by Shana Nys Dambrot
Consciousness itself is an accumulation, engineered by synthesis and deliberation, a refractive processing of layered experiences and memories that is both random and selected. Every sense of self and precept about existence is a bricolage, built over time in events and in dreams, taking on its most fulfilled shapes only in retrospect. And so it is the photo-based mixed media art of Rob Grad, whose techniques and materials simultaneously depict and embody this dynamic structure, being both composed and physically built from pieces of his story.
Grad’s materials and approaches include painting, drawing, and shaping plexiglass — but it is photography that is fundamentally operational in his compositions. Whether person, object, or landscape (and often more than one at a time), Grad works from photographs which are crucially all images he has taken himself over the years, digital and analog, remembered and stumbled across. To the extent that his collage-like process appropriates the past, it is his own — a photogenic array of memories, moments, and milestones of his own identity.
In his recent body of work, “I Got This,” Grad makes his innovative material and cognitive choreography absolutely explicit, piecing together progressive versions of himself that include the young dreamer, the cocky early success, the politically agitated, the humbled spiritualist, the confident present, and the future optimist. It’s worth noting that although his iterative process is labor-intensive and detail-oriented, Grad’s storytelling is not without a certain cheeky humor. His final compositions, in a sense, are both found and made, assembled as though by chance and yet already part of a whole. This is a compelling narrative metaphor, especially for self-portraiture, but Grad goes on to make it literal.
Some of the pieces in his life’s image archive are used whole, as they are, some are disarticulated, some are mined for qualities of pure color and abstract texture. Rich in autobiography as the portraits are, Grad’s breakthrough techniques are no less compelling when deployed within the landscape and architectural idioms. With abstract elements and images of trees, coastlines, and rolling hills, or buildings, city streets, and skylines, Grad’s pictorial spaces expand to encompass familiar dualities such as the natural / urban, chaotic / serene, and organic / fabricated.
As each pictorial world comes together, Grad intervenes in its dimensionality with his signature use of laser-cut plexiglass, which augments the composition with the shadows it casts, which appear and exist inside the image. This is an effect retained and rarefied from Grad’s previous works, which were experiments with the same slate of materials, but which have coalesced into an impactful artistic lexicon. This not only enlivens the aesthetic presence of the work with a sense of objecthood, but amplifies the relationship between image, material, and the artist’s multivalent process that informs their meaning.
– Shana Nys Dambrot
Art Critic, Art Editor, LA Weekly Magazine
Los Angeles, 2018