Grady Gordon's Ancient Premonitions

Grady Gordon in his studio (photo by Rachel Walther)

Grady Gordon (Illustration 2008) says that he does one thing, and does it well. Since his last year of study at CCA, he's been working almost exclusively in monotypes. This is a (somewhat unpredictable!) printmaking process in which ink is applied directly to a smooth Plexiglas surface, then paper is pressed to the Plexiglas, resulting in one-of-a-kind prints.

Gordon's portraits of demons, goblins, and warriors have a visceral and urgent quality to them. You half-expect his creations to leap off the paper and into the night.

Gordon maintains a deep network in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles art scenes. In spring 2013 he was one of a three-person group show called Some of Its Parts -- together with CCA Painting/Drawing faculty member Yee Jan Bao and fellow alumnus Aaron Hodges (Illustration 2009) -- at Alter Space in San Francisco.

A new exhibition of his work will open at C.A.V.E. Gallery in Venice, California, on October 19, 2013.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm starting a series called sluagh, which is a Gaelic word that means "the unrested dead." This phrase can also mean, in literal terms, "working man," which is an interesting concept for me. We exhaust ourselves at work and can become lifeless task machines.

I'm also working on some stand-alone pieces, and toying with the idea of creating more sculptures based on my characters. I'm building a new body of work for the fall show at C.A.V.E. I like to work as quickly as possible on a series, in order to maintain a consistent mindset.

Does your work depict the way you view humanity?

I try and view humanity as benevolent; I try to see the good in people. I feel that I am depicting a glimpse into the subconscious of society. There is a particular statement by Otto Dix that’s stuck with me through the years: "All art is exorcism. I paint dreams and visions too -- the dreams and visions of my time. Painting is the effort to produce order; order in yourself. There is much chaos in me, much chaos in our time."

Your figures are depicted in a blank, groundless atmosphere.

I love that the figures exist in a bright white emptiness. It focuses all attention on the characters, and there's immediate gratification when you don't have to discern the environment from the characters. I really wanted to explore narrative as a single panel/print and explore the possibilities of taking the floating head into its own microcosm.

Are you steadfast in your monochromatic palette? Do you use straight-up black ink solely, or do you incorporate grays?

I use Gamblin Bone Black etching ink and I reduce it with Gamsol -- that's the gray you see in my prints. There are endless gradients to this single "color." I don’t want to say "never" about color, but I love the stark contrast of black on white. I've tried monotypes with color, but it's just not for me.

What is the size limit of the print you can produce in your personal studio? How are you able to accomplish your larger prints?

I have a 19 x 36 inch press, so I am limited to about a half-sheet (15 x 22). I love the huge press at CCA's Oakland campus, and I've been able to get back on it a few times when I've been invited to speak as a guest artist in the monotype classes. I would love to create work that's life size with really imposing narratives.

Is working large difficult technically?

It's always interesting to wrestle with a five-foot piece of Plexiglas -- and insanely frustrating to tear expensive paper off a roll that size! But working large is very liberating, as I am usually hunched over my plate at home, concentrating on tiny figures.

You created your first sculpture for an exhibition at Alter Space this spring. How did it come about?

It was very spontaneous. I just wanted to see if I could create one of these creatures in three dimensions. The results were surprising, and I loved the process. I plan to make more, and I have a few collaborations planned with artist friends. A Jesus enthusiast came to the gallery and prayed to it, fearing that the "demon" needed an exorcism.

I didn't sell it, and it lives in my garage now. I'm always shocked when I open up the door, having forgotten it's there. Ha!

How did you decide to attend CCA and what faculty members influenced you once you got here?

My dear friend Noah Bartlett (who is now CCA's facilities director on the San Francisco campus) had already convinced me how great CCA was while we were still in high school in Santa Fe. He graduated from CCA with a Film/Video major in 2003. Around that time I was working in commercial illustration and design, and was feeling very stuck in a client-based method of creation.

Monotype freed me and allowed me to become loose and investigate how a composition could happen by subtracting elements rather than adding.

I fell in love with the process; the results were just the icing on the cake. Greg Piatt is the Printmaking faculty member I credit with pointing me in the right direction. He was honest, and his critiques were direct and helped guide my next move. I've never met a more calm and genuine person; we continue to trade prints.

Barron Storey, Yee Jan Bao, Owen Smith, Bob Ciano -- in no particular order -- were all great mentors as well.

Are you influenced by any current work happening in the Bay Area?

Actually, I have tried to build my style as far away as possible from the street art / neo-Pop thing going on. All of my figures are based on some kind of mythological or folklore element. Growing up in New Mexico and absorbing Native American culture and mythology influenced my work. Ultimately, I want to make something you haven't seen before.

How do you find a balance between your work, your family, and your teaching? Have you been able to make ends meet financially and mentally?

It's a very difficult juggling act that I am slowly beginning to get a hold on. But I can't complain! The day job is great, the art scene is heating up nicely, and I love my family.

Is it easy to transition between teaching K-8 at San Francisco Day School and making these figures? Does a "decompression" or "recompression" process need to happen?

Funny you ask. This past year at SFDS I was one of the "Artists of the Month" whose work was studied intensively for a month, along with their influences and creative process. The kids really enjoyed being able to make monotype monsters for a whole month, and it was awesome to be "the celebrity" for them for a while.

When I'm making my personal work or working in a series I like to look inward and listen to punk and metal. I get really weird and zone out into my process.