Gabriel Grun‘s work is heavily influenced by renaissance and baroque paintings and it shows. Openly sexual, and unabashed about everything that he wants it to be, Gabriel’s work is a world of fantasy, of the myths and legends of humanity laid out in full color, full splendor. Colorful and gorgeous, his paintings draw you into their warm, waiting arms and hold you there.
What is the inspiration for your work?
I paint mainly figurative scenes of classic influence, where the landscape is as important as the different modifications and circumstances in which the figures are presented. The ideas come from sources such as actual admired paintings of old masters, my own diverse lectures, engravings and so on, anything that catches my attention and lasts enough on my mind, is viable to be expressed in pictorial form. A painting takes a long time to do, and effort, so it must be worth it. The results, however, tend to be quite similar among themselves, they are family, in some way. I really don’t step outside of a series of self-imposed rules about how a painting should be, what makes it interesting, the ABC of figure, landscape and so on. I guess I decided long ago, based on my own tastes in painting, which were the boundaries of great art works, nothing outside what Durer might have made, nothing out of what was available to Cranach, Bronzino… I trust in that you can go in circles, digging on the same spot and finding always something interesting in the same spot. A good Madonna doesn’t spoil or invalidate another. Painting is weird, photography doesn’t replace it, neither does cinema. I prefer to limit myself and truly master the elements of my expression, not that I consider I have attained such mastery yet, but you have to be realistic about your goals, masterworks are attainable, life is short, eyesight limited, someone has to realize the great images the old masters didn’t have time to finish.
Why did you give the Hermaphrodita a penis? What is the meaning of the bat and the orb? What does symbology mean to you and how do you use it in your work to convey meaning? Do you think people will understand what you are trying to say with the symbols you have chosen?
In this painting the figurative elements come directly from an alchemical print of the 1600, so the strangeness rises from the transposition of the differing languages of black and white print to oil and color. But this was common in the past, corresponding with the many uses of traditional painting practice I intend to help keep alive, this translation from drawing to painting, or fresco and so on. I do study my sources, beyond the primary visual appeal, the bat here stands for the joining of two worlds, air and earth, in one nature, the explicit joining of the sexes means to be pedagogical or descriptive, not more. Symbols are very malleable and adapt well to any purpose, but more than that I intend to enjoy the very use of the language, of the special connection you make with the viewer when a code of understanding is established, it is a bit like sharing the knowledge of the rules of a game and relishing in it. I hope most people can see through the symbols, but it is not indispensable for their enjoyment, just as many symbols have lost their meaning to us but we still perceive they have one thus adding to their mystery.
In Emperador y Emperatriz you’ve removed the sex organs, nipples, penis, and vagina, and placed them on flesh covered orbs. Why? Each individual is holding their own organs, how far have you really removed them? Is the action more than superficial? What is the greater meaning?
The Emperor and Empress of Tarot are at the heart of this duo. The image came suddenly of the typical orbs regents are frequently accompanied with, joined with the defining organs of their sexuality, the result was more explicit than planned, and I actually think this detracts or distracts from other aspects of the work. The clouds were something daring for me to do, and I was happy with the final look. They are presenting the orbs to one another and thus remain as smooth dolls, perhaps enjoying a rare relief from their own characterizised personae.
What does nudity mean to you? What does it mean in the context of your work? What about the human form appeals to you? Much of your work is self portraiture, how does it feel to expose yourself so wholly?
Well I take my own image as a starting point, and then modify it freely, as you can gather from the differences between paintings, but even so there is a psychological component that cannot be denied. I have stopped, for example, showing me nude in my latest works, I started to feel more and more uncomfortable about it as my daughter, now 6 years old, was growing and I began feeling a bit of unease about how to present what I do to her in the future, this extended a bit and generalized to envelope how I present my work as a whole. For a long time I shielded this nudity choice in the precedent of classical art, but I began to see explicit sexuality and shock as too easy and juvenile, and have began to distance from such interests, this is a bit recent, in fact. I would be happy if this does not cause disappointment as I believe my most interesting works are yet to come.
