The Meaning of Words in the Work of Tm Gratkowski
Tm Gratkowski’s “Epithelia” at Walter Maciel
By Genie Davis
On exhibit through October 29th at the Walter Maciel Gallery is Tm Gratkowski’s second solo with the gallery, Epithelia.
Astonishingly delicate and yet at the same time powerfully present, the LA-based artist’s two and three-dimensional collages are fluid and sculptural. Created on molded concrete, stock paper, and wood panels, as mobiles and free-standing sculptures, as flat surfaces and surfaces with projections woven outward, these works run a wide gamut of shapes and forms, appearing like frozen, colorful ocean waves, holiday ribbons, crumpled paper, and geometric patterns that evoke small cities and large, literate dreams.
Gratkowski’s work creates an entirely fresh approach and dimension to each individual art space. Where sculpture and collage do not commonly coalesce, here viewers see a passionate connection of pattern, shape, depth, and color. Many pieces shimmer with light and gloss, silver leaf dazzles, work suspended from the ceiling trembles with shadow and air, and shifts in perception from the angles at which viewers stand, in front of, under, alongside.
It is perception itself that is being played with here, and the meaning that our own unique perception brings to these works.
With a title that by definition refers to covering a surface, selective absorption, and sensation, the show precisely emulates just that: the collage coverings create a sensation that is selectively absorbed by viewers through these bold and exploratory artworks.
One of the most fascinating elements of the exhibition is the fact that despite – or because of – the vibrant layering and often rich stained glass colors – the overall mood of the Epithelia is elegiac. From sculptures that bloom like strange flowers or packaging decorations gone wild, all pinwheel shapes and shine, to cool, two- dimensional panels, there is a strong sense of being in- tune with something deeper than ourselves, a theme certainly reflective of the dimensionality of the works.
Alone in a smaller gallery space is “101 Bad Words.” Here, paper shipping tags dangle from the ceiling, suspended by sheer wire as if strung there by magic. Each tag has a letter cut from paper that has been collaged, grouped together by color to spell words that are considered obscene or foul. As art, the work is mesmerizing, in motion, reflecting the change exemplified by the cutout letters. Two vertical works identify each word by a color palette, one with the cutout letters, revealing the manipulation and control of language. It is interesting that a piece that has such a floating, light quality deals with such a weighty subject: the contrast of content and form is beautifully taut.
In the next several galleries, the collage nature of Gratkowski’s abstract work is highlighted through texture and depth. The wooden panels that form his “Polyphony” are coated in faux silver leaf and studded with geometric patterns that correspond to the number of gun-related deaths in the U.S. As in “101 Bad Words,” the art form, its precise and almost ethereal look, forms a strong contrast to the harsh content of the piece. One looks twice not only to explore the visual layers, but to examine the layers of meaning. Opposite this piece, viewers are struck by the grey and purple colors of “Your Humanity,” another multi-panel work that highlights words and their meaning. The artist combines a pointed commentary on contemporary life – repeating the word “your” across the panels – with a visual pattern that repeats and disrupts. Dimensional collage encourages viewers to “dig into” the painting’s folds of paper that extend outward in stylized swirls and curls from the surface.
In the final gallery space, viewers move from flat surfaces and raised elements on those surfaces to full on sculpture. “Emotional Release of Energy” appears to be thrown onto its mirrored pedestal, or rather hovering just above it. The burst-flower explosion of paper stock here includes collage elements of film posters and fashion magazines. The titular energy is a life force compressed and about to be released, and contrasts with other works by the artist that resemble unrolled film spools, ribbons, and curves. This piece stands out not only for its position within the exhibition, but by powerfully encapsulating both verbal meaning and emotion.
Highly tactile, Epithelia leaps at viewers, pulls them in, devours the lines between surface and depth, and offers multi-layers of seemingly sentient visual beauty along with its multiple levels of intellectual content.
Walter Maciel Gallery is located at 2642 S La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles in the heart of gallery row.