Artist Todd Grossman Pays Homage to His Father and Ted DeGrazia

Best of Phoenix hit newsstands Sept. 26. In conjunction with this year's Vintage Phoenix theme, New Times is collaborating with R. Pela Contemporary Art to present "Hot Plate!" It's an exhibition of one-of-a-kind, Phoenix-inspired commemorative plates made by local artists. Leading up to the show's Oct. 4 opening, we're profiling each of the contributing artists and visiting their studios. Today: Todd Grossman.

Artist Todd Grossman grew up obsessed with the Italian Renaissance and painters like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. By the end of grade school, he had completed several portrait paintings inspired by the period with a modern influence, specifically Diana Ross' hair in the film Mahogany.

Grossman knew he was artistically driven when he continued on to high school and put more detail into his biology drawings than any of his classmates. Despite that, it wasn't until after college and well into his adult life that he committed to art.

See also: Hot Plate! Best of Phoenix Commemorative Collaboration Opens Oct. 4 at R. Pela Gallery

Grossman is a miniaturist painter, knitter, and crocheter. Because his paintings are so small, the artist must work under a lit magnifier in order to make sure every detail of a nickel-size portrait is accounted for.

Though he works on his art from his home studio, the artist also works full-time composing and teaching piano, as well as managing a knit shop.

What's your earliest memory of Phoenix? My family moved to Phoenix from Long Island, NY in 1969. I was 5 years old and I remember the house hunting experience. We were being driven around a new development at the base of Squaw Peak. The home we were being shown was near completion. It had a sloped driveway, and sat next to a natural arroyo. The backyard was still natural desert and no wall had been built. It was, at that time, the last street in the development, so the backyard was just a continuation of Squaw Peak mountain, when it was still in its natural state, without houses built up on it. Somehow, I knew that this would be our house. We spent the next few weeks in a Van Buren motel (I have no memories of that - a true testament to the healing powers of the brain) before moving into the house at Squaw Peak.

What inspired your plate for this show? I grew up in a household of frustrated vaudevillians, heavily influenced by the likes of George Burns, the Marx Brothers, and Fanny Brice. Puns were the lay of the land, and no amount of work was too much for the joke. My father, a steel detailer by day, dabbled in painting and music when he wasn't working. He loved to replicate famous paintings. I think it was his way of practicing his technique, but I don't know if he ever really moved beyond that. For some reason, he began copying the paintings of Ted DeGrazia (possibly to please my mother who had some affection for them). He would painstakingly load his brushes with a mixture of oil paints, and practice his strokes before touching his brush to the surface he was painting. He did several of these, the most memorable for me being the coffee table in the den, which was a large round board which had been painted with a DeGrazia figure and then sealed and varnished and mounted on a half barrel. It was signed, as were all of his DeGrazia copies, with a forged signature that made the paintings worth doing: "DeGrossman." Anything for the joke.

In honor of his paintings, I decided to do a DeGrazia plate, with a rather lowbrow twist. I'm calling it "Morning Woodpecker" and it is an homage to not only my father, but to the paintings that my parents' generation were so enamored with.

Phoenix needs more... I agree.

Phoenix needs less... Embarrassing politicians. Days over 100 degrees. Tacky DeGrazia homages. Intolerance. Underpaid journalists.

What's on your plate this fall? I've got a busy fall schedule, so I probably could use a turkey platter instead of a plate. In addition to my regular gigs (I'm a piano teacher and I manage the best knit shop in the Valley, called Jessica Knits), I also have a few other art projects in the works for upcoming gallery shows. But nothing as tasteless as the DeGrazia plate.

See Grossman's work when "Hot Plate!" opens tonight at R. Pela Contemporary Art.

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Alexandria Conrad