Jon Groom

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Exhibition Groom & Scully Galerie422 Gmunden 2004

Wilhelm Warning

In a conversation he had in December 2003, Jon Groom noted, "I enjoy painting and that is what I do. Painting is a journey to simplify the complexity of existence." Sean Scully expressed a similar attitude towards painting in his own words when he remarked in 1995, "When pictures turn into art they can open up life.

"Between the two painters, who have been friends for a long time, there are numerous connecting lines and links. The basic feeling towards the world has long since turned into a kind of spiritual kinship.

Because of their very different artistic modes of expression, however, these common features cannot be easily recognized. They are not so much formal similarities or even congruencies, even though at first glance it can be seen that both artists work with layers of colour and build up the basic structure of their paintings geometrically. And whereas Jon Groom says that
he has always wanted to bring together the spirituality of a Mark Rothko with Sol LeWitt's straightforward idea of a self-multiplying rectangle and cube, Sean Scully notes that he comes from the minimalist tradition and refers to the fact that he simultaneously wanted to push on with issues of content. Or, as Armin Zweite puts it, "He (Scully) is regarded as an abstract painter who is concerned most of all with emotionally charging the non-representational vocabulary". Here too, a common basic melody in both artists resonates quietly. This melody, however, thus resounds far below the surface of the purely formal, in the depths of substantial content. One common feature that at first seems to be coincidental may also be that both
painters selected paintings for the exhibition in Gmunden whose titles seem to point to a certain kinship: Scully's large painting Wall of Light - Dusk 04, and The Cycles of the Day, as Jon Groom has named a series of seven paintings.

The titles refer not only to the vitally necessary light that is indispensable for unfolding the effects of each colour but even more to the fact that Sean Scully's works change with the light, and those of Jon Groom even more strongly.

The compositions of colour, the mixtures of paint built up delicately layer by layer and balanced out with a great deal of experience which give body and spatial depth to Groom's strict geometric surfaces, seem to lead an independent life depending on the form and intensity of the illumination. A brown, for instance, starts to surrender its red and blue tones, or changes into a matt copper hue that suddenly lights up. A moment before it seemed earthy and muted, absorbing and storing colour and warmth. Now something crystalline steps into the foreground and reflects the light. If the viewing position changes, the colour can become dull and lifeless a moment later. Jon Groom's paintings thus combine contradictions in many different ways and bring polar opposites into proximity with each other. They seem to be spatial and deep and at the same time superficial, even flat. They have the effect of traditional panel paintings and possess equally an object-like, almost sculptural character. They are transparent and impenetrable. They seem to be soft and permeable and, to the same degree, hard and repelling. Their effect is bright and shiny and, equally, dark and absorbing. It is as
if Jon Groom had charged his paintings with many opposing possibilities which, depending on the light and the viewer's standpoint, reveal aspects of themselves. With the greatest care and apart from any occult speculation it can be said that he has given his paintings a certain  independence in their being. He also speaks of them contemplating the viewers just like the
viewers look at the paintings.

In any case, the paintings require movement if they are to be perceived to any degree at all in the diversity of their potential fullness "” the movement of the people who encounter these paintings and thus also the movement of light which brings the colours to life and changes them.

This allows us to draw attention to the fact that Jon Groom's paintings in which he joins opposing poles to form a whole can also be understood as a metaphor for life or, as the painter says, for the "contradictoriness of existence". All the aspects of the painting can be gone through experientially because the art work has this fullness within itself. But they only reveal themselves in movement. This, people say, is also the tragedy of all being, that human beings only become aware of life through their physical emergence, passing away and end, that is, through birth, transitoriness and death. Movement, which for human beings is conceivable and possible only in space and time, refers to this circumstance to which
the movement in viewing Jon Groom's paintings corresponds like a reflex. They can only be experienced and opened up by moving in time and space. The peculiar coincidence of the selection which the two artists have made "” the large-format painting by Sean Scully Wall of Light - Dusk 04 and the series of paintings The Cycles of the Day by Jon Groom "” strongly suggests the reference to movement in space and time, to becoming and passing away.
This is all the more so because Sean Scully's Dusk is a dark, almost depressive, and in any case melancholy work that reminds us distinctly of dying away. The painter says that his paintings often communicate the feeling of loss. He says that one of the worst experiences in human life is that life is taken away while one is living, a process that is communicated by the painting almost palpably. The light is hidden in deeper layers and seems to radiate towards the interior, visible only at the edges of the chromatic fields which have been superimposed like the shadows of an impenetrable darkness. An almost undefinable blackness rests here that is perhaps based on deeper layers of blue, and the lighter rectangles with admixtures of grey and turquoise reinforce this impression. The strong red sits tensely next to a bloody brown, and earthy dark brown swallows the light just like the black does. A complex lattice of relations. The geometrically arranged structure of the painting seems to be static only at a first, cursory glance. In fact, the coloured rectangles almost vibrate and seem to be in movement with one another as if they continually pushed each other.

