Side Image: 

Red Grooms (American, b. 1937), Blewy II, 1971, offset lithograph, 25 x 31 inches. Gift of ellsworth snyder, in memory of Nathan Samuel Blount. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

About the Artist
Red Grooms

Red Grooms lives in New York City, which has long been the subject of his colorful paintings, prints, experimental movies, constructions, sculptures, walk-through environments that he calls "sculpto-pictoramas," and the Happenings that he helped to invent. He is known for portraying big city activity with a lively, cartoonish style, often depicting other well-known artists and employing their own painting styles. His name was Charles Rogers Grooms until the summer he was twenty and was studying art with painting teacher Hans Hoffmann in Provincetown, Massachusetts. A local art gallery owner started calling him "Red" because of his hair color, and from then on this lively nickname fit the artist who made energetic and witty representations of people in urban settings. Grooms was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1937, and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the New School for Social Research in New York, and Peabody College in Nashville. Two walk-through, stagelike cityscapes for which he is best known are City of Chicago, 1967, and Ruckus Manhattan, 1975, in which a sense of the hurly-burly of urban life was exuberantly captured in fiberglass, wood, metal, and fabric. Grooms has said, "I like to make sort-of documentaries. Something you can see as it happens—what people wear and do." While Grooms started making art in the era subsequently named Pop, and his focus on the contemporary world around him was shared by Pop artists, he said he liked Pop imagery but didn’t like the coolness that was its hallmark; instead he wanted "warmness" in his work and focused it on the humanity expressed in urban hustle and bustle. In succeeding decades he has produced theater sets, a life-sized carousel featuring figures from Tennessee history, and prints using numerous techniques, including woodblock, spray-painted stencil, etching, and lithograph, as in Blewy II.  

Key Ideas
  • Collision of urban life and the forces of nature
  • Humor in art
  • Contemporary, everyday life as a subject in art
Discussion Questions
  • What do you notice about how the artist has represented the relationship of humans to nature? How has he used humor as well as drama, aspects of reality and of exaggeration?
  • In what ways has the artist used geometric shapes to construct the space? How do these shapes create the sense of activity and of the impact of the storm? How do the shapes help focus on different parts of the scene, such as activity in the street or in the umbrella shop? How do they help you understand the spot from which you are viewing the scene; that is, your vantage point?
  • What examples do you notice of Grooms' characteristic attention to real-life detail? How do these details seem to ground our sense of the familiar?
  • Red Grooms is known for the characteristic ways in which he portrays people and places, especially metropolitan locales like New York and Chicago. He has said, "My style, espe­cially my broadest comic-strip style, which is the Discount Store style more than any other, is public knowledge any­way. Everybody knows about it." What are some of your ideas about what he means? How would you describe his style? What have you noticed in Blewey II that are examples of this kind of style? 
  • What might be some stories you could tell of the errands these characters were running when the storm struck? What might happen next?
  • Red Grooms is known for constructing three-dimensional scenes of city spaces and of rooms in his apartment. If you were to make a three-dimensional re-creation of this scene, how would you construct it? What materials might you use? How big would it be? What would you title it?
  • What are your ideas of styles of music that could express the mood and activity in this image? What instruments might be appropriate to indicate particular people or vehicles?
Vocabulary
  • Happening a performance, event or situation meant to be considered art, usually as performance art, often with participation of the audience.
  • intersection a place where two or more roads meet
  • metropolitan of or relating to a major city or urban area, including adjacent suburbs and towns
  • pedestrian a person traveling on foot, a walker
  • urban characteristic of a city or of city life

When and Where Is It? Time and Place in Art

A heavy rainstorm is swooping through a colorful intersection of stores and apartments, streets and sidewalks. Like a typical big city corner, this one is jam-packed with shoppers, workers, and vehicles. A hardware store, a jewelry store with blowing sign, and a drugstore that advertises Glo Shampoo might have been destinations for leisurely shopping until the storm urged pedestrians to hurry on and hang onto their hats. At least twelve umbrellas and their owners are battling the storm. Wind and rain gust across the street, blowing a potted plant, a small dog, some newspapers, and the hats. A little boy happily takes this opportunity to float his toy tugboat in water surging through a gutter that has already caused a white-haired gentleman to slip and fall. Diminished visibility has resulted in a collision between a hot dog vendor and a taxicab; hot dogs and cab are flying through the air. A leaning light pole, a bending tree, and a pedestrian carried into the air by her umbrella are humorous cues to the intensity of the wind. Sweeping diagonals fill the space, defining streets and buildings, shop signs and the sheets of rain. Diagonals are also formed by the bending forms of walkers passing the hardware and jewelry stores who must lean to stay upright. In contrast, the horizontal and vertical lines of the building in the foreground drive attention to the Full Blown Umbrella Company, where workers wearing green eyeshades are sewing umbrellas and the only person laughing about the rain stands at the window.

Blewey II is an amusing depiction of the impact of natural forces, in the form of a rainstorm, on the built environment of a city. The collision of nature with urban life is reiterated in the crash of the taxi and the hot dog vendor. The only signs that the natural world previously existed in this crowded constructed space are the bending tree and the potted geranium. The image is a vivid commentary on how the disparate stories of individuals in a city can be brought together into a joint narrative when something unexpected and intense engages them in the same moment.

Even though Blewey II looks slapdash with its sweeping lines and vivid color, it is carefully composed. Minute details identify store types, architectural features, and personal characteristics of all the participants, including their facial expressions, shoe styles, and individual umbrella preferences. Red Grooms constructed this image with familiar elements of people, buildings, and vehicles so that the viewer has a sense of recognition, but he distorted the space and exaggerated the forms to heighten the mood and convey an impression of diversity and individuality tied together in big city living.