By Amy Bareham
Cultural and Community Investment Intern
Innovation is today’s buzz word. It has become one of those foundational pillars on which we place dreams for improved education, community and technology. Although we do our best to dress it up with highbrow jargon, innovation at its simplest is people thinking creatively.
Charlotte artist Jonathan Grauel is one such thinker.
A graduate of East Carolina University and former tutee of renowned artist Bob Rankin, Grauel is quickly developing his own legacy as a local creative. His ability to think outside the box – or rather his ability to draw new boxes of all shapes and colors – enables him to take snippets of reality and filter them through imagination, thereby making entirely original artwork with a timeless message.
Grauel’s career began in those formative childhood years when he “enjoyed visual things” and found himself constantly sketching, drawing and doodling. After receiving a BFA in painting and toying with sculpture, Grauel married the two disciplines by painting with three-dimensional figures.
In 2007, Grauel was injured in a garage shelving project and suffered the loss of a finger. OrthoCarolina hand specialist Glenn Gaston was instrumental in preserving Grauel’s range of motion, but the future of his painting career was uncertain.
Fortunately, Grauel’s art cultivates a spirit of hope, evident in the digital turn his art took after the accident. Using an iPad, he found a new vehicle for self-expression and community engagement but is still able to paint traditionally as well. The process for both styles is not dissimilar.
“I start off by responding to what [is] going on around me, I put down a couple words that I hear,” he said. “I
might start off with a shape from a cup on the table…and that will lead to other lines and shapes that…will play off of each other and spiral up.”
Layering color palettes with shapes enhances the dialogue Grauel can have regarding the final product.
“One of my best painting teachers in college, Paul Hartley…was great and encouraged in me the idea of layering and visually stepping back and seeing the shapes and how they interact…That really resonated with me and stuck,” he said. “Even now with the iPad or when I’m painting with acrylics I’m stepping back…there’s this constant kind of movement of stepping forward and back.”
Grauel is passionate about sharing his art with the community and his affinity for layering also allows collaborative projects to flourish. His work was selected for the Arts & Science Council’s (ASC) inaugural year of ArtPop!, which displays the work of local artists on Charlotte-area billboards, and he is also one of the nine artists participating in ASC’s Fall 2014 Community Supported Art (CSA) program.
His ArtPop! piece, currently displayed off Bill Lee Freeway and Reames Road in Charlotte, began in a fifth-grade classroom.
“A lot of them had never touched an iPad so at the end of the session I said okay, everyone come up here and you each get 60 seconds to make marks,” he said. “Each one had to layer on top of each other’s marks and then I took that and built a village on top of it using their colors.”
These villages feature in many pieces and are inspired by “the places that we go emotionally, spiritually [and] physically.” Grauel explained that he tries to create surreal landscapes that might tap into what other people are going through. The landscapes have adapted a language all their own he says.
“Arches are decisions, the rooks and the towers tend to be security,” he said. “If I look back over time [they are] a journal of my emotional health and everything else and may have something other people can relate to.”
Being influenced by his external world in this way brings unique animation to every piece. There are recognizable elements in his work that makes it accessible.
To appreciate Grauel’s work, it is important to appreciate innovation in its purest form.
“Everyone wants to think that art is just this high education sort of deal and entertainment,” he said. “We get pigeon holed into that…I go to a show and I have these people that surprise me…it’s not so much an age as much as outlook on things and on the world. They’re interested in the shape and they’ve been able to get past the oh it has to look a certain way to oh wow there’s a story [here]. Anyone who’s willing to hear that story is willing to delve into [the art].”