The surface of the painting is only apparently flat because some colours suggest sucking depths, while others almost refuse a gaze into a space behind or beneath, or repel and attract each other and give the painting vitality and dynamics despite the calm and darkness. This is what his painting is like, Sean Scully says, a painting full of contradictions and tensions.

In the painting Wall of Light - Dusk 04, contradictions have been joined together to form a powerful whole, polar relations have been formulated, and all possibilities are present in one moment: dark and light, openness and closedness, flatness and depth, cold and warmth, tenderness and violence "” and also transitoriness and presence. For, everything that it can show is fixed in the painting. It is simultaneously present as a possibility all at once and as a whole at a location beyond linear, passing time. The painter himself has formulated this simultaneity in non-simultaneity, "I bring things together in order to achieve a kind of powerful collision. I want to get an immediate reaction in which the painting becomes an image with a
body, a solid bodily image, physical, with its own personality, its own corporeality, its own weight. Everything then takes place there at the same time, this collision of differing forms. This relation already exists and thus what flows in and is embodied is a kind of sensuousness. All this exists even before the eyes perceive it. It is a physical sensuousness and of course also colour, light, effect, and all this penetrates directly into the soul through the eyes. And that is the unique feature of painterly thinking. Only painting can do this."

A sensuousness of emotionally experienceable colours which, like all of Sean Scully's paintings, enter into a synthesis full of tensions with the rational order in his paintings' structure. Jon Groom, by contrast, does not regard himself as an artist who, like his friend and colleague, pugnaciously surrenders himself in painting to a powerful collision. Rather, for him,
painting resembles an act of meditation. His painting exhales calm despite all the movement which takes place in it on another level.

More strongly than Scully, he employs the self-chosen limitation of strict geometricalstructures which give the colour and its transcending power space and tension. He says that only discipline can lead to knowledge of the self and to inner liberation.

In any case, both painters, although each in his own way, work with the dialectic of contradictions whose synthesis is aimed for in the paintings as a suspenseful togetherness of polar relations. The painterly attempt to attain this synthesis resembling a coincidentia oppositorum can be regarded as the yearning for the lost unity of human beings, who strive to regain synthesis, wholeness. The early Christian monks believed that the openness of the intellect for God's infinitude was a part of knowing God, but that the proper source of this openness was the heart. For this reason they thought that the intellect must rest in the heart. If one now substitutes "rational structure of the painting" for the word "intellect", and "colour
and the emotion associated with it" for the concept of "heart", this means that the colour transcends the painting's structure, raising it to another, higher plane. This is a desire which Jon Groom once called the point of yearning in his painting.

The first painting in his series The Cycles of the Day is a work in which this can be palpably felt. The lightness, brightness and freshness of the colour causes the strict geometrical form to virtually hover. The structure of how the blue paint is applied has an airy effect full of light
permeability and transparency but is nevertheless composed within an exactly calculated architecture whose dimensions have been precisely balanced out mathematically in relation to the total surface. Presumably in part because of its title, the painting arouses strong inner associations. Independently of any interpretation which, in view of the abstraction in Groom's works makes no sense anyway, images of wide open spaces and infinite distance
emerge, of clear morning light, of movement and calm. And the feeling of a sectional detail reminds one of a view from the window.

This view from a window can be found as a topic in the painting of early romanticism. Here,
in Jon groom's painting, it crops up again without having been cited in the manner of an historical retrospective. Sean Scully, too, repeatedly refers to the window as a metaphor for a view towards the outside or the inside. This is surely one of the more deeply resonating common features shared by the two painter friends.

The window. It refers quite directly to the relation between here and there, inside and outside, the worldly here and the beyond. And it shows a section of the interior or the exterior. Sean Scully refers to the landscape character of his painting, and Jon Groom speaks of the painting as a mirror through which one could enter the sublime. The two wonderful sepia works in
which Caspar David Friedrich showed the view from his studio across the Elbe River in 1805/06 are concerned precisely with the inside and the outside. The experience of sections, details, fragments which can be detected already in the renaissance becomes a continuous accompanying melody in early romanticism and right up to the present day where, after the collapse of all worldly, materialist Utopias of happiness, it can be heard more clearly than
ever before. Associated with this is the feeling of the loss of wholeness with all its alienation and the yearning for a universal connection. The paintings of both painters, Groom and Scully, are rooted ultimately in this basic romantic feeling. Both painters engage again and again with the question as to whether and to what extent the interior and the exterior and their reciprocal relation refers to the interior of human beings and the world into which they are born. And furthermore, with the question as to what extent painting, in transcending, can communicate an inkling of lost and therefore longed-for divine wholeness.

As Jon Groom says, "Painting is a journey to simplify the complexity of existence. I believe the approach to painting is all-important". And Sean Scully notes, as if completing the thought, "It suffices to encounter the core of the issue for just a moment "” after that there is nothing more to be said. "¦ in a certain sense, afterwards life does not have any meaning for an artist because your life is this search and the exertion to create this painting that somehow represents truth".

Translated from the German by Michael Eldred, artefact text & translation Cologne