After more than forty years teaching at a single institution, the question of legacy is a fair one to consider. First, in an age where upwardly mobile is a literal calling to never stay in one professional situation for very long, lest you be perceived as lacking ambition, that loyalty and dedication to one institution seems charmingly old-fashioned. Perhaps that mentality, commonplace in the corporate world, has yet to infect art professors, who are, after all, working artists who value the financial stability of an academic life.
For James Grubola, the most important metric is established by his students, so the crucial measure is in the achievements from thousands of people who earned their Bachelor’s degrees through the University of Louisville since 1975, when he joined the faculty. But the credentials and formal recognitions are certainly there:
2001 - “Red Apple Award” for excellence in teaching from the University of Louisville's Alumni Association.
2008 - the “Trustee's Award”, one of the university's highest awards which each year recognizes one faculty member who has had the greatest positive impact on students at the University of Louisville.
2015 - College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Faculty Award in Teaching.
But Grubola also served as Chair of the Department of Fine Arts and Director of the Hite Art Institute at U of L for 16 years, and if to be a department head is to be a builder, under Grubola’s leadership, Hite saw the introduction of the Mary Spencer Nay Scholarship Endowment, the addition of a program in glass housed in the Cressman Center for Visual Arts - the university’s first, permanent, non-medical facility located in downtown Louisville, and the adoption of a selective admissions policy for the department. Not at all a bad record.
As a teacher, Grubola served as head of the drawing program, instructing courses on all levels of drawing from beginning through graduate, and anatomy was his specialty. As an artist, he has of late returned to the human form as subject. Working for many years with still life images devoid of the body (the Uranometria Series), and at times distinctly abstract in character (the Liminal Series), for his swan song exhibition as U of L faculty, he has returned to the body, including an ongoing series depicting dancers with the Louisville Ballet.
Early in their careers, Grubola and his wife, artist and curator Kay Grubola, were artists-in-residence at the Christopher Ballet in Michigan, and when he was a graduate student at Indiana University he drew during ballet classes, so the interest in dance figures is nothing new, yet it is interesting that an artist who favors silverpoint and goldpoint as mediums should be focused so intently on the kineticism of choreographed movement. His statement that, “a sense of order has always been an important part of my work,” suggests that Grubola seeks to work through the movement to connect with the tremendous discipline that underlies dance. His past work displays the kind of control required by the arduous silverpoint technique - the carefully crafted linear expression of the Liminal Series barely contains the visceral, sometimes dark emotional energy found in some of those images.
Clearly Grubola is embracing a similar dynamic in the dance studio, as he relates in the statement for the new exhibit: “For me this work is a means to build a vocabulary of gestures and marks that reflect a dancer’s body in motion rather than depicting any individual dancer or specific dance step. As the dancers go through a series of steps - first at the barre, and then moving to floor exercises - I draw, my hand seldom stopping, building lines, gestures and marks.“
The kineticism is there, formed in vigorous line around the barely detectable dancers in motion - think of the Tazmanian Devil cartoon character in full whirling dervish mode. The suggestion of animation seems entirely appropriate to the forceful way Grubola captures the grace and athleticism of dance with such immediacy. The artist has a deep and profound relationship to the world of ballet that is communicated with great clarity. It is a relationship he explicitly cites when referencing the more detailed and developed figure drawings in his statement:
“After the pose has been set, my figure drawings all begin the same. Working life-size (or slightly smaller to fit the full figure on the page) I begin by marking the limits of the body on the page with an empty hand. Just as a ballet dancer ‘marks’ steps in a combination through a series hand gestures to help make a muscle memory, I move over the page trying to visualize key landmarks and measuring distances with my hand creating a muscle memory between my hand and eye of figure before me and the graphic construction to come.”
In the finished drawings we see here, the figure is rendered in great representational detail, but the muted tonality that results from meticulous buildup of silverpoint allows an extreme sensitivity to the graphic perception of the nude body. The confrontational aspect of exposing the body is equally muted, putting the viewer at a slight remove, as if we perceive the body as object through a veneer of...civility doesn’t seem the correct word, but there is a condition of safety that would not be provided by a bolder medium, or the introduction of color as realistic as the presentation of the dimensional form. An image of a nude body tends to elicit an emotional reaction, but Grubola reinforces the intellectualism of his point-of-view, the academic distance of a teacher.
The Friday (and Thursday) Sessions
Figurative and Dance Drawings 2014 - 2017
January 19 - February 24, 2018
Friday, January 19, 6:00 - 8:00 pm
Cressman Center for Visual Arts
Hite Art Institute | Department of Fine Arts
University of Louisville
Wednesday - Friday 11 - 6
Saturday 11 - 3
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Written by Keith Waits.
In addition to his work at the LVA, Keith is also the Managing Editor of a website, www.Arts-Louisville.com, which covers local visual arts, theatre, and music in Louisville.