Challenging the boundaries of paint with Kainoa Gruspe
A man walks on the side of the road with a backpack, sneakers, and a sleeping bag hanging off his shoulders. In his left hand, he holds a stick with chalk attached to the end. As it drags against the black pavement, cars slowly pass by watching as the chalk leaves a line trailing behind his path. The man with the chalk, Kainoa Gruspe, is ending his art installation called “Big Line Drawing.”
Gruspe noticed “recently I’ve been using less and less paint,” even though he considers himself a painter. With projects like the “Big Line Drawing” and other collections of his, it is clear that he does not need to use paint to create his unique work.
As a painter, he attempts “to escape the usual two-dimensional nature of painting,” says Gruspe. He most definitely achieves this goal with this most recent work.
Gruspe, who is from Honolulu, Hawaii, is currently studying to get his MFA at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.The painter notes that he had an early passion for art. “I was always interested in drawing as a kid, and would constantly be scribbling in notebooks and in the margins of school worksheets,” notes Gruspe.
As he started his college career, he decided to take a painting class. He states, “I took an intro to painting class early on in college and got hooked from there. Since then (about 2014 I think it was), I’ve constantly been exploring ways to keep painting interesting for me.”
As he found ways to keep painting interesting, he has created many unique works that utilizes different and natural mediums. One of the mediums Gruspe likes to interact with is house paint.
“I love buying the discounted mistinted paint from home improvement stores, they’re like $2 for a quart or $8 for a gallon. I like the flat and consistent quality that house paints have, and depending on the quality of the paint it can be nice and rubbery or brittle and crackly,” says Gruspe.
True to his exploratory nature, Gruspe is intrigued by ways he can make his favorite and everyday mediums more eccentric. He claims, “I like mixing house paint with different substances to thicken it and give it a sculptural quality. Cement, plaster, and joint compound are nice for that.”
The idea of mixing and experimenting with various mediums also gave birth to his “Cold Painting” collection. “I sort of stumbled upon that one,” says Gruspe. As he was in Iceland for a residency, Gruspe noticed massive blocks of ice discarded on the side of the road. Instead of walking by forgetting about the ice blocks, Gruspe used it as fuel for his next project.
“I had been thinking about using painting as a way to interact with the world, rather than a static thing that represents the world,” says Gruspe.
So, Gruspe used these blocks as a canvas for his paint; this resulted in “Cold Paintings.” “As the temperature shifted up and down, the ice would melt and refreeze while the paint was trying to dry. The paint lost that usual stability that it has on a canvas, and was subject to the changing conditions around it.” The instability of this canvas made his artwork all the more strange yet inventive.
The other notable and novel project Gruspe worked on was the aforementioned “Big Line Project.” Though this art installation had no paint involved, the art was just as purposeful as the strokes of paint on a canvas.
“Big Line Project” was a collaboration Gruspe created with his partner Amber Khan. From the southern coast of Oahu to the northern coast, the pair drew a 33 mile long chalk line which they captured on video. “It sort of started off as a humorous way to try and make the biggest drawing possible on our island,” says Gruspe.
When Gruspe and Khan started this project, they both were into the idea of “absurdism,” Gruspe mentions. He notes, “this project was a way to point towards the absurdity of existence and the mark one tries to make on the world. A key idea in absurdism is that the universe fails to provide meaning or purpose, and meaning can only be found in the immediate act of experience. The ephemerality of the chalk and the grueling hard work of actually doing it seemed to speak to this idea.”
As Gruspe and Khan started their arduous walk, they traveled up highways, under overpasses, and even slept in a public park playground to continue their two-day exhibition. However, Gruspe continued to gush about their exciting exhibition. He claims, “This project was really exciting and a lot of fun to do. We had walked this route once before, and we had the idea to draw a line the whole way across.”
The text that comes along with their exhibition reads “In an effort to respond to their existence, Amber and Kainoa attempt to (and do!) make a mark. As time goes on, the untouched earth becomes inhibited. Man leaves his mark on the world. Roads, playgrounds, schools, and Walmarts are built. Lines are drawn and people move on. Here we are, here is our line. The chalk drawing is gone now. We’ll be gone one day too, like the rest of the art in this room. Yet the act of making, and the act of learning occurred. It’s been witnessed, and that feels worthwhile.”
Though Gruspe is a talented painter and artist, he knows when to let the meaning of the work do the talking. “I wanted to have [his art] be tactile and real, and to let the material do more of the talking than illusion or symbolism.”
Read more about Kainoa Gruspe at his website, https://www.kainoagruspe.net