Katharina Grosse is a German artist, widely known for her temporary and permanent site-specific work, where she paints directly onto architecture, interiors, gardens, seashores, and landscapes in a blend of painting and land art. She treats architecture and nature as a framework for her expressive compositions as she takes paint beyond the boundaries of the canvas in her psychedelic abstractions.
Born in the former East Germany, Grosse now lives and works in Berlin. Her mother was an artist who always gave her and her siblings art supplies and was very supportive of their art making. When Grosse made large paintings on exterior garage walls, her mother encouraged it. She has always loved color. “My relationship with color began in front of a mirror. Growing up in Germany in the 1970s, I loved wearing boldly colored clothes – orange trousers with a yellow shirt and green sweater.”
In college Grosse studied art history and English literature. She then attended the Munster Academy of Fine Arts where she experimented with spray paint on paper. She transferred to the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf where she now teaches. At age 29 she traveled to Marseille where she joined an artist’s cooperative and learned how to use a compressor and a spray gun. She came to love it. “My first spray piece was called “Inversion” in 1998. I finally had become the artist I wanted to be.” From this time on Grosse has worked with industrial spray guns instead of brushes, applying atomized acrylic paint to any available surface.
For her project “Rockaway!,” organized by MoMA PS1, she transformed the exterior of a beachfront shack that was ruined by Hurricane Sandy. She covered not only the structure but also the surrounding sand with streams of red and white paint in a version of land art. For one of her works, installed at MASS MoCA, Grosse created a vast landscape, made of Styrofoam dark violet and grayish pink, and set it against a stark white background, which amplified the effect of the rivulets of dripping paint running down the length of the canvas. In a recent exhibition at this museum, her “One Floor Up More Highly” transformed a massive interior space into a Martian landscape using jagged styrofoam blocks and painted soil and gravel.
In New York, she made Brooklyn’s Metrotech Commons into an exploded technicolor landscape, filled with jagged forms. She used a hydraulic life and power sprayer to transform a derelict army building in the Rockaway section of Queens, New York into a magenta-and-white-streaked waterside mirage.
In her first gallery show in New York’s Gagosian Gallery, the biggest commercial stage in the New York art world, she presented 19 works from the past year that continued to blur the distinction between two and three dimensions. She once said that “paint has to be voluminous if it is to achieve presence.”
Her installation in Sydney, Australia is titled “The Horse Trotted Another Couple of Metres, Then It Stopped.” This consisted of more than 8,250 meters of folded, draped fabric, suspended from the ceiling. Created on-site with a team of workers, this immersive installation, where people can enter, has an enigmatic title that tells the tale of a knight and his horse and alludes to the meaning of life.
In 2017, her immersive installation “This Drove My Mother Up the Wall” was placed in a South London Gallery. It began at the edges of a room and dissolved the boundaries where the floor boards met the floor in swaths of color, which rolled upwards like rising waves. The brilliant, bright white of some of the walls remained, and pale voids, left behind by stencils, stuck out from the paint. Colors erupted on the walls, and a different color was painted on the ceiling. At either end of the gallery, color resembled gauzy fabric. For Grosse the strong use of various unmixed acrylic colors is important since it takes away the boundaries of an object and has the potential to make us think.
Grosse has received different honors and awards in Germany and Florence. Her work has been exhibited in the Netherlands, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Norway, Sweden, and the Sao Paulo Bienal.
In the United States she painted acrylic abstractions on the lobby wall and staircase of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2011. She has exhibited in Cincinnati, New Orleans, Boston, the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, and Art Basel Hong Kong 2023.