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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Artist GRONK Lives His Life In Ever-Changing Mediums

Kristin Yinger |
September 13, 2010 | 5:48 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Gronk's art wallpapers his own hallway (photo by Kristin Yinger).
Gronk's art wallpapers his own hallway (photo by Kristin Yinger).

It's a name that could never quite blend into the crowd. It is fitting, though, for a native Los Angeles Chicano artist who has not only dabbled--but excelled--in many different areas of the art world.

His resume includes, but is not limited to, performance art, drawing, painting, set-making, print-making, glass work, animation, photography, teaching and now, authoring.

Born Glugio Nicandro, Gronk knew from an early age that “art was always something that [he] would be creating, using his imagination and his hands.”

As a teen Chicano artist amidst the turmoil of the 1970s, his name (“GRONKIE”) was easily recognizable spray-painted on the side of one of the most prestigious art institutions in the nation: the LACMA. But he does not discuss that much nowadays.

During a visit to his home and studio recently, Gronk - a riveting storyteller - began telling of his performance artist days, but quickly shifted toward talk of his current ventures. Gronk feels that his interests are ever-evolving and loves keeping up with new trends and concepts. He names Syrups, Amoeba Music, and LA Live among his favorite haunts and always takes public transportation to get there because he does not drive and has no interest in getting a license.

You can find him on Facebook, where he posts pictures of his work, and on YouTube, where you can see some of his informal interviews filmed in a café. 

But by looking at his home and studio of more than 20 years, you cannot pinpoint old or new in the architecture or style. The mesh of decades leads to a visual feast that has the eye darting all over the rooms in an attempt to absorb it all. Murals fill his hallway and a stand containing large glass brains - remnants of a past in glasswork - accent his "living room."

His building, situated at the edge of Gallery Row near Broadway Street, sits among such a richness and diversity of people that he says he'll never move. He loves the grittiness and the ugliness of the city. There can be a transformation from ugly to beautiful when that grittiness is so intensified that they go full circle and become beautiful, Gronk says.

But beauty was not exactly what he was creating when he was with the performance group ASCO, which means "nausea" in Spanish. They specialized in garnering attention and respect for Chicano artists as well as experimenting with off-the-wall techniques, literally. Some of their most well-known pieces, called “instant murals,” were staged “happenings,” where they duct-taped a member of the group to a downtown wall and then took a picture. Those were only some of the stunts they used to pull back in the 1970s. One of their other clever plans was to set up a dinner table in a street median and then try to eat an entire dinner before the police came.

All of those pieces seemed to pale in comparison to “Spray Paint LACMA” in 1972 when ASCO spray painted their names on the side of the famous gallery. At the time, LACMA refused to show Chicano art, claiming that all Latinos could do was graffiti. ASCO, spurred by these false assumptions, twisted that into a very memorable, ephemeral statement.

Later years found the group pursuing different, separate careers and Gronk found his next career move while running his mouth. He remarked that he could create a piece the size of a football field to someone at MoCA in only two weeks. Bill Viola, from MoCA, took him up on his ambitious claim. Gronk completed the piece in that exact time limit, that same size, and suddenly he was a painter. Painting was something he “happened to be good at” naturally, according to the artist.

He then did shows in galleries all over the world, nonstop. Though he loved the work and traveling he was doing, he did not like the lack of studio time. So he decided to only correspond with galleries in Paris and L.A., though the art world warned him that he was losing out on many chances for exposure and money. He said he decided not to sell out or settle for a lifestyle that did not suit him, so he went his own way. Today, L2Kontemporary gallery in Chinatown represents him and accommodates his creative process, which allows more flexibility.

The physicality of creating a huge painting installment thrills Gronk, and he loves improvising during the process. He says he feels most comfortable in the unknown spaces where he is attempting to create something that he has not achieved before. He stakes much value in small, passing thoughts that may seem inane or incoherent but later could turn into an idea for a project or an exhibition.

“Whenever we come up with an idea, we create a universe—a Big Bang in our heads,” he said. “You can never have doubt, even in the midst of a dark period in your life or in an uncertain part of your creative process."

Photo by Kristin Yinger
Photo by Kristin Yinger
His works are largely abstract, but he does make use of a set of shapes and forms that he sees as letters of his artistic “alphabet.” Just as you use the same set of letters and merely rearrange them in different combinations to create words and ideas in written language, so does he rearrange his visual alphabet. As “an observer of his time,” this alphabet plays a crucial role in allowing Gronk to record and react to outside stimuli.

One such letter is "Tormenta," a woman inspired by 1930s film noir that always appears in a timeless black dress with an open back and opera gloves with her back turned to the viewer (Gronk insists that you can know just as much about a person seeing them from the back as from the front). "Tormenta" adheres to his idea of a strong but glamorous woman who has become one of his signature motifs in his varying mediums. Tormenta means “storm” in Spanish and when seen in his work, she has that same powerful effect that seeing a storm on the horizon does.

Gronk is never one to stick to one medium that he feels safe in, so he turned his unique vision to other endeavors.  The world of theater called him, so he began creating sets for the L.A. Theater and the Santa Fe Opera, among other companies. He also entered the world of movie animation, animating some of the opening sequences for Disney’s Fantasia 2000.

Photography and authoring have been among Gronk’s latest ventures. His new book comes out in October, almost in the style of a graphic novel. Entitled "A Giant Claw,it is based off of the 1957 sci-fi movie of the same name. The ludicrous plot of the movie has an “extraterrestrial giant bird made of antimatter” visit and terrorize Earth. This is yet another example of the humor Gronk manages to convey in a lot of his works.

In the meantime, there is nothing Gronk would like more than to have fans friend him on Facebook or meet him at Syrups to chat about inspiration and creativity. 


To reach reporter Kristin Yinger, click here.

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