The Enfolded Moment

         The Enfolded Moment 

The Enfolded Moment  |  painting by Oliver Polzin

Interview and writing by Christina Proctor

“I spend a lot of time out at La Tierra around sundown and there was a really particular lighting situation that I was trying to capture the feeling of,” says GVG Contemporary painter Oliver Polzin. “I don’t think I got the actual colors, but the feeling’s there.”

Polzin grew up in a small town in Michigan, engulfed by the pine-heavy, Nordic fixings of the Upper Peninsula. But he says his parents had some relics around the house—a woven blanket, a little adobe house–shaped incense holder with piñon, that became symbols, for him, of another place—more like another mental plane of existence. His mother, nonobjective painter and GVG Contemporary co-owner Blair Vaughn-Gruler, had lived in New Mexico in the 1970s, and his father, an architect, also liked the Southwest. Yet it wasn’t until he was a teenager, when his mother and step-father, artist Ernst Gruler, moved to Sedona, Arizona, that Polzin’s consciousness started to change.

“The desert was kind of a shock to my system,” Polzin reflects, “but I felt ultimately really comforted by that desert once I got over the initial awe. It was like there are so many beings here—little friends, from grass and cacti to coyotes and rabbits. It’s actually a very alive place, maybe more than the northern woods in some way.”

Having completed a BFA in Painting at Arizona State University in 2009, Polzin never went back to the woods. Instead, lured by the high desert on the other side of the continental divide, he moved to Santa Fe. Over the last several years he’s incorporated new media into his repertoire, from gouache to digital animation to carpet and cardboard in addition to paint, and yet he continues to explore what he finds in the natural world and how we connect with it. Magic, the psyche, and psychological archetypes—both in people and in nature—take residence in his work.

In The Enfolded Moment, Polzin is engaging in an interesting crux of traditional art making. While we refer to plein-air painting as something done live in nature from direct observation—and indeed that is something Polzin likes to do—this painting came from a mental image, a feeling, really, that Polzin witnessed in nature (and arguably not within himself). This was the feeling of a singular moment that occurred while he stood gazing out at La Tierra’s landscape, wherein “the sky and the earth were melding for a few minutes,” he says.

Polzin did in fact paint the piece outside, during the Canyon Road Art District’s 12th Annual Paint/Sculpt-Out last month, while visitors passed by, doling out encouragement and suggestions as he painted a scene from memory. The result is a spirited-seeming landscape with a log in the foreground that seems to animate and connect with the sky’s colors as it ages and, above a wall of rock, a tree that trembles into the horizon. “The tree is interestingly situated,” Polzin says, “the way it kind of holds the Earth to the sky is a way that, physically, that unity I was trying to capture is expressed.”

Polzin describes that “feeling” as fleeting, as if nature pulled the curtains back on a performance that was beautiful and short. “I feel so enchanted by some of these New Mexico moments,” he adds. “Sometimes I’ll witness this kind of thing and it’ll just stick with me for days or weeks. It will kind of color my whole deal. I think a lot of people experience that out here. New Mexico is such a strange place and those golden hour moments are really remarkable.”

The result is a painting done from mental recollection of a fleeting glimpse. “There are ways in which the landscape speaks to you through assembled moments, I think, where an aesthetic crystallizes,” Polzin says, recalling perfectly choreographed sunsets and moon-rises in Sedona that left him altered. “There are these moments when nature is just saying: Here is this moment. It’s the key to how you understand all the other moments,” he says.

Polzin used gouache to execute the piece, which he says is a flexible medium because it can act like watercolor, acrylic, or oil paint. He can use the paint wet, onto an already wet or over a dry painted surface. This allowed for him to create significant layering in the piece—a nod, perhaps, to the underlying channels of connectivity between the live juniper tree and the log in the arroyo below (as Polzin points out, it’s life as a tree may be over, but its matter is still very alive).

