Catskills Area Painter Calvin Grimm's Deep Ocean/Deep Space Series
Calvin Grimm: Deep Ocean/Deep Space Paintings
Catskills Area Painter Calvin Grimm: The Deep Ocean/Deep Space Series
By Jennifer Farley
Tall and lanky, with an elements-wizened face and eyes the blue of a March dawn, Woodstock, New York - area painter Calvin Grimm, 66, has spent much of the past three years working on a series of Abstract Expressionist paintings on paper or canvas titled the “Deep Ocean/Deep Space” series, which sell for between $3,000 and $18,000. Often wildly colorful, Grimm uses carefully considered and oft-revisited “action painting” techniques to dually interpret the organic shapes of jellyfish, also known as Medusa, with the astronomical formations of nebula, the interstellar clouds of dust and gas such as Orion and The Milky Way, which give birth to stars.
“In my mind, I’m absorbing these two great frontiers, the deep ocean and deep space, and seeing similarities between phosphorescing jellies and gaseous nebula; viewers chilly to abstraction warm up anyway, feeling as if they are being visually drawn into a vast cosmic landscape or objects under a microscope,” said Grimm, describing his current effort.
The Long Island native began visiting Woodstock, where his grandparents had a home, when he was only two weeks old. Although he has spent much time in the wilderness areas of Wyoming and Alaska, when his father died of cancer at the relatively young age of 54, Grimm used a 1967 inheritance of $2,000 to purchase two acres in rural Shady - a mountainous hamlet just west of Woodstock - where he built what has evolved into a 1,600 square foot home and art studio widely considered one of the area’s most charming folk houses.
“I was in my early 20s, and working seven days a week with a carpentry crew in Woodstock, having studied art education in Buffalo. I knew how hard my father had worked to leave me that money and I wanted the security that my own home would give me,” he said.
Avoiding debt, Grimm built his place using many reclaimed materials, including old barn beams, long before this was fashionable. His house features a 5’ x 7’ skylight which was once part of a Ford automobile dealership showroom. The unique residential foothold, with its low carrying costs, enabled Grimm to pursue a lifelong art career, myriad outdoor sporting adventures, and volunteer for projects including the restoration of the 106-foot-long Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, touted as America’s flagship environmental organization, built in 1969 at the behest of legendary folk singer Pete Seeger.
A cousin of Academy Award-winning actor Melissa Leo, Grimm descends from an American line of master craftsman woodworkers who built mahogany ballrooms and paneled books rooms for the Gold Coast mansions of the Vanderbilts and Morgans. For his own pleasure, Grimm’s father built a wooden racing schooner and a speedboat in the late 1920’s.
But the Great Depression and World War ll changed things. The Grimm family moved to a tract house in Hicksville and his father sacrificed a number of his creative directions in order to provide for his family, eventually working for The Grumman Aircraft & Engineering Corp., a leading 20th century producer of military and civilian aircraft. Grumman was the chief contractor for the Apollo Lunar Module which first landed on the moon; his father, a master tool and die maker who had studied physics at Pratt Institute, worked on that project.
“I think of what my father did, working behind a 16-foot chain link fence in great secrecy, on the Lunar Module, which required 1/10,000ths of an inch tolerances in manufacturing precision, as nanotechnology by hand - it was the height of craftsmanship of the day,” said Grimm. “He taught me that I could build or do anything.”
Nanotechnology - the study of manipulating and creating new materials on a molecular basis - is at the forefront of science today with possible applications in medicine, energy and inventions, but its speculative dangers are implicated in a number of doomsday scenarios. Introduced conceptually by American physicist Richard Feynman in 1959, who had worked on the Manhattan Project, Feynman - a humorist known for his unusual lifestyle and one of the most famous physicists of all time - would later win the Nobel Prize. He died in 1988.
One might conclude, then, that the “Deep Ocean/Deep Space” series is perhaps also an expression of what happened when the Grimm bloodline collided with Grumman’s 1962 space race contract, and simmered on the intellect of the nature-loving artist for 50 years.
“The new work mounted on my web site doesn't identify a place or a position in time; it’s kind of a metaphysical questioning of an environment certainly bigger than I am,” said Grimm.
While his family went often to Jones Beach, and his father took young Calvin clamming and fishing as schedule allowed, as soon as he was mature enough to travel on his own, Grimm began what has been a lifelong exploration of America’s most pristine wilderness areas. He took up horseback riding in the early 1970’s, eventually following a girlfriend to Wyoming where he worked for the National Outdoor Leadership School as a certified wilderness educator and a horse packer re-supplying backpacker expeditions. The painter still owns a horse, “Journey,” but the 21-year-old gelding currently lives at a friend’s ranch in Colorado; Grimm visits often.
To-date, Grimm’s arguably best known for a pair of 6 ½’ x 10’ murals created for what is today called AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants Major League Baseball Franchise, in the South Beach neighborhood of the Golden Gate city.
Approached for the commission in 2000 by the stadium’s builder, Grimm says initially he was concerned that given his level of abstraction he would have trouble describing, in his visual vocabulary, the ballpark to baseball fans. Giants’ then-managing general partner, Peter A. Magowan, eventually met with Calvin personally to give final approval. Magowan, a maternal grandson of the co-founder of Merrill, Lynch & Co., who succeeded his father as chairman and CEO of Safeway, was widely considered one of the most progressive club owners in baseball, retiring in 2008.
"When showing Magowan the studies, I said, 'Peter, I'm not asking you to select two of these which I would then blow up for the murals. I'm showing you the distillation as I assimilate the elements of the ballpark and it's environs. The finished pieces are unknown entities that will emerge as I actually paint the murals.' And he said, 'I know your work and I trust your process,'" recalled Grimm.
Installed on curved walls on the AAA Club Box Concourse, the abstract baseball murals were unveiled in 2003. Grimm’s fear of artistic rejection by the general populace abated when he received early compliments from both a cleaning lady and a security guard.
“This is where I’m going to stand at night,” reassured the security guard.
Near the media booths, Grimm’s art often graces the backgrounds of stadium television interviews.
Although Grimm is not currently represented by any particular gallery, he’s recently been approached by a small museum in North Carolina about mounting a retrospective, but they also asked if he might have any corporate contacts interested in sponsorship.
“As an artist in this economy, you have to field your way through a lot of these opportunities,” he said. “It’s like, that’s a nice suggestion, but I’m supposed to raise the money, too? I need to stay home and paint.”
Grimm’s been interviewed in a number of documentaries about Woodstock. In addition to his extensive wilderness adventuring, he’s also experimented with participation in “the whole circuit of all believable opinions and attitudes,” regarding spirituality, sweat lodges, gurus, life’s meaning and ultimately the nature of the universe. What makes the most sense to him today is profound consideration of the chaos theory, that everything is flying apart and coming back together at the same time, and that’s also what’s happening in his Deep Ocean/Deep Space series.
“I’ll put something out to the edge of the canvas and then get thrown back into the center of the work,” he said.
For more information about Grimm and his work, see www.CalvinGrimm.com.