23 Chunks of Being:
Gregory Grieve’s Experiments in Transmitting Pure actuality
18. Painterly Realism of a White Guy in Two Dimensions
(or, Four White Rectangles)
Acrylic paint on canvas
“The square is not a subconscious form. It is the creation of intuitive reason. The face of the new art. The square is a living, regal infant. The first step of pure creation in art.”
― Kasimir Malevich
In the Fall of 2017, Grieve realized he was white. It is neither that he suddenly became white, nor that if you had asked him before if he was white, he would have answered negatively. Instead, before this time, because he was white, he had not really had to think about race and how it matters.
What changed is that Grieve read the book, Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, by Richard Delgado, and Jean Stefancic from the University of Alabama School of Law. Grieve was persuaded that racism is not an individual moral failure, but rather a form of systematic oppression baked into the very fabric of American society. Critical race theory examines the intersection of race, society, and law in the United States. It argues that race is not biologically grounded and natural but is rather a socially constructed category, which is used to oppress and exploit people of color. Critical race theory also maintains that racism is not an aberration, but rather a systematic and normalized feature of American society.
In Painterly Realism of a White Guy in Two Dimensions (or Four White Rectangles) Grieve explores how racialized cultural codes are encoded and then decoded. The piece alludes to Suprematism (Супремати́зм), an early twentieth-century art movement that focused on the fundamentals of geometry (circles, squares, rectangles). Grieve made Four white Rectangles by first taking five photographs of his skin from different parts of his body and then, using a computer program, blended them into one color, which he titled “Greg.” He then took “Greg” and had a quart of paint color-matched and blended using his local hardware store’s spectrophotometer. Grieve then painted the four canvases in “Greg” and then silkscreened over them using a slightly whiter tones the typical, even kitsch, mainstream American symbols.