In the past Polzin has done a series of paintings in different media that express different human and psychological archetypes, which also correspond with the chakra system. Lately, he’s drawn more to plein air painting and what we might call imagined realism—like The Enfolded Moment, painting from observation of a real place and point in time, yet based on a psychological imprint of that. He’s had three former shows with GVG Contemporary, both solo and in concert with other painters. One of these was with his mother, Vaughn-Gruler. Polzin’s figures represented a range of psychological, archetypal figures in representative environments. The exhibition was titled Dimensionality in reference to both the physical properties of paint itself (as in layering described above) and the psychological dimensions of Polzin’s subject matter.

At the time, he explained, “My use of oil paint is caught between the representative, the symbolic, and the visceral body of the medium itself. That is, always with a healthy understanding of paint as paint, and ground as ground. With that in mind, I want to explore the ways in which one can collage memories and understanding of space and time into one plane.”

That was back in 2013. Since, Polzin’s artistry has evolved through an explosion of new media use that has sprung well off the canvas plane. He’s been involved with Meow Wolf since the multimillion-dollar art installation enterprise was merely a group of friends throwing basement parties and art shows in Santa Fe. Along with his older brother, technology integration wizard Zevin Polzin, he helped design and build the group’s first permanent exhibition in Santa Fe, The House of Eternal Return. Now a full-time artist with Meow Wolf, he’s focused on upcoming exhibitions in Denver and Las Vegas, and yet the two-dimensional, far more personal artistic plane of the canvas still has him hooked. Over the years, the fundamental ideas of this young painter have remained, and he’s still after that idea of compressing space and time—of bringing into the now those fleeting, spirited moments in nature that can so transform us.

Get in touch if you’re interested in The Enfolded Moment, gouache on aqua board, 15 x 12.5 x 2 (framed), $1200



The Order and Randomness of It All | painting exhibition review

The Order and Randomness of It All

New paintings by gallery painters at GVG Contemporary address the intersection of order and chaos

By Christina Procter

Blair Vaughn-Gruler, GVG Contemporary co-owner, set up a basement painting studio as a child. She was fortunate enough to have parents who encouraged her creative explorations as a young artist, gave her a set of oil paints for Christmas when she was 8, and nonchalantly accepted her proclamation “don’t bother me when I’m in the basement.” Over the years, Vaughn-Gruler’s non-objective work has become large-scale and methodically process-based. Now, along with her husband, fine art furniture maker, painter, and sculptor Ernst Gruler, she’s run GVG Contemporary for 10 years, providing a formal exhibition space for an extraordinary group of artists.


The two have now curated a show of new paintings by gallery painters whose approach in an array of media could not be more unique, and yet work in conversation with each other. It’s a conversation that is at once contemporary, nostalgic, futuristic, and imaginative. After a buzzing opening reception with many returning and lots of new visitors on Friday, July 5, the show will be up through Sunday, July 28, 2019.


The show borrows its title from a piece by Lori Schappe-Youens, an abstract expressionist painter who used to live in Michigan, where she met Vaughn-Gruler, but has spent decades now in South Africa. “Lori is a self-taught painter who’s done some training at the University of Michigan,” says Vaughn-Gruler. She points out the cascading turquoise and pops of other colors in Schappe-Youens’s additional, dreamlike pieces in the show, Viscosity and Light I and III. “Pure expressive mark making is what she’s accomplishing here, and she does it remarkably well.”


Schappe-Youens has worked in many mediums, often using acrylics and pencil before applying oil paints. “Part of the charm is you can get engaged in all the tiny marks,” notes Vaughn-Gruler, pointing out the not-so-immediately-obvious. Schappe-Youens addresses ideas of order and chaos by creating a series of similarly composed, turquoise-based paintings for this show that conjure associations of dilapidated structures and new, burgeoning forms that Vaughn-Gruler says “build containers” for the playing she does with the viscosity of paint.


In a very different style, painter Kathleen Hope presents delightful new works that continue to push her unusual play with mediums. Hope works with a mix of cement, plaster, and powdered pigments to creature textured, high-impact, design-oriented pieces like Hydrangeas, which moves from abstracted hydrangeas and blue skies to thick, horizontal gray lines, and Imprint, with bold reds, grays, and blacks exploring patterns likely sourced from the natural or animal world. “Kathy is a powerhouse,” Vaughn-Gruler says. “The media is guiding her. This work is not sourced from dreams or concepts but a physical relationship with her medium.” Hope’s new work joins the two large pieces she has in the gallery, some of the pieces most regularly commented on by visitors, including Red Ballad, which many say looks like an ancient book, and Night Moves, a mysterious, dark piece that incorporates adobe-colored collage-work.


