Humble gingham, it’s safe to say, is not what comes to mind when considering the grid paintings of contemporary artists traversing the high-brow world of art galleries. But the Wisconsin-born artist Michelle Grabner has made gingham patterns, “this clichéd vernacular motif,” as she calls it, a recurring theme in her acrylic paintings.
For Grabner, whose interest in “painting patterns pulled from my domestic environment: crocheted blankets, paper towel patterns, etc.,” dovetails with a deep-seeded interest in the warp and weft of weaving techniques, gingham patterns are a visual device for “re-articulating my domestic backdrops.” But a fool-the-eye, trompe l’oeil replication of the fabric’s decorative properties is not what she’s after. “I hope the physicality of the paint curbs some of the optical play. the gingham work is painted without employing tape, thus lacking hard edges. And the paint itself has a viscous enamel-like quality to it—it has body yet it also levels. It’s not a tactility that mimics fabric.”
Ultimately, though, Grabner, who thinks of herself as a conceptual artist, remains fixated on gingham for the reasons that feel a bit more universal than personal, more contemporary than traditional: “I was attracted to these familiar motifs for their order and predictability…ideals of routine…systems of repetition, systems of mark-making, and pattern-construction.” Reasons that seem so obvious now, we can’t help but wonder how we never saw them before.