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Gronk: Taking a look behind the curtain

February 25, 2007|Hugh Hart | Special to The Times

LIKE most people who've lived in the same place for 19 years, the artist Gronk has accumulated a lot of stuff. Unlike most people, this 52-year-old is visited every Tuesday night by a team of student archivists. Wearing plastic gloves, they sift through decades' worth of notes, letters, paper napkin doodles, postcards and sketches, packing the documents into bins that will eventually be shipped to UCLA and scanned for posterity.

Of course, not everything fits into the bins. Gronk, dressed in work boots, black T-shirt and paint-splattered jeans, surrounds himself with artifacts, remnants and works in progress piled around the cavernous downtown loft that has long served as his studio and home. A freshly painted canvas lies on the floor, waiting to be framed by congenial assistant Ed Sanchez. Next to sculptures of his mythic persona, La Tormenta, sits a crenulated globe Gronk molded at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., and used for his animated film "BrainFlame," shown at the LodeStar Planetarium in Albuquerque in 2005. Propped against a potted plant on the fourth-floor rooftop patio is a tattered sign for the Hotel Senator, the nearby onetime house of prostitution that inspired Gronk to create his brooding "Hotel Zombie" and "Hotel Tormenta" gallery shows in the early '90s.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday February 27, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Max Benavidez: An article in Sunday's Arts & Music section about the Latino artist Gronk referred to the author of a new book about him as Max Benavides. The writer's last name is Benavidez.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 04, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Max Benavidez: An article in the Arts & Music section on Feb. 25 about the Latino artist Gronk referred to the author of a new book about him as Max Benavides. The writer's last name is Benavidez.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 08, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Gronk art: A photograph of the painting "Enter Tormenta" by the artist Gronk on the Feb. 25 Arts & Music cover was incorrectly credited to the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. It was taken by Kim Kosai for the Carnegie Art Museum.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 11, 2007 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo credit: A photograph of the painting "Enter Tormenta" by the artist Gronk on the Feb. 25 Arts & Music cover was incorrectly credited to UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. It was taken by Kim Kosai for the Carnegie Art Museum.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 11, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Gronk art: A photograph of the painting "Enter Tormenta" by the artist Gronk on the Feb. 25 Arts & Music cover was incorrectly credited to the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. It was taken by Kim Kosai for the Carnegie Art Museum.

Gronk, who never learned to drive, remains ever-mindful of the hustle and flow that uncoils outside his window. "I walk out of this studio onto Spring Street and to me it's like Fellini's 'Satyricon,' " he says over a cup of intense home-brewed coffee. "People say Los Angeles is perhaps ugly, dirty, grimy, but if you scratch below the surface, there's beauty. Finding things that most people would disregard, those are the things I latch onto. You're constantly bombarded with all this information, so it's always been about taking in all kinds of sources, pushing the boundaries of things, exploring the unknown. You try something, see what happens."

Gronk's experiments as a muralist, performance artist, painter, set designer and conceptual provocateur have hardly gone unnoticed. Next week he receives yet another dose of Major Artist treatment with publication of a scholarly monograph offering a midcareer overview of his life and work. "Gronk," sold as a $20 paperback or a $60 hardback that includes a documentary DVD, inaugurates "A Ver: Revisioning Art History," a new book series focusing on contemporary U.S.-based Latino artists.

Presenting the artists

DISTRIBUTED by University of Minnesota Press and produced by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, the series will assess 15 artists with roots in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Chon A. Noriega, the center's director, says he came up with the idea for "A Ver" (Spanish for "let's see") to remedy a dearth of quality scholarship on the subject. "I spent 18 months doing research and pulled together a list of 100 Latino artists who had some presence in the world of solo and group exhibitions. We ran those names through art history indices and search engines and published the results. We didn't need much ink."

Beyond the occasional two- or three-sentence exhibition review, Noriega says, "none of these artists had a book-length work. We even looked through survey-type textbooks that marketed themselves as being multicultural and found nothing. There's been no presence of U.S. Latino artists on bookstore shelves."

Next fall, the "A Ver" series will continue with books about Malaquias Montoya, co-founder of Mexican-American Liberation Art Front and best-known for his silk-screen prints, and Maria Brito, a Miami-based Cuban American painter, sculptor and mixed-media artist. In 2008, the series will issue volumes on Judy Baca, Carmen Lomas Garza, Rafael Ferrer, Yolanda Lopez, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Jose Montoya, Raphael Montanez Ortiz, Celia Alvarez Munoz, Pepon Osorio, Maria Magdalena Campos Pons, Freddy Rodriguez and Juan Sanchez. Modeled after monographs published by Taschen and Phaedon, the books will be issued in paperback and hardcover formats, each with 100 color illustrations, a 25,000-word essay, bibliography, exhibition history and index.

Classifying creative output according to ethnicity can be a slippery slope, but Noreiga hopes the project will broaden the definition of what it means to be an artist of Latino heritage. "We want to judge individual artists on the basis of their work and build out from there, rather than saying, for example, 'This is a Chicano artist and therefore all this traditional iconography from the Mexican revolution going back to the conquest of Mexico is going to front-end our understanding of that artist.' "

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