Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax

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Martina Grbac’s paintings and assorted works are mirrors of her life: often confused and sporadic communications of what deeply affects her.

More like diaries than anything else, the bulk of Grbac’s work is profoundly emotional. Private. Vulnerable. She titles her work with phrases like: “Untitled (there's still a good chance you're fine)”, or “Untitled (this is mine. i am taking it.)”, or “Untitled (this is over. it has been over.)”. Her work feels like that one thing that makes your cringe and fill with ill regret in a conversation. Her work is a divulgence of how she physically feels things: In her fingers, behind her sternum, on the back of her tongue.

Reading her work reveals that what she feels, happens somewhere in the choppy middle of her. These articulations; these conversations come-out as the as these canvasses: odd and ends of apprehension coupled with spontaneous bursts of letting-go.

Her work, her canvasses, are beaten-up. Her work will decompose. It is not archival: these paintings will not stand the test of time. They will not be preserved. To this end, her work is like a human body.

Conceptually and practically, Grbac plays with an interesting dualism – one that finds its legs in her daily life: her work is sacred. But it’s a practical kind of purity – it is a kind of purity that exists in a world of oil stains and mistakes and hard-to-articulate explanations. Grbac’s work, like much of what is in her life at all, is sacred because it will decay. Things are pure because they will rot. Here, Grbac’s work paints the picture of the impermanence of existence, the disintegration of everything physical – even emotional. Really: Grbac’s work rarely, if ever, strays from her emotional life and one profoundly complicated nexus: of letting go. Of death and decay. Of the loss of life. Of the sacredness and resulting humility of everything.

Often she doesn’t even gesso her canvases. Other times the bases of her pieces begin with accidents, or rushed attempts at dumping some unarticulated, but very real and powerful, emotion from her head, into/onto the world. Her pieces are raw – full of often chaotic attempts to reasonably and peacefully dispel both her secret myths and a life full of ill communication. This kind of vulnerability which live behind her closed doors are characterized by a wealth of layered, textured, open space – as though she has intentionally left herself room to change her mind; to scratch-out words; to take-off running a different direction.

Some pieces are subtle. Others are mysteriously, not. The back of one canvas read her hand, “I Love You” – where the word “Love” is scratched-out. “Hate” is scrawled above it.

Rough, raw, and often unfinished is the primary characteristics of Grbac’s body of visual art. And what is immediate is that there is something necessary about the fundamentals of her work. What is apparent is the idea that, while raw or even unfinished – there is something very calculated about her work. As though it sat inside her for a long time. As though she knew what the words were, but not the order and the tone and how it should come out of her hands, instead of her mouth. What this all says is that Grbac has a tremendous, idiosyncratic sensibility that is profoundly and particularly hers – so much so that raw doesn’t mean undone. So much so is her talent that raw doesn’t mean unable.

Here, raw means vulnerable. And here, vulnerable means virtue.

In her shop at Eyelab, Grbac’s canvases are stuffed behind file cabinets. Others are in the backroom. Still more are living with friends, as though they are estranged parts of her – parts that she doesn’t want to deal with, or acknowledge right now. How she handles her work is as though she is neglecting the devil in herself. And more than that? It’s as though she’s treating the most sacred part of her self, her genius, like an infirmity, like a problem. To this end, no matter what: All of these canvasses are fair game to be added-to, pushed, dropped, used, pursued. Chased. Pounced upon. Doctored. Venerated.

As therapy, as a foundation and ideology: Grbac’s work is striking. It is malleable. As a diary, she is not committed to anything – but somehow is responsible for everything on that canvas and: as probably the penumbra statement of all her work – this is about the responsibility of her own life and the story that is hers. Sacred or dispensable. Relevant or resonating, or not.

Grbac is a musician. She has stood/sat at the front of one of the most revered Colorado acts of the last decade: Matson Jones. A cellist and songwriter, she and her bandmates still play. Her production is more continuous on that front. Evidence of that is the more private project of hers: Crows, Vultures, Bulls. This is what you’re listening to as you read this, right now.

Grbac is a hypersomniac. She is reclusive. She works in bursts. She may not work for months. She may not touch a particular canvas for years. Then, something will catch her eye and she’ll go at it. For meaning is created over time. And where something was left to simmer, to sit – it will be suddenly clutched and employed – as a machine of relevance, a vehicle of meaning – a blaze on her trail toward the top of her life.

For Martina Grbac, art is about explanation – it is about her explanation. Sometimes, that explanation is subtle. Sometimes it begs myriads of layers. Sometimes explanation is catharsis. Sometimes explanations are vague. These are but a few of the visions that the many mirrors, which are her collected canvases, reflect.

Here, raw means vulnerable. And here, vulnerable means virtue.