Tell us about the woman covered in nipples with the female peacock. Who is she? Where does she come from? Why have you chosen to depict her as bald? You have a man covered in eyes with a male peacock, why eyes for the man when you gave the woman nipples?
Nice deduction, these works are years apart but yes, they are connected. The man was first and a rendering of Argos from the Greek myth, who had a hundred or thousand eyes depending on versions and so was the perfect guardian chosen by Hera to guard Io, that is myth for you, it goes on… The theme included a peacock as symbol of sight and in the story it got its eye-like plumes from Argos, and later the idea expanded to make a tandem with a personification of Touch, linked with sculpture and so with an albino peacock, in the female painting. Here the nipples came naturally as a representation of the touched instead of the touching, as a body full of fingers did not appeal to me visually. She lost her hair as a means to highlight the feeling of skin and allow for more nipple space, as such fictions should have and follow their own logic, if she is covered then the scalp should be no exception, and hair here would be inconvenient.
What’s going on in Nari Asva? How long did the piece take you to paint? There are only two characters that whose sex is clear, and they are both women, are all the characters women? Why are thee characters in the position you have chosen? Where is this?
I took the idea from an old illustration of Hindu legend/myth, of shepherdesses devoted to Krishna who make the shape of a horse, in the original they were mounted by him. In the tradition of optic games I felt attracted to the idea of playing with the contour, fitting the bodies but treating them realistically, this is a method I use a lot, imagining how different visual ideas would look like if painted by a Renaissance or Barroque painter, then my luck is to be able to give body to these playful wanderings of the mind. The same I did for another piece, Allegory of the approximation to Infinity, where I also made a visual game of fractal repetition according to the golden rule to fit a naturalistic rendering of the figure. Translating an idea into a form is one thing, but the next step is creating a compelling image that is realistic and avoids, I like to think, that surreal aura by reaching back towards an aged look, a classical stile, sort of what happens when one looks at Archimboldo, that is what I aim at.
Who, or what, are your artistic sources of inspiration? Where or what do you do when you’re feeling uninspired, or have a block?
I try my best to keep the road of ideas unblocked, really, not wanting to force anything, there have been times when I feel I have been repeating things a bit, like what should a Grun painting be, or include, at one point I was beginning to sense my landscapes repetitive, so I avoided them by taking my images to another genre, like neutral backgrounds from Flemish portraits, interiors and so on, but then again landscapes are coming back now, naturally, the crucial thing seems to be to have no prejudices at the moment an idea comes, and it feels like it comes all by itself, some you can think back and see were they came from, what you stored in your mind, others just stick there. I do not paint so much as to have many blocks, when I am finished with one painting there has almost always been time for some idea to have grown and claim full attention, meanwhile the one I am painting takes all of my concentration, even if I am taking my time. I sort of surprise myself with which ones come out well, at times they were not the most ambitious or promising ideas, or I have the intention not to let, for example, humour, in, and then a series of works emerge that just go their own way, ideas can be very capricious, I just try to follow them, and it amazes me the amount of effort and patience I can invest in a seemingly wistful beginning.
What are you working on at the moment? Which of all your pieces is most meaningful for you?
A good example of the above said, I was reading Ambroise Pare, a french surgeon from the XV that wrote about monsters and prodigies and a woodcut he took from somewhere else attracted my attention, it was a man born without arms (probably the most common of the cases displayed) who was reportedly able to use an axe and whip just with his shoulders and neck, and played dice and cards with his legs, and then a short story of how he ended up executed for some crimes, the image just blended with the Magician from Tarot Arcana and the esoteric abilities somehow were for me nicely expressed by the absence of limbs, so I imagined the color of a big coat, red, maybe leather, furred on the inside, and the idea was strong in my mind, even if I seldom prefigure the colors. At this moment the figure and landscape is painted, the coat is missing and a lot of extra elements scattered around on the floor. There will be a lot of references and quotes, I think it will add to the final image, if you want it to be immortal, it is worth it to take all the pains necessary!