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Artist of the Month - August 2007

Art in the Garden of Eden
by Michaelene Pendleton

Stephen Grochowski is on a shamanic journey when he is photographing or painting. He doesn’t so much look for inspiration, as he accepts the good shot when it happens. He approaches his art not from an intellectual standpoint, but from his gut. “Most of us wear blinders and there’s so much to see. We miss so much of it because we’ve got our minds on tomorrow,” Stephen says.

Stephen Grochowski
Stephen Grochowski

Stephen is first and foremost, a photographer. His paintings grow from a photo into art that is not easily categorized. Some are Pollockesque with splatters of brilliant color – the kind of art that invites each viewer to find different meanings in each piece. Others use broad swathes of color with a palette knife, and some have natural elements, incorporated into their execution. He puts photographs together for kaleidoscopic prints that tease you into trying to recognize the elements twisted out of normal reality.

After having seen two Van Gogh shows as a child, Stephen was hooked. He freely admits to a bad case of hero-worship for Van Gogh.

When Stephen was about 12, he attended the Rhode Island School of Design where he took classes on pastels, which got him into drawing. Over the years he has expanded his formal education with classes in photography and darkroom techniques, water colors, and pen and ink drawing. He attended Northeastern University, Boston for a Bachelor of Science degree in English, and worked as a freelance lead photographer for the Quincy Sun.

“Is it a moon? A mountain? A tree?”

Childhood trauma influences much of Stephen’s approach to art as a therapeutic tool. As a young man, he discovered the palliative effects of alcohol, and soon ended up with a full-blown addiction. He married in 1963; but partly as a result of his addiction, the marriage was not a good one, ending in divorce in 2000. He became sober in 1979, and is working on 28 years of living addiction-free.

In the early 1970s, Stephen joined the South Shore Camera Club (Boston). Within two years he was awarded the trophy for Black and White Print of the Year.

Stephen has meditated most of his life. He became interested in the books of Frederick Franck. Stephen says, “Franck’s book, The Zen of Seeing, is about Zen seeing/drawing, truly SEEING with one’s eyes, one’s senses, one’s heart and one’s spirit. Franck taught that one should draw from one’s inner self, one’s spirit, and not just to meet others’ requirements/standards.” Stephen took a one-day workshop with Franck, who told him, “Never let anyone tell you how to draw.”

Stephen incorporates this knowledge along with his shamanic altered states. He isn’t essentially concerned with what people think about his work. His apartment is filled floor-to-ceiling with his works. He says, “They are my friends, they are me, from my soul.”

“I’m a photographer. That’s where I’m at my best, when I’m out on the mountains, or in the desert. Give me a camera and I’ll put on my hiking boots.”

In 1993 Stephen was given a one-man show at the University of Massachusetts, and was subsequently asked to co-curate a Shamanic Art Show, which ran seven weeks and involved national artists. Each week one artist talked about art and Native American philosophies.

Some of Stephen’s pieces were hung at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. They must have thought his work was forward-looking, because he has a membership card in ICA with an expiration date of 2093!

In the early 1990s, with his marriage on shaky ground, Stephen went into intensive therapy to exorcise his childhood demons. During this time, Stephen was working as a security guard, ignoring his art, and feeling emotionally off-kilter most of the time. While in therapy he studied and was awarded a Masters of Education, also at Northeastern University.

Feeling he had much to offer other addicts, Stephen worked for three years for Massachusetts Catholic Charities in their drunk-driving program. To reclaim his focus on photography, Stephen and his wife went on a year-long trip around the US, Mexico and Canada. He spent $1000 on film.

Upon returning, Stephen’s life was changed after attending a three-day workshop with John Bradshaw. Bradshaw’s characterization of our three personality traits as being the wounded child, the magical child, and the playful child resonated with Stephen. He quit his medications for possible bi-polar syndrome, and his old memories of abuse as a child came back. “I basically hid in my art room for a year and a half,” Stephen says.

He finally left his wife and home in Quincy and became involved in a spiritual group in Quincy Center, and later Wisconsin Dells, a spiritual community of 300 people. He stayed two years. During this time, Stephen discovered clay, creating 3-dimensional gargoyles and other strange creatures. When he left the Dells, he put them out in the woods for nature to take.

After that, Stephen moved to Santa Fe where he accidentally fell into making kaleidascopic prints. He received some prints back from a film lab and was inadvertently given double prints. He started playing with them, putting them together in strange ways, then had the film lab print some of the photos in reverse. Suddenly he had a new form by which to express his emotions. “There are no accidents,” Stephen says with a laugh.
In Santa Fe he was heating with firewood, so he began making sculptures from firewood. The artistic eye finds possibilities everywhere.

In June 1999, Stephen drove to Canada to work with Spiritual Master Teacher John de Ruiter for 15 months. When his visa expired, Stephen decided to move to Moab. He’s been here seven years. His health is not good, and hiking wipes him out, but he still thinks, “Moab is heaven.”

Several years ago, Stephen discovered oil pastels. “I love them because you can really move,” he says. He starts with charcoal or pencil and then adds color. When he is working, he goes into “an altered state of consciousness, a total state of being, of heightened awareness, not just in my head, but all of my senses and spirit and soul.” In this place he is manic and works for four or five hours straight. Consequently, he had symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of squeezing round oil pastels. Two years ago, he thought maybe using oils and acrylics would be easier on his hands. He started with the acrylics and is so entranced with the possibilities, he hasn’t yet opened the oils.

Stephen has had shows at Moonflower Market, Mondo Café, and two Community Moab Abstract shows. If he sells a piece, that’s fine, but if he never sells another piece, he will still continue producing because that’s what artists do. After all, Van Gogh sold only 1 painting in his life.

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