Jennifer Grote’s work on display at Indian Hill Gallery is an exhibit for our time, for the very moment in which we are living. A large number of the works were completed in 2020. The title of one even references social distancing. But this show is not about the terrors of the virus or the social and political turmoil engulfing the country. It is about the solace of white, the infinity of the circle, the stability of the square. Grote, a registered nurse and Art Academy of Cincinnati graduate, offers art that takes us beyond the confines of our present distress into a larger realm of being.
The show contains eleven large and nine smaller paintings. Several of the paintings are parts of a series. There are also four of Grote’s signature paper constructions and one three-dimensional work in porcelain and aluminum, mediums she has used to great effect in the past. The works are displayed so that it is possible to stand in the middle of the spacious gallery and take in the bulk of the show with one continuous glance. Doing this, I was struck by the overwhelming presence of the color white.
The paper constructions are made from repurposed sterilization paper used to test operating room instruments. This off-white paper is surprisingly appealing in its texture and hue. The paintings are full of colors from a palette so unique to this artist it would take an eye more skillful than mine to properly identify them. These colors are most often set against backgrounds of brilliant, almost antiseptic white. The result is a sense of a world flooded with light.
Grote’s repeated use of two elemental shapes, the circle and the square, is another source of the harmony I felt viewing this show. This is most apparent in two large paper constructions. “Acts of Contrition” consists of four square panels, each with 25 protruding circular cup-like shapes attached to the panels. This orderly composition is enlivened by the play of the shadows cast by the gallery lighting as it strikes the cups. The work addresses the fundamental way our minds are comforted by light, soft texture, and the repetition of patterns.
“Transformations, #1, #2, #3,” another paper construction, is more dynamic. Thick square pads of paper are affixed to three adjoining panels. Circular holes have been bored in the center of each pad and the torn out pieces of paper are scattered at the base of the installation, like leaves fallen from a tree. A few of the pads are pulled apart, extending outward accordion like. The effect is organic, of a composition decomposing in the natural order of things. Despite their lack of color, both paper works have mesmerizing visual appeal.
Grote’s colors are her own. She mixes distinct versions of yellows, greens, reds, and blues that are beautiful even when it is challenging to name them properly. The colors, with slight variations, are repeated sparingly within an individual work or within a series. “The Act of Assembling” is a large triptych in which linked, uneven circles are imposed upon quadrilaterals, all set against a pure white background. The playful composition suggests construction paper cutouts piled on top of one another. Muted colors accentuate stronger hues. Grote uses a similar composition in another pair of paintings and in a work called “Social Non Distancing.” Encountering that title, I realized there is something else going on in these paintings. We are linked, even when our circles cannot intersect.
In a show with many highlights, I was drawn particularly to three abstract paintings. “Circles Big and Small, We Are All the Same” is divided into a grid of rectangles and squares, each containing symmetrically arranged circles of different sizes. The colors in this painting are the richest in the show. The jewel-like circles suggest something precious is being contained within the enclosures. “Flight of the Butterfly,” on the other hand, is almost all black and white. There are no circles and squares here, only the erratic path of a butterfly as it courses through a garden. The unseen butterfly becomes its path, an imaginative masterstroke on Grote’s part.
For me, the single most beautiful work in the show is “Abstraction with Graphite and Pink,” a large acrylic from 2020. A muted shade of pink, bordering on beige, dominates the painting. Strong tones of graphite and ochre and areas of white accentuate this soft color. There are patterns: a grid of circles in one corner and towers of black filled with tiny white dots in another. The title could belong to a 1950’s era Abstract Expressionist painting. Like such predecessors, this is a work of wholeness, not particularities, a flowing composition of light and dark suffused with the soothing presence of beige-pink.
I may be reading too much of Grote’s background in nursing and the pandemic into this show. These days we cannot escape medical metaphors. Still, in her pairing of light and color, her stabilizing patterns, her adjoining panels and series of paintings, Jennifer Grote presents us with carefully assembled works of art that give hope that someone is taking care, that the world in which we live is being held together.
Since the pandemic began, Indian Hill Gallery has adhered to its original schedule of exhibits, mounting impressive shows month after month. Kudos to owner Russell Adams and Exhibition Coordinator Casey Dressell for this. The gallery is easy to find, offers plenty of parking, and is large enough to allow for safe social distancing. Mindful Comparisons runs through January 10, 2021. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to see this show in person.