Review: Ocean Campus art gallery–James Groleau

By Lulu Orozco
The Guardsman

Groleau, a self- taught mezzotint artist from Oakland, and former City College art student, is drawn to dark psychological themes. Two of his exhibitions “Blood Bone Elegy” and “The Absence of Passion,” on display until Oct. 26 at the City College Gallery, express the complex suffering caused by war and violence.

Mezzotint, a 400-year-old printmaking technique, requires the use of hand tools to create a texture of tiny pits on a metal plate, a texture that if inked would create a rich velvety black. The artist then uses scraping and burnishing tools to smooth out the texture of the plate, creating the highlights and median tones. Then the plate is inked and placed in a press that transfers the image to paper.

“The technique demands a certain personality: preparing a plate can take up to 40 hours.  It’s a process in which you have to build your image over time, methodically,” Groleau said.

A classic mezzotint would usually be black ink on white paper. “Typically you want to see a very beautiful black, you want that to be part of your imagery,” Groleau said.

However for his “Blood Bone Elegy” series, also called “The War Series,” Groleau used white and black ink printed on orange hand-made paper.

“The War Series” was created three weeks after the 9/11 attack upon the U.S and depicts the outbreak of war through 18 mezzotints grouped into three elements: Passion, Outbreak and Survival.

Human skulls, red flesh, and broken violin strings are depicted in the mezzotint’s visual narrative, which illustrates the prelude to war.

“This was a time of anticipation and fear, I wanted to do something on the outbreak of war,” Groleau said.

His second series, “The Absence of Passion (Portraits of Iraq),” stays true to classic mezzotint style, with black ink on white paper.

In this series 15 mezzotints present the trauma of warfare.  A range of emotional responses to war, from rage to resignation, are reflected through facial expressions partially wrapped in white cloth.

“It started not about Iraq;  more a personal expression of feeling constrained that turned into something broader,” said Grouleau. “Every now and then I get an idea I try to manifest. At times that vision doesn’t come through and I have to move on to the next.”

With most of his preparatory work done from home, he uses the Hunters Point Shipyard studios in San Francisco to put the finishing touches on his work.

His mezzotints have been exhibited at The Collectors Gallery in the Oakland Museum of California, as well as at the Tinhorn Press Gallery in San Francisco.

This year alone Groleau has received two awards from the “2011 Portland Museum of Art Biennial” in Portland, Maine and an Exhibition Award from the “International Mezzotint Festival” in Ekaterinburg, Russia.

Comments are closed.

The Guardsman