Art as Dialectic

INSTALLATION: ARCHITECTURE: HOMELESS: pastels on canvas 140×360 inches 1987.
An earlier prototype for continued investigations.


The Dialectical Art of Grace Graupe-Pillard

Grace Graupe-Pillard possesses the uncanny ability to balance on that bridge between the personal and the political, and between realism and abstraction. Using large canvases, she depicts individuals, as well as catastrophic situations such as war, riots, conflagrations, the plight of refugees, homeless people, and the like. As this small sample of her prodigious oeuvre clearly shows, she has not been afraid to cross boundaries, change styles, and go where many artists fear to go. She said in a recent interview that she considers Gerhard Richter, a respected artist, to be a precedent for her own diverse work because his styles range from photo-realistic to abstract paintings.


Graupe-Pillard’s work has sometimes been expurgated for its frank nudity and explicitness. But it has never crossed the line into pornography; indeed, she frequently includes her own nude body with complete honesty, unafraid to show imperfections and aspects of aging.

This New Jersey artist cheerfully acknowledges her seventy-nine years. An artist her entire life, she continues to be as prolific as ever – if not more so. Although she has an apartment in New York City, and spent decades roaming its streets, photographing the city, and visiting museums, galleries, and movie theaters, Covid has kept her away this past year, and she has had to turn inward.

On February 20, 2021, we had a Zoom session: I asked how the pandemic has affected her art and her life. “I have worked every day,” she said. “I have to work. It calms me down.”

These days she cares less about careerism, and more about communication. She showed me numerous works from different stages of her career, and we chose 13 pieces:



WEAR ONE: 4×3 ft oil alkyd on wood 2020. This very recent self-portrait reveals an anguished Graupe-Pillard, hair tousled, with a bright yellow background and polka-dotted mask.



JARRETT: 4×3 ft oil alkyd wood 2021. A brand-new portrait of an artist she met with fabulous hair that seems to have a life of its own.



ADELE RAE WITH WINGS: 66×48 inches oil on canvas 2021. Recently completed, this little girl, a friend’s child, cheered the artist up. Graupe-Pillard added a hummingbird to enhance the joy.



END OF TIME: 4×3 ft oil on wood 2020. She came across a black and white photo of her father, and re-created in oil paint the pain of his last days. She was surely internalizing Covid in this personal but universal statement.



DILLON WITH MASK: 60×48 inches oil on wood 2020. The Colin Kaepernick T-shirt and coveralls emphasize Dillon’s young masculine body, hands as always important, and the pink background with his shadow.



WHAT’S INSIDE MET GREEK VASE: 2013 – a funny photo-collage group, of Graupe-Pillard “exploring” art (though there is also the serious side of the pun: she really does know and love art history), placing her naked presence into mostly historical male sculptures. Graupe-Pillard changes the context and meaning of the works.



PROTESTS: 48×72 inches oil/alkyd/wood, two panels, 2019. At the same time that Graupe-Pillard made portraits and photo-collages, she painted many political/abstract panels, such as this large painting combining politics, abstraction, and color.



JUPITER AT HOBOKEN 2ND ST. STATION PLANETARY PARK: painted steel and fiberglass 204x48x120 inches in diameter 2004. One of the artist’s many public art installations.



INSTALLATION THE DAY THE WORLD STOOD STILL. 9/11: oil/alkyd/canvas. Each painting is 96×65 inches. Done over a five-year period (2014-2019), addressing the tragedy and horror of September 11, 2001, and still in progress. Abstract, but not abstract.



REFUGEES III: 90×60 inches. oil/alkyd/canvas 2003. Brilliant, jigsaw-like, colorful, chaotic; political, but … reminded me of Jacob Lawrence (whom she loves).



KEYHOLE SERIES: GRACE WEEPING VIRGIN (ROGIER VAN DER WEYDEN): oil/alkyd/canvas, 1995. Early intervention into masterwork plus self.



KAY AND JOE: oil/canvas. 60×84 inches. 1979. Earlier nude placed into the canon of Art History: ordinary bodies being extraordinary.





Born in NYC, Grace Graupe-Pillard is a painter, public artist, educator, and videographer who writes about art and movies. One-person shows include Untitled Space, NYC, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago Ill., The Proposition, NYC, Hal Bromm Gallery, NYC, Bernice Steinbaum, NYC, and Moravian College, Bethlehem PA. etc. Participated in group exhibitions at Arsenal Gallery, NYC Cheim & Read Gallery, NYC, Project for Empty Space, Newark, NJ, P.S.1, NYC, The Drawing Center, NYC, and The Frist Center, Nashville,TN. Website:

6 Comments on “Art as Dialectic

  1. I am really quite pleased to see the movement from hyper realistic painting to the abstractions. I watch your work on facebook every day and feel pleasure in the amazing development of the portraits. I was lucky to meet you through Mimi and include you in the Loaded show at Blue Star in Texas. Really love your eneergy!

  2. Wonderful article ! I’ve known Grace since 1980. I have also exhibited her work when I was a curator at Hunterdon Art Museum in NJ. This article has reconnected me to my old friend in the best way possible – through her work. Grace is and always was the embodiment of a visual force to contend with and still going strong, which I so admire. I had no idea Grace was 79. Woah – an ever evolving, endlessly inventive and stunning career !

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