Present at the opening was another longtime GVG Contemporary painter, Elle MacLaren. Also a sound healer, MacLaren works in the challenging medium of encaustics to evoke a sensory response from tactile, abstract expressionistic representations often inspired by landscapes. In the encaustic practice of melting beeswax and resin, MacLaren doesn’t always know what she’s going to get, as the process itself often necessitates incorporating surprises. Her pieces El Malpais I and II are a nod to the surreal and majestic National Monument in western New Mexico. Another piece by MacLaren, the evocative Meltdown, is a stark black and white encaustic and mixed media painting embedded with pine needles. It seems to hold a dark chasm within, one that is, however, being broken up by white forms. “There is so much feeling in MacLaren’s work,” notes Vaughn-Gruler. “She’s shown all over the country.”


Popular in the show was Mary Tomás’ new large piece Fusion, a splash of color, joy, and one what visitor simply called “peace.” Vaughn-Gruler notes, “Tomás creates an atmosphere in her work. She’s working in an ethereal, splendorous form of abstract expressionism.” Tomás uses mixed media to create a textured layer below her swaths of sometimes muted, sometimes bright color work in acrylic paint. She owns a gallery in Dallas, Texas, where Vaughn-Gruler is also represented.


Last but not least, it’s the work of the show’s curators that brings it all together. Ernst Gruler, who started off as a high-end furniture maker and has become a sort of maverick of the arts, creating repurposed steel sound sculptures, lamps made from old steel tanks and tree saplings, and furniture so remarkable in aesthetic and design that a few visitors have said “this should be in Game of Thrones.” On top of all that, he’s also a painter, working in abstract expressionism, but not in the realm of ideas, but rather physicality. “It’s not about the emotions for him so much, I don’t think,” observes Vaughn-Gruler. “He’s letting the medium guide him.”


For Gruler, art is a kind of meditation, a practice he started informally since he was a teenager. Like him, Gruler’s work is always moving and evolving, and perhaps never arrived. “The way I see it, even enlightenment is just another step on the way to enlightenment,” says Gruler, who has studied various Eastern philosophies but ascribes to no doctrine. “Enlightenment is just another phase so long as we’re in this mortal casing.” The meditative aspect to his work aside, Gruler creates aesthetic objects that are also often functional: a sound sculpture one can ring like a bell, a tank that becomes a lamp that you can turn on and off (and fade) with a tap, a wave-like table that brings people closer together than typical designs. One visitor at the show, David Haines, whose daughter is also an artist, commented: “I like Ernst’s bells best—original, rustic, and functional.”


Vaughn-Gruler’s work might be that which best addresses the show’s theme: Order and Randomness. Her large work Lineage exemplifies her process-based approach to painting, in which she buildings layer upon layer of shapes, curves, and lines in a meditative progression. “It could be interpreted as putting order to the chaos,” says Vaughn-Gruler, pointing out the graphite scribbling at the base of her Equilibrium I and II paintings. Interestingly, Vaughn-Gruler never plans her compositions, though they come out perfectly balanced. She follows her hand and thoughts as she moves the paintbrush, starting in one area and building out.


“I like the space between organization and chance, so there’s a tension back and forth,” says Vaughn-Gruler. She adds, “I also listen to talk radio my studio, which seems to foster a process of re-contextualizing emotional reactions to politics into shapes and lines.” Each painting seems to work through chaos, arriving at a point where “the chaos smooths out.” Vaughn-Gruler, who started painting as that little girl with a studio of her own, completed a BFA in Painting in 1974, and her MFA in Visual Art in 2010, 30 years later. She says doing this later in life has had a profound impact on her painting practice. She says, “it is endlessly compelling to use the vocabulary I discovered in grad school, and keep folding it over on itself, mining it for more meaning and connection.”


