A memorial art exhibition for Augie Grahn, curated by his parents Robin Ketelle and Dale Grahn and sister Emma Grahn, will be open for a final weekend on February 25 – 26 at the Piedmont Center for the Arts. Known as Augie to many, Grahn was an artist born and raised in Piedmont who died in 2020 at the age of 26.
The concept behind these works was a long time coming. I’ve always found the presentation of masculinity (in this case, western, white, cis masculinity) to be a peculiar thing. Fragile, fleeting, enigmatic. Always a performance. I’ve wanted to approach this for a long time.
Following a conversation with a dear friend, in which he enlightened me about Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the idea really landed. The Iliad is a tale of war, which takes place over only 50 days. The Odyssey is the story of returning home after the war, and takes place over the course of 10 years.
During this conversation, something reoccurred to me. My generation is the first in my family where the men did not go off to war. We are not a military family; it’s a circumstance of the times. The US had WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and all the conflict we’ve involved ourselves with in Western Asia/The Middle East.
My grandfather, and to a certain extent my father were [and] are both pretty reserved guys. Never complain or cry. My grandfather was a boxer in his time. And a good one at that. My grandfather was a cowboy and a farmer. They are both “manly,” “masculine” men, the strong silent type. But they are old school. Bottled up. It’s also how they were raised. For a long time I saw this, and vowed to never be like them in this way. For a long time I kept that vow, and thought I had this programming licked. Now at 25, I’m noticing their blood in me in unexpected ways. A complete inability to ask for help, or be emotionally vulnerable. I resent this a great deal. However on the other side of that coin, I admire both of these men a great deal, and am not ashamed to be like them. They have been monumental in shaping what it means to be a decent person on this planet. In other words these are the people who showed me what it means to “be a man.”
This problematic is the core of this work. The late Sam Shepard said, “If you don’t honor your ancestors in a very real sense, you’re committing a kind of suicide.” Indeed it is foolish to think we are born out of thin air. But how do we honor relatives in a world where these values and power structures are a threat to the common good, and [to] where the future needs to go.
I have arrived at painting. Something I never thought would happen, but indeed, recontextualizing making a mark on a surface and in fact the world has been a profound experience.
Painting is old fashioned. Perhaps retrogressive, boring, finished. I’ve only just begun and am no genius so it’s far from finished for myself. The source material for these paintings is found photo’s [sic] , both from a family archive and otherwise tattoo flash, Native Scandinavian drum, and Hobo Signs. Many would not know this Hobo stands for “HOmeward BOund.” During the Depression these travelers would go around via railroad looking for work and a living. They would leave a code of messages for those after them. These signs are within these paintings usually named within the title, sometimes withheld.
Since my grandfather was so quiet, and my father doesn’t speak much about his past, the family archive I’ve collected feel [sic] like a way to find out who they are and…
In a sense, they have become my own personal code. The idea is an Odyssey. How can one return home, honoring the past, but letting it go as we need to.
Keep what you need & want, leave the rest.