The Paintings of Greg Drasler
Born in Waukegan, Illinois in 1952, Greg Drasler is an American painter known for his metaphorical images that explore the formation of identity and memory. His representational work incorporates elements of abstraction, surrealism, and the postmodernist elements of graphic design.
Drasler’s paintings of elaborately constructed interior spaces, symbolic and commonplace objects, and patterned panoramas hold enigmatic puzzles and psychological mysteries that intrigue the viewer’s sense of perception. A major component of his work is the exploration of liminal spaces and thresholds between public and private, real and imaginary, and object and environment. Liminality, in anthropology, is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage. Participants in effect stand at the threshold of their previous self-identification and their new existence established by the rite.
Greg Drasler uses the strategies of bricolage, the creation of a work from a diverse range of objects, to place the viewer in a state of liminality. His images of suitcases, men with hats, automobile interiors, film sets, and the American highway contain symbols, metaphors, visual puzzles and puns. Humor, nostalgia and a sense of the uncanny are contained in these examinations of the Self and its relationship to local culture and both personal space and location.
In the 1960s, Drasler became interested in art as a career through his exposure to the contemporary art of his time. A major influence on his life’s work came from James Rosenquist’s awe-inspiring 1964-65 “F-111”, a painting of fifty-nine interlocking panels that enclosed the viewer. Drasler was also influenced by sculptor Horace Clifford Westermann, a master of traditional carpentry and marquetry techniques, as well as the representational artists of the Chicago Imagists such as Jim Nutt, whose work was inspired by pop culture, and Robert Brown for whom collected art and objects functioned as important source materials.
In 1976, Drasler entered the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to study art. He committed to the medium of painting in 1978 and earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1980. After receiving his degree, Drasler enrolled in the university’s Year in Japan Program, a period which focused his work on the relationship between identity and place presented through the use of domestic functional imagery. After completing his Master of Fine Arts in 1983, Drasler relocated to New York City and began to exhibit his work professionally. The first exhibition of his paintings was in the first “On View” held at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in 1983.
Greg Drasler’s earliest work focused on builder and handyman imagery that served as an allegory for self-construction. His first series, executed between 1987 and 1990, was the “Baggage Paintings”, which depicted plush luggage in random but carefully composed states, either stacked as in “Samson and Delilah” or grouped as in “Baggage Claim”. The meticulously detailed groups of baggage, whose lighting and color were playfully painted, presented allegories of identity, luxury, and privacy. Drasler’s 1990 painting from the series, “His”, depicts two upright traveling trunks in a room. One contains a set of six drawers while the other is opened to reveal an empty space for hanging clothes. The bright golden light that emanates from the interior of the trunk, almost magically, is in stark contrast to the dull interior of the room.
With the support of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in 1991 and a subsequent National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1993, Drasler began “Cave Paintings” which depicted intricately constructed, ornate interior living spaces that served as metaphors for one’s creation of the Self, as well as, the relationship to one’s personal, domestic space. These tableaus with their architecture, wallpaper and fabric were distinguished by human absence and trope-l’oeil obfuscation. The illusionistic perspective and the meld of motifs were designed to create a voyeuristic view of unsettling presence and closely guarded secrets, a similar sensation akin to painter Giorgio de Chirico’s famous piazza paintings. “Cave Paintings’ were first presented at New York’s Queens Museum of Art in 1994, followed by exhibitions in Seattle, Boston and New York.
Greg Drasler’s “Tattoo Parlor” series explored wallpaper patterns and the psychological imprint they have on a room’s occupants. One group from the series was “Jesus Wallpaper”, that consisted of papered walls of loosely rendered iconic images of Jesus and assorted hanging objects; the “Jumping Jesus” installation, for instance, contained hanging auto jumper-cables. Starting in the early 2000s, Drasler’s investigations of liminal spaces included automobile interiors, Hollywood illusionism, and the great American road trip. After seeing cutaway automobile props used in film sets, which exist as both interior and exterior spaces, he employed that image in several paintings including the 2006 “Green Screen” and the 2010 “Internal Combustion”.
With a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship, Drasler drove across country, during which he gathered ideas for what became his “Road Trip”series, expansive vistas of the Midwest that often depicted the vernacular architecture of the American roadhouse. These paintings included large areas of criss-cross patterning, often looking like quilts in the sky, that suggested the vast reach of the landscape and its division into property. A major work of this series was the 2016 six-panel “Stratocaster Suite” which presented a stop-motion sequence in the style of Eadweard Muybridge when displayed across the wall.
Greg Drasler’s essay “Painting into a Corner: Representation as Shelter” was published in editor Joseph Scalia’s 2002 “The Vitality of Objects: Exploring the Work of Christopher Bollas”, published by Continuum Press, London, and Wesleyan Press. He collaborated with poet Timothy Liu for the 2009 “Plolytheogamy” published in 2009 by Philadelphia’s Saturnalia Press; it was comprised of interleaved images of Drasler’s paintings and Liu’s poetry. Drasler has taught and lectured at schools, including Princeton University, Pratt Institute for the past twelve years, Williams College, Hofstra University, and Montclair State University. Starting in 2007, he has been represented by New York’s Betty Cuningham Gallery on the Lower East Side.
Notes: A biographical narrative by Greg Drasler on his life, as well aa contact information and video projects, can be found at the artist’s site located at: https://www.drasler.com
More information on Greg Drasler’s work can be found at the Betty Cuningham Gallery website located at: http://www.bettycuninghamgallery.com/artists/greg-drasler
Second Insert Image: Greg Drasler, “Green Room”, Cave Painting Series, 1997, Oil on Canvas, 177.8 x 127 cm, Private Collection
Third Insert Image: Greg Drasler, “Houdini”, 1987, Oil on Canvas, 177.8 x 152.4 cm, Private Collection
Fourth Insert Image: Greg Drasler, “Wiggle Room Post It”, Wiggle Room Series, 2000, Oil on Canvas, 147.3 x 132 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: Greg Drasler, “Slide Lecture”, Cave Painting Series, 1995, Oil on Canvas, 147.3 x 132.1 cm, Private Collection