Attending a Winter Park City Commission meeting can be an interesting experience, as just about anything can become a heated controversy in this city – like building a new and improved library or preserving historically significant buildings. Adding to the push-pull incongruity, artist Erik Groff is exhibiting his work this summer on the second floor in the Commission chambers and an adjoining meeting room.
"Inwardly, I'm smiling at the irony. My work used to be a matter for the police, and now I'm in the hallowed chambers of a city hall," Groff said to us at the opening reception.
Groff is an Orlando-born artist who moved to Oakland, California, and made a name for himself in street art. Not graffiti, exactly; more like street sculpture.
"We typically harvested cardboard and wood, and my crew threw them up around Berkeley and Oakland for years," he says, reminiscing about California, where he occupied a twilight zone between graffiti and gallery. Not quite whimsical, not quite rude, his cityscapes were stuff of urban legend in the Bay Area, appearing overnight in alleys and on bridges, lasting till the rain took them. Leftover house paint gave him few choices of colors, but the work somehow made the city look happy.
He jumped the curb into the gallery in California, starring in a few underground YouTube videos. (Look him up to check out those Oakland cityscapes; they're great.) He's since relocated to Englewood, an artist's colony on Florida's west coast, with his wife and daughter. His work appears in the City Hall gallery courtesy of the Winter Park Public Art Advisory Board.
After his return to Florida several years ago, Groff's style is sharp as ever, and some of his best work harks back to his rough-and-tumble days in the Berkeley scene. "At first it was just an impression of what I saw out of my studio window in Oakland," Groff says. "The buildings marched down the hill in such a great rhythm." Colorful, animated architecture pops off the wall in new assemblages, making a city look like a rock concert mob.
Groff paints on canvas as well: Dreamlike heavy black lines wander through amorphous fields of amber and teal, echoing Paul Klee's best and most enigmatic expressionism. Multidimensional faces partly emerge from the trancelike geometry in his paintings, which are a bit freer in spirit than his muscular cityscapes. In many of his pieces, comic, anthropomorphic windows, zany trains and airplanes, and hints of larger-scale dragons and other mythical creatures animate the space.
"These are satisfying to me," he declares. Perhaps they'll calm tempers in the Chambers and soothe the city's fractious leadership.