The Eye, 1954, myrtle root and myrtle, collection of Ann and Herman Iverson.
RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBITION FEATURING SCULPTURAL works by Bruno Groth, 1905-1992, will be on display at the Humboldt Arts Council's Morris Graves Museum, May 3-June 25.
The exhibition will include more than 100 sculptures as well as a large number of photographs of the artist's work.
In a career spanning more than half a century, Groth produced a significant body of sculptural works in a broad stylistic range. Working primarily in stainless steel, wood and bronze, he merged a love of nature and the joy of discovery with humor, reverence and technical skill.
While largely self-taught, Groth learned his woodworking skills and attention to craftsmanship at an early age. Born the son of a cabinetmaker in Stolp, Germany, he apprenticed in the field as a teen. In 1923 he immigrated to the United States and continued working with wood, making harps for the Lyon and Healy Company in Chicago.
Groth moved to Los Angeles in 1929 where he briefly studied design principles at Otis Art Institute. Of formal education, the artist once said, " I find that too much schooling can be destructive. I think in order to be completely free you almost have to discard everything that binds you to the opinion of others. Of course I do believe that the fundamental training in your craft, the use of your tools is essential. I couldn't have had a finer background for that."
With a focus on developing his own identity, Groth relocated to Northern California in 1938. It was in the community of Whitethorn on a ranch called "Green Pastures" that Groth created his significant early works.
San Francisco's de Young Museum hosted Groth's first solo exhibition, "Seeds of Contemplation," in 1959. The exhibit featured 29 wooden sculptures completed by the artist between 1950 and 1958. He went on to eight subsequent solo exhibits at the Ankrum Gallery in Los Angeles from 1964 to 1988. More than 200 original sculptures were shown in the course of these nine one-man exhibits.
For each of these exhibits, Groth created original works with an eclectic visual vocabulary. In so doing, he did away with the Modernist and commercial ideal that an artist must remain with one style in order to show consistency, maturity and marketability.
Allowing the creative process to reveal its own intentions was central to the way the Groth worked.
"He simply didn't care to sacrifice the way that he worked in order to be a commercial success," said Janie Walsh, a long-time friend of the artist and curator of the current retrospective.
Remembering one of the artist's phrases, "the effort not to make an effort," Walsh commented: "What a wonderful way to live. Never try to influence anybody else, mind your own business, live as if consciousness was lived through you."
Thomas Hunt describes the artist and his process in the foreward to the retrospective's catalogue. "Bruno was a very spiritual man -- a profound, meditative thinker. ... He did not create for `effect,' for that would have required the creative process to be calculating, to be separate from the completed work of art. Without preconception -- or perhaps in spite of preconception -- he allowed the creative process to take him where it would, and freed the creative process and the resulting work from all contrivance or artifice."
Angry Roosters, 1985 bronze piece
Although his work changed stylistically during the course of his career, the inspiration Groth found in his close relationship with nature remained a consistent theme throughout his life. His love of materials and ability to balance form and content are also integral to his work.
Of the first piece in the Seeds of Contemplation series, Groth's enthusiasm with Nature as his muse is clear. "This is the first piece of this nature that I did, so you can imagine my joy of expression when I made it. My ideas come from nature and from within, not from other art."
In reference to The Eye, a 1954 sculpture, the artist stated: "This is the feeling when I walk in the woods. ... Something seems to be watching all the time. Every tree, every bush is alive. When I study this piece, too, wherever I go, it follows without movement."
The Eye is composed of an oval, myrtle root form suggestive of the shape of an eye balanced atop what is essentially an elegant and beautifully crafted myrtle bi-pod. The large, heavy, curvaceous eye sharply contrasts with the seemingly delicate, linear form which supports it. By exaggerating scale and form, Groth gives this piece its quiet animation and is able to communicate his original intention -- creating the sense of being watched.
From these early abstracted and nonrepresentational forms, Groth's sculptures began to echo nature more closely. Bird forms seemed to intrigue him deeply. Quizzical, angular, geometric, abstracted bird forms in welded steel; gestural bird forms in cast bronze; realistic bird forms in wood; and graceful, simplified bird forms of bleached wood. Groth created more than 100 bird-related works in his career. He filled three of his solo exhibits exclusively with bird forms.
Singing in the Rain, 1988 bronze piece from the collection of Nita Groth.
The artist attributes his move to Trinidad as a catalyst to the influx of bird imagery in his work.
"When I lived in the redwoods, the trees were so overpowering that all my work became nonobjective. Then I moved to the ocean and became deeply involved with the wildlife, particularly the birds. Sometimes I felt I was really a bird and for years my work reflected that relationship."
In the latter years of his career, Groth seemed to merge aspects of his many styles with a continued sense of whimsy. Energetic cast-bronze sculptures, with exuberant curves animating the artist's intentions, touch on the surreal and sublime, as if ready to metamorphose into some new form.