Alfonso Gratrix or The_Fonzzzzzz as he is known to his two-hundred odd Instagram followers appears to be as excited as I am to meet him. This pooch is the surprising inspiration behind Georgina Gratix’s new exhibition, Puppy Love, at the Smac Gallery in Woodstock. A number of still life works feature this lovable pug, there are portraits of him, a wall in the gallery is devoted to paintings of him and other dogs and there are numerous ‘painted sculptures’ of dogs.
Gratrix clearly is a little gaga for dogs, but I suspect the doggy theme might also have something to do with her odd desire not to be taken seriously as an artist. Or at least not to make “serious art.” Call it a backlash against conceptualism, art or painting itself. Not that she considers herself a painter.
“I’m an artist who works with paint,” she says, as we stroll into a room in the gallery to discuss her work.
Apparently there is a difference between being a painter and using paint. If it was not obvious before it might be now with her new exhibition, which includes an installation with her paintings and a cornucopia of second hand objects that have been treated to her distinctive impasto painting style, which is defined by excess.
The result is that her subjects or subject-matter are distorted and come off looking grotesque.
“No one ever likes how they look in my paintings,” she observes, while we stand in front of The Misfits, a portrait of a couple with hairy faces that remind me of Cousin Itt, the hairy character from the Adams Family movies. She admits that this painting is “an anti-painting” – a dark doppleganger painting born from a commission to do a portrait of a couple to mark their 30th wedding anniversary.
“I was struggling with it and I wasn’t enjoying it, so I started this as a retaliation. No body wants a grotesque face in their portrait,” she says.
Gratrix resists making anything traditionally beautiful. It is as if she is driven by this perverse pleasure to ‘sabotage’ her work or the clichéd motifs she gravitates towards; tropical plants, parrots, dogs and flowers. Lots of flowers.
“There is a fine line between loving something and being revolted by it and it becomes disgusting,” she says.
This interplay sums up her response to Irma Stern or Maggie Laubsher’s paintings, which she both abhors and in an odd way also pays homage to through her own interpretation of their aesthetic.
“I think their work is really kitsch. I am not looking and thinking: ‘wow’. But I am moved, I am enthralled too. I can’t stop looking at their work because it is ugly.”
It is her process and a seeming dissatisfaction with her own work which prompts her to paint over a painting up to ten times or more in some cases. These layers might be obscured but they accumulate lending her canvases their distinctive sculptural feel.
This is why the found-object sculptures on exhibition at Puppy Love seem like a natural extension of her practice. They also allow her to delay settling on a single image and treat her paintings with less reverence as they are reduced to just another set of objects.
She is not making any sort of grand ideological statement with Puppy Love. Instead, she presents something more honest and genuine; her love for The_Fonzzzzzz. He is lovable, cute, and ugly, a bit like her work. - this article was first published in The Times. Smac Gallery sponsored the story, though they had no say in its creation.
Puppy Love shows at Smac Gallery, Woodstock until April 4