Argentine-born artist Gabriel Grun paints with an unusually sure hand. His paintings and drawings recall those of the Renaissance and Baroque masters he emulates in his work: Rembrandt, Durer, Memling, Van Eyck, Caravaggio, Holbein, and Ribera. He structures these his figures with compositions as geometrical as anything that Da Vinci and Raphael ever did. He pays particular attention to the details in landscape, musculature, and physiognomy. His drawings, especially, confirm that he’s as much devoted to technique as he is to expression. As befits an artist who works in the Renaissance, his themes are classical: Aphrodite; Leda; the Fates; Saint Sebastian; Galatea; Danae; and Arachne. The faces are contemplative, pensive, brooding, perhaps. These figures deal with weighty issues, issues that define the human condition. And yet there’s a serenity about them, a stoicism that, along with the gravitas of the manner in which Grun renders them, makes them heroic.
And yet, it’s this manner in which they’re rendered that neutralizes the grotesqueness of the expression. The figures are nude; that nudity is put on display, like a celebration; but they’re not pristine. Grun craters skin, he distorts limbs like pretzels. A woman’s hair, all of it, reaches Rapunzel proportions. An Emperor and Empress wield their respective ornaments: he, a penis, she, a breast. In a piece called “Suicide,” the male figure aims his arrow up, as if he kills himself by killing the mythological gods.
The work is surprising, to put it mildly, but it’s not horrific. It can’t be, when the style and conception are so measured, so calculated, so confident. No matter the subject matter, we’re held in thrall. Grun convinces us that there’s another side to classicism, a side that shows a reality show version of Eden, one that these paintings confirm, even if we can’t necessarily wrap our heads around the idea.