Become a Friend of BSR Today!

Support the conversation around Philadelphia's arts and culture community. We’re dedicated to providing you—and the entire Philly region—professional arts coverage without a paywall.

Grand’s illusions

Paul Grand: Beyond the Surface at the Michener Museum

2 minute read
Paul Grand, “Union Square Subway Station,” 2000. Kodak Endura paper, New York City.
Paul Grand, “Union Square Subway Station,” 2000. Kodak Endura paper, New York City.

Visitors to the two galleries at the Michener Museum featuring Paul Grand’s work will be staring at walls — literally. Grand has traveled extensively in Morocco, India, Thailand, Israel, and Mexico to produce the 50 images, mostly of colorful walls, on display. Since 1988, when he left the business world behind, Grand has focused the lenses of his Nikon on peeling walls.

“I’m not the first photographer to shoot walls, but I may be the only one who concentrates on peeling walls,” he said in a gallery talk. Their surface texture fascinates him; inspired by wabi sabi, the Japanese aesthetic that emphasizes impermanence and irregularity, Grand discovers great beauty in what most people would overlook.

Grand sees himself as a colorist, influenced by Mark Rothko and other Abstract Expressionists, as well as Richard Diebenkorn and Barnett Newman. He hopes that the viewer will be absorbed and emotionally drawn in by his colors, such as in the red canvases that almost radiate heat. More recently, Grand has been focusing on sky-blue, sometimes crisscrossed with power lines, introducing a linear element. Lisa Hanover, the Michener CEO who curated the exhibit, took care to place the images so that each enhances the one next to it. They may be similar but different in color or deliberately contrasting.

Painting with a camera

Grand’s work creates a bridge between photography and painting — essentially, he uses his camera lens like a paintbrush. Printed on Kodak Endura, a slightly metallic paper, the photographs shimmer. Grand’s radiant images usually resemble abstract paintings, but often, aided by the captions accompanying each, ordinary peeling walls may be viewed as something more. For instance, if one looks closely, the face of Ben Franklin may be discerned in Pink Painterly Wall. I particularly liked Aquarium Staircase, a photograph of a street building with a gate and staircase in Jodhpur, India, that resembles stacked fish tanks.

More often, I was reminded of a specific painter. The striking image Union Square Subway Station 2, shot from the mezzanine level of the New York station, resembles nothing so much as a painting by Piet Mondrian.

In the caption accompanying Blue Wall Cracks, Grand writes that he “shoots trashy slums, transforming them so they may be appreciated as art that stimulates both the eyes and brain.” For me, he succeeds.

What, When, Where

Paul Grand: Beyond the Surface. Through February 7 at the James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 S. Pine Street, Doylestown. 215-340-9800 or michenerartmuseum.org.

Sign up for our newsletter

All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.

Join the Conversation