In Carl Grauer’s latest suite of paintings for Carrie Haddad Gallery titled A QU(i)E(t)ER Interior, the Kansas-born visual artist elicits a disregard for distinction between the animate and the inanimate. Throughout, Grauer characterizes the home he shares with his husband Mario in Poughkeepsie, paying special attention to the majesty of light as he portrays his abode and the mementos that adorn it. Hearkening back to his Lost & Found series from 2017—wherein Grauer also documents everyday objects—he now contextualizes his personal artifacts in space and time. At once, he conveys his meditations on queerness, mortality, and the omnipresence of his mother, Janice, who passed away early in 2023 following her battle with Alzheimer’s.
Although Grauer is a medical illustrator by training and a portrait artist by tendency, his most recent works forego the human figure in lieu of still lifes and landscapes. While adjusting to life in lockdown, he began this transition by musing on the passage of time in his Gridded Nature series. Coniferous Sky and Forsythia Blooming, both painted in 2021, comprise squares rendered during various seasons which, when assembled, constitute a landscape in degrees of birth, maturity, and degeneration. Grauer maintains his fixation on temporality in A QU(i)E(t)ER Interior. “I’ve always had an interest in things like memento mori, in anatomy, in light,” he reflects. Whereas he communicates this motif formally in his Gridded Nature paintings, he now relays it allegorically—notice not only the clocks but unfurling smoke, wilting gerbera daisies, and lengthening shadows whose gestures intimate the inevitable.
Similar to Grauer’s oeuvre from 2021 and prior, idolatry plays an important role in A QU(i)E(t)ER Interior. Only now, rather than making a subject of queer icons—his past referents include Judy Garland as Dorothy, James Baldwin, and Harvey Milk—he displays faces as two-dimensional documents that hang on the walls of his home, a kinetic haven of color and light. Compare, for example, Grauer’s altarpiece portrait of Judy Garland from 2018 to her minor encore in Stairwell. In effect, by muting the human figure as it happens to appear in these still lifes, Grauer accentuates a sense of preternatural aliveness in the inanimate. “I think there is energy attached to objects,” Grauer says, recalling a stint of employment at a secondhand store. “There’s a thing that happens with secondhand goods. This happened nearly every day: Someone would give energy to an object. They’d pick it up, look at it, hold it, set it down, and [intend to] come back for it later. Before the day ended, someone else would buy it. You charge something with your energy—we’re made of energy—and we transfer it onto other things. It was unreal.”
Yet to allege that there are no people in A QU(i)E(t)ER Interior, though literally true, feels like a misrepresentation. A discerning viewer may note the influence of Edward Hopper on the series (Grauer names Hopper as his “first art love”) but a duality distinguishes the two painters; while Hopper’s pictures of people feel lonesome, Grauer’s peopleless pictures effuse personality. The essence of Grauer’s mother, a palpable presence in the paintings, is synonymous with sunlight. She is vivacious in Down the Stairs, comforting in In the Guest Room, and affectionate towards Amelia—the only sentient subject in the series—in Basking. And if we find his mother in light, we discover Grauer in the interior itself. His queerness has long since been a central conceit of his work, and now more than ever, he illustrates it in his own terms. “There are many ways to be queer, to be evocative, to be radical,” he believes. “I tend to be a little quieter and more reserved in my own existence, showing through representation. Oftentimes, when you are queer and oppressed, you hide in and create safety in your own abode. To turn that and make it external—showing how we live, exhibiting our existence—it’s provocative.” In this vein, he is most overt in Bachelors of a Different Sort, a painting that appropriates its title from a text about the interior design, material culture, and aesthetics of queer men in Britain between 1885 and 1957. In the picture, that book rests upon The Selected Letters of Oscar Wilde. Leafy appendages of a nearby aloe plant reach towards two sources of illumination—that which filters in from above through the stained glass windowpane, and that which is nestled between pages of the two gay treatises stacked on the sill.
Ultimately, Grauer’s paintings are not elegies but celebrations of simple gifts, namely selfhood, senses, and family consanguineous and chosen. “I was searching for ways to find contentment within the given situation, finding gratitude for the space that we’re in, for my husband, for the time that I had with my mother and my father,” he says. “Things change, right? And things change quickly. Within this space, this was the constant.” What emerges from this exploration transcends representation. Grauer’s visual volition reveals not just the interior of his home, but also that of his heart and mind—at least for the moment.
About the writer: Matt Moment (b. 1999) is a writer, critic, photographer, and lifelong New Yorker. Matt was building a career as a stage actor and violinist when the pandemic shuttered theaters worldwide, prompting his pivot from performance to poetry, prose, and pictures. Matt’s work can be found in Chestnut Review, Hole in the Head Review, Hudson Valley Magazine, SHOUTOUT LA, The Sun Magazine, Valley Table, and elsewhere. In 2021, he earned a B.A. at SUNY New Paltz, where he received the Tomaselli Award for Creative Writing in poetry and playwriting. Matt is an editor for Hudson Valley Magazine by day.