three new series, titled Om, Hrim, and Herald, and reveals a development in which the geometry is entirely hand-painted without superimposed measurements or taped edges. Another important aspect of the paintings is the move away from acrylic paint to oil pigments. Until recently Groom employed the use of water-based polymers on large canvases in relati- on to a minimal vocabulary of clearly defined hard-edge shapes. This has changed. Now many of the smaller scaled paintings are painted directly on unpri- med tin while the larger ones are painted on unbleached linen stretched over panels. The use of oil instead of acrylic allows the artist to paint directly into the wet ground by mixing pigment into the color that is already applied. As Groom explained during a recent studio visit, he often feels in the act of painting that the surface is in the process of evolving on its own accord. Paradoxically, Groom feels that he is "into the work" on a fully conscious level at the same time that he obser- ves himself in the act of painting. This recalls the philosopher Edmund Husserl's phenomenological concept that the perceiver may be engaged in perceiving him- self in the act of perception.

In taking the Sanskrit letters of the sacred Om, used in Hindu chanting, or the equally sacred Hrim (literally meaning "heart chakra"), Groom has given the script-like calligraphy a more geometric, angular appearance. This linear geome- try becomes a determining architectonic element in both the Om and the Hrim paintings, many of which are painted on tin in a smaller square format. While not appropriated from any specific language, Groom has also painted another series, titled Herald, in which the forms begin to resemble banners, but are held in check by the rectilinear forms and spatial ambiguities contained within the slightly irre- gular square format.

Given the artist's emphasis on the spiritual aspect of these paintings - largely inspired by the artist's experiences of "awakening" during regular visits to India, in which he spends time in both Hindu and Jain temples - he is paradoxically within and outside the act of painting simultaneously. This offers a certain clarity. As the British mystic Colin Wilson once explained at a lecture in New York in the early nineties, the way toward enlightenment cannot be achieved by trying too hard or by relaxing to the point of not trying at all. Rather it is most likely to occur when one is hovering between these extremes. In Groom's case, the experience obtai- ned through these paintings - as referenced by the sacred Sanskrit of the Om and Hrim - occurs in suspension between a clear awareness of the physical act of painting and a relaxed observation of the evolving surface. In either case, it is a matter of a tenacious, though subtle movement between levels of consciousness without necessarily being in opposition.

This suggests that Groom's journey as a painter has begun to move further Eastward. While this journey may appear slightly off-center, the true center of consciousness - if we are to accurately observe the history of painting in middle and central Asia - normally tends to reside this way. In other words, the center is never exactly the center. To bring this visual concept into Western painting is a bril- liant ploy that not only shows the potential for living in a new transcultural geography, but also suggests a more flexible reality relative to our origins as we acculturate to the inevitable transformation of our global positioning.