International audiences are getting a glimpse at the sculptural work of two North Coast artists.
A large photograph of a gate created by Crescent City/Eureka artists Norman Grochowski and Siri Wahlgren is currently in a show at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The show, which runs through Sept. 1, is called “Van Gogh and the Sunflowers.” The photo, Grochowski said, is part of a display of images of 10 modern-day artists whose works have been inspired by the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). The image in the show was taken by Los Angeles photographer Wes Mathur.
“This particular work is titled ‘Van Gogh in Steel.’ It’s a large sunflower gate that my wife and I designed and made for Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott when we lived in Los Angeles many years ago. It’s 14 feet wide and 10 feet high,” Grochowski said. The gate, he said, is located in Malibu.
Grochowski added: “Vincent was an incredible artist and this work comes nowhere close to the power and beauty of his paintings, but we feel honored that the people of the Netherlands would invite the work to be seen. We still make work available for commissions and enjoy working with many of the artists and artisans here in Eureka and Crescent City.”
Grochowski and Wahlgren moved to the North Coast from Los Angeles in the early 2000s.
“Siri and I met each other in Venice, California, in the mid-1980s, married and had a daughter together,” Grochowski said. “Siri was a fashion designer and I had studied fine art for four years in the mid-1960s, focusing mainly on sculpting and painting.
“Neither sculpting or painting made any money for me,” he said, “but that was cool at the time. I knew that people will rarely pay money for artworks that deal with aesthetics only, but came to realize that they will buy functional art.”
Grochowski — who has been painting and sculpting for more than five decades — says he began using his sculpting skills to make tables, chandeliers and gates that had artwork in them.
“After I met Siri,” he said, “she wanted to learn about metal working and welding since she had a lot of good ideas design wise, and we figured we could maybe end up a team.
“It worked out quite well,” Grochowski said, “and we eventually ended up creating wonderful artistic things for people in Los Angeles. We were a great team together and that always spells disaster and we got divorced 18 years later. We still remained good friends and all that, but she moved to Eureka about 16 years ago.”
Grochowski came north to visit Wahlgren in Humboldt County after she moved to the area and — taken by the region’s natural beauty — soon moved to Crescent City.
“About a year after I moved here,” he said, “I received a commission to do a large monumental sculpture for the Topanga Library in Los Angeles. … So, I began working on that and asked Siri and my daughter if they wanted to help on it. They did and it became a huge undertaking, which finally got done in 2011. I didn’t mind the commute back and forth to Eureka. I always refer to it as the most beautiful 80-mile drive anyone could ever take.”
Grochowski and Wahlgren continued doing more work together as other commissions came in, he said.
“Last year our work got so busy that Siri decided to move to Crescent City and we’re now partners once again,” he said. “This type of work comes and goes — sometimes we’re quite busy, but there are also long dry spells when nothing appears. That’s the lot of most artists and it’s fine with me.”
They’ve done two officially commissioned public artworks and several others that are viewable by the public, he said. These works include the monumental sculpture outside of the Topanga Public Library near Malibu, as well as an interior sculpture for that library.
“We also have a monumental sculpture in Malibu in a small village called the Malibu Country Mart at Cross Creek Road and (Pacific Coast Highway),” he said. “It’s an Allegorical Tree, handmade in steel, 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide at the canopy of branches and leaves. It has dozens of figures, creatures and other symbols woven into the theme of the work.”
The sunflower gate for actors Elliott and Ross was a gift from her to her husband for their wedding anniversary, Grochowski said.
“Katharine asked us to come up with something and loved our idea for sunflowers,” he said. “Many celebrities in Malibu saw this gate and this led to several wonderful commissions.”
At some point, an employee at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam came across a photo of the grand gate and contacted the North Coast artists about including a photograph of their sculptural creation in the “Van Gogh and the Sunflowers” exhibition.
“I was elated when I heard from them and felt very honored, since van Gogh was one of my favorite artists ever since I could remember,” Grochowski said. “I had actually visited that museum when I was hitchhiking around Europe in 1973. It blew me away when I saw it.”