This is part of a series of northforker magazine looks into the workspaces that help shape some of the artistic work being done here. The series was written and photographed for our ‘Creativity Issue,’ now on newsstands.
To enter Rainer Gross’s studio in Cutchogue, you must walk past a compact flower garden exploding in a riot of colors. The floral influence on the abstract “contact paintings” inside the 1900s barn isn’t readily apparent, but these days, Gross prefers the more conceptual approach.
“Coming out here has opened me up to process a more organic way of removing my hand from the work. I let nature take over,” said the German artist in his lightly accented English. “What really informs my work out here is when the flowers come out. Spring just pops with colors.”
Despite living in East Hampton during the thriving ’70s art scene and renting for summers around the North Fork, Gross still retains a newcomer’s appreciation for the bucolic East End after relocating full time from New York’s East Village five years ago.
While he removes the “artist’s hand” that showed up in his earlier photorealistic paintings — detailed in the stack of published books on his work — Gross’s unique abstract prints show his artist’s skill. It’s just another layer on a prolific, multi-layered, artistic oeuvre that is still evolving.
Using a technique he pioneered, Gross pours water-based raw powdered pigments onto canvas in multiple colorful layers, then presses another canvas wet with oil paint onto it. When separated — “And this is where the magic happens!” — the two canvases share the layered patterns after the pull, but in reverse and with bottom pigment now on top and vice versa. “There is no up or down — it’s a Rorschach situation,” he said. “Instead of getting one image from the process, I get two.”
Gross presents the results in a series called Twins, where he pairs the works in energetic sets. “The duality of Twins reflects the duality of life — in my case my European heritage and my time in America, and how those two interact,” he said. Another series called Contact connects various pieces with a swirl or squiggle that dynamically flows from one canvas to another.
A third series, Fragments, created during the pandemic and the emotional opposite of Contact, captures feelings of disconnection. “The world has been so fragmented these days,” he said. Here, Gross turned to his past work, breaking down earlier pieces and affixing them to shapes he cut from lightweight building material. “I remember Lee Krasner in New York in the ’70s, cutting up her old drawings from art school and making collages out of them.”
Likewise, for the series Impressions and Brushstrokes, he added thickly layered oil paint brushstrokes over previous works, freshly revisiting them. “It’s like an organic flow,” he said about reworking older pieces. “You just keep re-evaluating.”