Visitors can infer their own meaning to the abstract expressionistic and non-objective work currently up at GVG Contemporary. At the opening reception for this show, we asked people to vote on what they thought was “Best in Show.” What’s most fascinating is that most people had an entirely different answer, with very few votes for the same piece. Vaughn-Gruler’s Little Drawings, however—5 x 7 pieces that compress the skill of the painter’s larger works—came in first. One visitor, however, gave a compelling vote for Elle MacLaren’s piece Haywire. “A view from my childhood,” reflected Karen Heiken. In the midst of The Order and Randomness of It All, perhaps it doesn’t get much better than that.

Blair Vaughn-Gruler of GVG Contemporary Interviewed by Voyage ATL

Today we’d like to introduce you to Blair Vaughn-Gruler.

Blair, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am a painter and my husband, Ernst Gruler, is also an artist. We had been living in Sedona, Arizona and making most of our living through selling our artwork and real estate projects when 2008 happened. The galleries that were representing us started to close, and of course, the real estate market changed dramatically. We decided to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico and open our own art gallery.

This was not completely out of left field: we had had a successful retail venture for 12 years in the boutique business, so knew something about retail, we had art inventory of our own, and knew a plethora of professional artists to possibly represent, and I was in graduate school in a low residency, research-based MFA program that had me deeply immersed in the art world on many levels.

That was almost 10 years ago. Our gallery, GVG Contemporary, is thriving and we have built solid reputations for ourselves as artists and for the other artists, we represent. We are considered one of the best contemporary galleries in this city of over 200 galleries, which is humbling and also a testament to believing in yourself, staying the course and hard work! Our collectors are from all over the country – including many in Atlanta – and also from around the globe.

Of course, there was a certain amount of – shall we say “discomfort” involved in diving into a new business in a new city as the bank accounts dwindled and the stakes kept getting higher. Did I mention that our 2 sons were also in college and grad school at the time?

With nowhere to go but up, we developed a vision and have watched it manifest. My own work has continued to develop and gain more presence in the art world. While the retail sales of my paintings are gratifying, the best part is growing as an artist and having the opportunity to be immersed in a meaningful art practice.

My husband Ernst has had a similar experience with his own work, and those 2 sons, both also artists, have made their homes in Santa Fe as well, Both of them have been founding members of the artist collective known as Meow Wolf, which has taken the art world by storm

Out of a scary time came a wonderful future. We re grateful we took the leap.

Has it been a smooth road?
The first summer we opened our gallery, we were just about out of money. I was flying out to the summer residency for my grad school program and had no funds to get back at the end, 2 weeks later. The day my husband had a $5,000 art sale about halfway through the residency meant I could return home after all. It was an incredible relief – and an affirmation that we were going in the right direction after all.

From there, the emotional and financial roller coaster ride continued for several years as the economy struggled and we worked to build a new business within it. Each sale, no matter how small, usually meant we could get groceries. Many, many months we pulled off paying our rents by making a sale on the last day of the month, like some kind of miracle.

And then slowly, about 5 years in, we started to see sales numbers that were more predictable. Repeat collectors, new opportunities to show our work and good employees have helped to smooth out the roller coaster.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with GVG Contemporary – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We are a contemporary, artist-owned art gallery in a city with over 200 galleries – the 3rd largest art market in the US.

I am quite proud of being able to maintain the title of an artist owned gallery because it is really 2 full-time jobs (artist and gallerist).

We specialize in paintings, sculpture, fine art furniture and jewelry by mid-career and emerging artists. The paintings we show are predominately non-objective (abstract), and all the work is material forward.

I am also proud of our customer service, and consider the gallery to also be an educational venue. Gallery owners and staff always work to help people understand the art world – especially in terms of contemporary art – all day every day.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
Santa Fe is a wonderful artist community.


  • Artwork available at GVG Contemporary ranges from $100 to $30,000

Contact Info:

  • Address: 241 Delgado Street
    Santa Fe, NM 87501
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Voyage ATL is a blog specializing in local creatives and artists in the Atlanta, Georgia area.