Red Grooms is an American painter, sculptor and printmaker, whose surreal humor and exceptional talent has made him one of the country’s most influential and beloved artists.
Early Life and Education
Charles Rogers Grooms was born in Nashville in 1937. It was after he left home that a friend nicknamed him Red, because of his red hair, and the name stuck. The oldest of three sons, Grooms grew up in suburbia, close to the Nashville city limits. His family was a close-knit clan of fundamentalist Baptists.
Grooms showed an interest in art at a young age and his parents showed their support by enrolling him, at the age of ten, in art classes at the Nashville Children’s Museum.
Grooms’ father was an engineer who worked at home as a coppersmith, selling his bowls and ashtrays at craft fairs. Both father and son studied art with Juanita Green Williams, who taught them plein-air painting. Grooms also studied, on Saturdays, with Nashville artist, Joseph Van Sickle.
Young Grooms was fascinated with the Sunday comics and the theatrical drama of the circus and Hollywood films. He said he especially liked the aspect of the comics where things appeared to, “come out to the spectator.”
In high school, Grooms toyed with the idea of becoming a commercial artist and enrolled in the Famous Artist School correspondence course, founded in 1948 by Albert Dorne and Norman Rockwell.
Grooms spent the summers of 1953 and 1954 working at the Lyzon Gallery and frame shop in Nashville where, when he was a senior in high school, gallery owner Myron King bought some of his paintings and hung them alongside the works of Chaim Gross and other established artists.
In 1955, Grooms attended the Art Institute of Chicago, but went to more museums and galleries than classes and was home by Thanksgiving. By his own admission, he was “a restless and undisciplined student” who also dropped out of a teacher training course at the Peabody Institute and Hans Hoffman’s school in Provincetown.
Career and Family Life
Grooms stayed in Provincetown, where he got a job as a dishwasher. He worked alongside poet Dominic Falcone, who gave Grooms the nickname Red. Falcone and his wife, painter Yvonne Andersen, were running the Sun Gallery. The couple encouraged young artists to exhibit their works and collaborate on projects. The gallery lit a fire under Grooms and he began to create Happenings with other artists and to work on his own paintings.
Falcone, Anderson and Grooms moved to New York, where Grooms continued to work and experiment with different media. He became focused on city life and, eventually, rented a studio in Manhattan, which became one of the earliest alternative art spaces in the city.
Grooms art has always been filled with movement and action, inviting the viewer to step into the work. One of Grooms’ most notable work was done with his first wife, Mimi Gross, with whom he had a daughter. Ruckus Manhattan was a three-dimensional model of Manhattan. It was shown on 88 Pine Street, where visitors could walk into and through the model. Made of papier-mâché, wood, plastic, fiberglass and vinyl, it included a model subway train, the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park and the Chrysler building.
Grooms’ works are included in the collections of MoMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney and others fine art venues.
He lives and works in Manhattan with his wife, painter and sculptor, Lysine Luong. The couple have been married since 1987.