Interview with Grant Gilsdorf
Grant Gilsdorf is an Ohio based contemporary realistic narrative painter who has harnessed his exquisitely rendered realistic paintings into a visionary storytelling device that combines images of carefully crafted beauty existing within a brutal and gritty reality. His dark, tension-filled works mirror the narrative-driven experience of viewing a feature film, and leave the viewer contemplating their symbolic significance.
Could you please introduce yourself and tell us how you started in the arts? and your first experience in art making?
My name is Grant Gilsdorf. I’m a realistic figurative painter living in Ohio. My art making began as a boy just trying to capture the glory of his heroes. I would draw images of my favorite comic book characters, cartoons, and football idols. I remember feeling that by capturing their likeness on lined paper I somehow was honoring them and owning some level of the majesty I felt towards them. I would obsess over the details, stitches, logos, etc. Whether the images were worthy or not, my parents stoked that fire, and proudly displayed the art. I knew I had some ability, and was often encouraged by teachers and peers. Yet, it wasn’t until the end of high school where art shifted away from a hobby or a welcomed distraction to a career choice and passion.
How would you describe yourself and your artwork?
I think of myself first as a story-teller. I haven chosen imagery as my vehicle to convey those stories. My work is primarily obsessively rendered realistic acrylic paintings that combine my passion for mood, narrative, and character. I like to think the works can mirror the narrative-driven experience of viewing a feature film while still leaving a level of dissonance for the viewer to contemplate their symbolic significance. The realism is important in establishing a baseline of familiarity or a world they can easily digest. Then it’s within that world that I can begin to play with the presentation of my intended themes.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I am not an artist who hurts for inspiration. Rather, I find myself continuously in fear of not being able to address and give service to my backlog of ideas. My inspirations come from so many places. My artistic influences are as plentiful as most and include the likes of Caravaggio, Andrew Wyeth, all the way up to contemporaries like Phil Hale, and Jeremy Geddes. Yet, I pull even more inspiration from cinema, music, and literature. I think of filmmakers as artists, and it seems foolish not to borrow from people who are being paid insane amounts of money to master composition and story-telling. I adore the works of David Fincher, Terrence Malick, Christopher Nolan, and countless others. If an artist is their influences, then I spend most of the time I’m not making art, surrounding myself with possible influences and holding onto whatever speaks to me and simply discarding that which does not.
What emotions do you hope the viewers experience when looking at your art?
You first hope someone will open themselves up to experience your art. You would love for that person to embrace the imagery and find their own connections. Still, I’m trying to help guide those emotions within my work. There is quite a bit of social commentary and speculative fiction within my pieces. I hope they are able to draw connections and parallels from my paintings to their experiences and world around them, but ultimately it will be up to the viewer to decide what they will take away from the work.
When do you know that an artwork is finished ?
The ending is almost pre-determined because of my process. I typically begin with writing before any sketching. From this hornet’s nest of words comes a theme or narrative I’m looking to explore and construct. In the same journal, I thumbnail out the finer details and preliminary composition.
Next, I scout for the setting, props and characters needed to execute my vision. I’m always looking for the right model to cast, or the ideal environment. That aspect can be one of the most challenging as it can be tough to find a perfect match to the character or scene I see playing out in my head. Sometimes this is where compromise or change happens.
Then, I take far too many reference photos and hunt for any additional supporting images. Photoshop becomes one of the most important aspects of my creative process, because it’s there that I build various layouts. I sometimes create up to 12 different compositions and tinker with the design until I’m pleased. Once I’m satisfied with it, the painting becomes the final journey, and stays fairly true to the Photoshop composition. So in that way, I know what the final product should look like before I ever begin.
What has been the most exciting moment in your art career so far?
I had my first solo exhibition this past winter called “Chapter 1.” This show was comprised of work I had been creating over the span 5 years. It was a difficult stretch because I wanted to hold back the pieces and show them as one unified vision. So, I wasn’t able to share any of the work in group exhibitions or showcase much of my work during that stretch, because I was holding it all back for the solo show. I did display one piece from the collection at a group show at the Arch Enemy Arts Gallery in Philadelphia, but beyond that it was a long stretch of making and not showing. The opening exhibition of “Chapter 1,” was certainly the most significant moment of my art career thus far.
How long does it take to produce one work?
Too long. I’m just too obsessive, and often times I like to develop my own elaborate backstories for characters or scenes playing out in my work. It may be unnecessary, but I feel it deepens the quality of the work and provides even more soul to the imagery. All of that combined with my long lead-in process to painting means I’m not as prolific as I’d like to be. The actual paintings themselves range from a couple of days to a month depending on size and detail. But if I’m being entirely honest…I just love the process. I really adore the conceptual planning and decision making that precedes the work, just as much as I like rendering out the paintings.
What exciting projects are you working on right now? Can you share some of the future plans for your artworks?
I’m juggling a few things at the moment. I’ve mapped out Chapter 2, and Chapter 3 of this grand narrative I’ve begun, and I have a few more intimate side projects as well. I’ve been approached by a few galleries to participate in upcoming themed group shows. Additionally, I’m discussing with and looking into some other mediums for my art like creating a graphic novel. I have quite a few stories and concepts to share.
Do you have any upcoming events or exhibitions we should know about?
My next exhibition will be one of the more intimate and small-scale collections I’ve been working on. The show is called “ACTU∆LIZE” and will feature a dozen new paintings. The show explores the idea of what it means to self-actualize, while confronting the false comforts and inhibitors we may experience along that journey up the summit. The theme is explored mostly through isolated characters searching for an invisible entity. The style is a bit of a love letter to the work of Andrew Wyeth. My “Chapter 1” world is loud, angry, and aggressive. This work is the counterbalance of much more still and contemplative compositions. That solo exhibition will open in October of 2018 in Columbus, OH.
Where do you see your art going in five years?
James Baldwin has this lovely quote where he states, “An artist is a sort of spiritual or emotional historian. His role is to make you realize the doom and glory of humanity.” I connect with that notion, and see my work continuing to be a reactionary device of both the world around me, and where I see my role within it. I imagine I will continue to explore narrative and storytelling as a means to communicate those observations and reflections I experience. My technical skills will continue to mature along that journey as well. So in short…more of the same…but way doper!