Noah Grosz is a dynamic and fascinating contemporary artist who works across drawing, painting and sculpture and in doing so engages with a multiplicity of concepts. Through his examination of the built and natural environment he highlights contemporary issues of climate change and the uneasy relationship between humans and the environments they inhabit.
Notions of beauty and the sublime are powerful components of Grosz’s art practice: his work interrogates society’s interpretation of and interaction with our landscapes, and as he notes:
“I consider nature the greatest art and believe that should the world be partially destroyed or affected, as long as there was a person to view it, and there were still aspects in existence, some amazing beauty would remain for us to see and appreciate and this would be enough to sustain us.”
Grosz’s preoccupation with nature began early, through his upbringing on a farm in remote New Zealand. Left to amuse himself, the young Grosz made the surrounding landscape his vast playground, constructing elaborate and convincing characters and stories. His childhood also saw him keeping company with artists and creators – his maternal grandmother had studied as a sculptor and her mother had been a portrait painter. His paternal grandfather on the other hand had escaped from Austria during the Second World War and established himself as a painter and fashion designer. (On arrival in New Zealand he had changed his name to the more English-sounding Gross.) It was in this milieu of creativity that Grosz first realised his interest in the creative arts; yet it would be another twenty years before he was able to undertake formal art training at university.
Grosz engages with a wide range of media, from the traditional painting techniques of the Great Masters, pen-and ink-drawing, constructing architectural forms from balsa wood and natural fibres, utilising lost wax method for casting metal sculptures, and exploiting contemporary commercial techniques such as stencilling and airbrushing with automotive enamels to create slick contemporary paintings. Nevertheless, Grosz considers drawing the key underpinning element of his work: it informs everything he undertakes, and it is sketching that is the genesis of most of his completed works, be it painting or sculpture. Continually seeking new and dynamic media, Grosz fears becoming bored or complacent in his practice and sets himself continual challenges to learn and master new techniques, techniques that in many cases may be untried in an artistic realm.
There is an inherent and seemingly irreconcilable duality in Grosz’s art practice. His love for the natural beauty of the landscape and all this entails is juxtaposed against a fascination with technology and commercial advertising techniques. He also struggles to reconcile issues associated with climate change with the destruction of the landscape, on the one hand recognising that protecting the environment is paramount, while on the other seeing the inevitability of technology and its inexorable change and evolution. Despite the apparent incompatibility of these elements, Grosz successfully portrays an authentic sense of nature and the natural environment, while concomitantly presenting glossy and finessed contemporary paintings and sculptures. He believes that it is impossible to live in society separated from these technologies and, more significantly, that technology may be viewed as an alternative ‘nature’ into which we can escape. Grosz considers the consequences of the irreversible destruction of the landscape and asks whether, at its most extreme, humanity would be plummeted into a primitive existence? Yet, despite this undercurrent of fear and apprehension, there also exists an ineluctable sense of hope, a belief that nature can transcend its own destruction, and our landscapes will prevail...
The cave has figured as a central theme in Grosz’s practice over several years, forming an integral aspect of his oeuvre. His series of cave works take inspiration from his childhood experiences in which he accompanied his father on unofficial archaeological digs at cave sites. (Many years previously his father had been a volunteer for the Christchurch Museum and worked at a number of these dig sites.) Grosz recalls the sense of excitement and trepidation on these trips but, conversely, the feeling of security he felt in these enclosed spaces as he made discoveries and unearthed hidden artefacts. Also at this time Grosz became attracted by the notion of the multiple layers of history, experienced through the archaeology of these caves – a sense of delving into stories through an exploration of the terrain of this particular landscape and the objects hidden within. For Grosz the cave has become a metaphor for the natural world’s countless secrets, some of which still wait to be discovered, others which must remain hidden. The cave also engages with Grosz’s central concern of humanity’s connection to the landscape and the way in which we use and abuse our environment, the theme which informs Grosz’s entire practice.
Grosz’s cave works engage with another sense of multiplicity as the artist wrestles with the infinity of ideas and issues in these works; he invites his viewer to dig deeper into the imagery to unearth the stories and the meanings contained within them. In the foreground of this series of works we see a highly romanticised rendering of the naturally rocky cave walls, undoubtedly alluding to the work of celebrated Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich. Revealed in the centre of the cave, however, is not the anticipated murky gloom, but instead architectural masterpieces reminiscent of Piranesi, the great proponent of architectural drafting. The juxtaposition of built and natural environments creates a somewhat uneasy tension in these works, referring again to the tension Grosz experiences in his everyday existence. Intriguingly, these caves are often painted in strange and sometimes artificial colours, giving rise to incomprehensible and often alien landscapes.
Blockie, one of Grosz’s most iconic sculptures and for which he won the Castlemaine State Festival Dominique Segan Visual Art Award in 2009, is arguably his most ambitious sculpture to date. This imposing but fragile sculpture reiterates the duality inherent in the artist’s practice. Blockie is constructed from the species of Australian native reeds traditionally used by the Indigenous people of central Victoria in weaving and basket-making. These delicate and ephemeral reeds have been glued and bound together to create Blockie, a 1934 Ford Coupe – a car now coveted as an icon of street rod culture. This sculpture encourages a dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and sheds light on the chasm separating these vastly different cultures: the Indigenous peoples of central Victoria take only what they need from the landscape to live – food and shelter – a way of life learnt over many thousands of years of habitation; while the Western colonisers practise consumerism and greed, always aspiring to owning more and continuing to put pressure on the earth’s finite resources.
Working across a diverse range of media and subjects, Noah Grosz is not an artist easily categorised or defined. Nonetheless, there are a number of pivotal ideas which underpin his work, ideas which specifically relate to humanity’s tense relationship with the natural environment. Through his practice, Grosz seeks to shed light on this difficult relationship, highlighting the challenges and ever-present dichotomy we face today – the ongoing and crucial need to protect and rejuvenate the environment, set against the pull and necessity of technology in contemporary life. Grosz is a skilled and dedicated artist who has mastered a varied range of exciting and challenging media to develop inspiring and thought-provoking work, which in turn prompts us to ponder the issues which constitute the soul of Grosz’s oeuvre.
Written by Tansy Curtin