George Grace has worn many hats in his lifetime: artist, art teacher & exhibition juror, arts author; playwright, poet, fiction writer, investigative reporter-columnist; tournament chess player (prize round in three World Opens); volleyball player/referee/coach; campaign manager; social activist; steelworker; carpenter; housepainter—all of which he attributes to a lack of any meaningful gainful employment after 9/77’s closing of the steel plants in WNY.
He served four terms as president of the Buffalo Society of Artists. His work has been shown in numerous galleries, including the Albright-Knox; the Burchfield-Penney Art Center; the Steel Plant Museum; Nashville’s Parthenon; and North Tonawanda’s Carnegie Art Center, and has been included in many national and regional exhibitions. He also did nine, city-commissioned, works for Community Canvases, which can be seen (underneath graffiti) on electrical utility boxes along Hertel Avenue and on the corner of Elmwood and Bidwell in Buffalo. He has conducted many workshops and demonstrations for numerous art societies. His how-to articles have been featured in Pastel Journal, Artis Spectrum, and Art Calendar magazines. In August 2020, he joined 29 other artists in the Buffalo Society of Artists’ Video Archive Project, a program he started in 2009.
THE ART OF GEORGE GRACE
Neoluminist. Technoluminist. Both terms apply to the art of George Grace. Ever in pursuit of a rare perspective, a different view, a kind of representation seldom seen, yet emergent, with the stroke of a pastel stick, or the twist of his paintbrush, George Grace tries to separate himself, in terms of subject matter and style, from other representational artists while paying homage to so many who came before him.
Applying the idea of the “Civilized Landscapes” of George Inness and the moods and settings of Edward Hopper and Charles Burchfield to the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Grace believes that Neoluminism, or “new light” art represents a revival of representational art–post-postmodern realism. And Technoluminism–the light of technology–is a more specific brand of neoluminism in that it relies upon some technological manifestation of the human presence in the artwork.
“I try to avoid clichés,” he says. “I have been asked to paint flowers and wildlife,” for example. I have nothing against them, but they’re like love poems–everyone has tried them, endlessly, so it’s hard to come up with something new. If you do them, you have to be truly fresh, and when you go over well-covered territory in a fresh way, it can be spectacular.
“Monet felt he had little to add to the world of portraiture art by painting portraits, and there are very few faces in his art. I feel that way about flowers, wildlife, rustic, Euro, and other subjects I feel have saturated the art market.”
Which is why so much of his work has been dedicated to urban landscapes, industrial landscapes, and nightscapes–not run-of-the-mill themes.
“Urban landscapes mark the time in which they are painted; they are dynamic; dramatic; ever-changing; while nightscapes are probably the most overlooked niche in art,” he says. “I went for it because there is so much beauty in the night, so much dramatic potential, and yet it is so neglected. Much of that, admittedly, is the night owl in me.”
Of course, nightscapes are nothing new in art, going back before Van Gogh painted one of his most beloved and best-known masterpieces, “Starlit Night.”
But the challenge is to present it in ways that mark the time in which it is painted–hence the “neo” part of his neoluminist art.
The “techno” prefix occurs when the hard and straight lines of human construct and the lighting peculiar to our time are mingled with the evanescent shapes and lighting of nature–e.g., a steel plant or movie marquis under a full moon; an automobile, at dusk, parked on the side of a desert road; the halo of auto headlamps in a blizzard; automobiles driving into the sunshine out of a heavy rainstorm. His works often have neon signs or sodium-vapor lights because they cast rich and sometimes eerie light on their surroundings, and clearly mark the time in which they are used.
“Nature creates the mood; the human presence modifies it, often interrupting it. In my work, the human presence, while not often seen, is almost always implied.”
Another thing one often sees in Grace’s art: automobiles.
“Automobiles are a necessary evil, and certainly one of the great technical achievements of our species–not only ever-present, but clogging up every square inch of our lives in disturbingly increasing numbers. They are at once ugly and beautiful, and many of the economies of the world run on their production, sales, and disposal,” he says.
“They may bring the end of the human race through hydrocarbon emissions, but in the meantime are integral to our comfort, feeling of power through choice, incessant need for status, expression of taste (or lack thereof) and are the ultimate tool of our wanderlust. And, they serve as convenient symbols of the moment they were created–and put into an artwork. What images, for example, come to mind when a Model-T, a ’62 Corvair, or a ’68 Mustang is shown or sung about? And what is America without automobiles?”
And yet, Grace doesn’t confine himself to just the type of art that he favored so much as to coin the term neoluminism. He loves portraiture, nature/Southwestern/winter/mountain/water theme landscapes, and architectural and industrial subjects.
“They all have the potential to be clichés, so I try to choose my subject matter carefully,” he says. “Maybe I can present it in a new way; then again, sometimes I fall flat–that’s one of the occupational hazards of being an artist, and certainly a part of being human.”
To paraphrase from the movie American Beauty, there is so much beauty in the world, in the ordinary, in the things we too often ignore or look past. As an artist, I feel an obligation to chase and capture it, and give it back to the world.∎