A visit with Geoff Grace is all about finding things. Upon visiting his Baltimore home, I began to find all sorts of interesting things in his environment: stacks of artwork that are waiting for a home, a tumbleweed atop an old school desk, artwork that is hung in the corners of the rooms, an old brownie camera, a birdhouse fashioned to resemble the brownie camera. I started to realize this experience of collection and discovery is reflected in the process of his work.
Educated as a biologist, Geoff spent time finding things in nature. He searched for the expected elements and relished the subtle differences in creatures and plant life. His photography is a process that gives slight variations on the expected. Classic cameras provide surprises such as light leaks or distortion on the film. When printing, he will often rub things onto the lens to print a unique ethereal quality to each image.
Over the years, he has built a large series of drawings of circles. He repeats the circular shape over and over until he reaches the best circle he can create without the aid of tools. These small, quick drawing also provide a break from larger, more daunting projects.
As with most artists, Geoff is always searching for space. In the depths of his basement, he created a small darkroom. Although this area allows him the luxury of a wet printing process, it restricts him from making large scale work. Often times, Goeff will make use of gallery space when preparing for a show during the installation period. This allows him to create the larger and bulkier pieces that his own studio does not provide.
We left his studio space and headed to School 33, where his work was on exhibit. The first thing you notice when you walk into the space is the elephant in the room. Literally. Created out of papier-mâché and partially supported by a forked branch crutch, the large elephant skeleton is given an earthy color from the clay slip painted over its surface.
His interest in the natural sciences is also reflected in his butterfly collection where he has created his own species and sub-species. Drawn, photographed and printed, these specimens go through their own growth process before being pinned in an enclosed case – the same kind one would find in a natural history museum.
Other elements of metamorphosis are also on display with his pictures of clouds, plants and, most importantly, people. The figures I see in his photographs are his own high school students. He captures their image in a blurry, non-specific way. At a time when they are undergoing their change, Geoffrey Grace documents that moment but cannot define it.
Geoff Grace is the 2008 winner of the prestigious Sondheim Prize.