A staple of the Dallas arts scene since the ’80s, Randy Groden has returned to his roots after extensive time traveling the world, from Hawaii to Portugal and all along the Mediterranean, from Rome to Cyprus.
There is once again in Dallas an R. Groden Gallery.
Works by the seasoned artist fill the walls, a sumptuous collection of abstract expressionist pieces and hyperrealistic works, as well as graceful nudes and arresting homages to pop culture.
Also hanging on the walls are memorabilia, such as a black-and-white photo of Groden at age 5, wearing a cowboy hat as he stands next to his new “Learn to Draw with Jon Gnagy” art kit that he got for Christmas. In a black frame, there’s a typewritten letter from Playboy magazine asking to feature him on their list of sexiest things to do, which was to be painted nude by him.
In his collection of female portraits, Groden captures the essence of a woman and appreciation for her body, including what we’ve been conditioned to believe are flaws—a little roll here and a dimple there. But for the artist, it’s simply painting a beautiful reality.
“The women are beautiful, and the women are sexy, but they’re also very individual,” says Jill Sertsoz, the gallery’s owner and director. “When he paints, he paints them not some idealized version, not particularly for the male gaze. It’s a celebration of the beauty of the female form.”
Introduced by friends, Sertsoz and Groden hit it off—they both have traveled the world and appreciate art, and they were matched in their dreams for a new art gallery that would not only showcase Groden’s work but also bring in new talent. They collaborated on the eponymous gallery, which has been open by appointment only since November, where guests can take in the multifaceted artist’s style and even see his first oil painting from when he was just 12 years old.
“I knew that if I was going to do this, he was going to be the right artist to start with because of the quality of his work, because of him as a person, because of all of his experience,” Sertsoz says. “It’s one of those serendipitous things that fell into place, and it felt right. And then it was off to the races once I made up my mind.”
The next thing Sertsoz knew, she was the owner and director of R. Groden Gallery in the burgeoning Design District. Groden’s studio is within the gallery, and he doesn’t mind prying eyes or giving tours of his unfinished works. Perhaps it’s from his years training artists in quick sketch portraits and caricatures, or his time traveling across the country and Europe creating public artwork and showcasing his work in galleries wherever he went. Although he’s been back in Texas for five years, his cellphone area code announces that someone from Hawaii is calling, and he’s also hung up his hat in Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, Louisiana and more.
“The galleries that I had, they all had my name, and then I was basically running them, so it took a lot of time away from me actually painting,” Groden says. “[Jill] handles the business part.
… We work so well together, and she has her specialties, and I have my specialties. So, it fits perfectly.”
Sertsoz’s story begins in Mississippi, where she began her career as a teacher, then she eventually found her way to Texas. She has an eye for craftsmanship, beauty and technique and a love of exploring the world, so opening the gallery wrote itself into the next chapter of her life. Her background as a teacher has also influenced how she runs the gallery. She’s taught every grade level and subject to students of all abilities, and her goal for R. Groden Gallery is to bring in underrepresented, emerging artists. Currently, two assistants are working with her to run the gallery and being mentored by Groden.
“Part of what being a collector and what being in the arts field is about is that feeling that you get when you see something that affects you viscerally,” Sertsoz says. “You see it and it speaks to you; whether it’s a painting, whether it’s a piece of needlework, whether it’s jewelry, you get a feeling from it that the piece has a spirit of its own. Once it’s been created, it’s now an entity unto itself. It just needs to find a home.”
Christiana Lilly is a freelance journalist in Pompano Beach, Florida. See more of her work spanning the arts, community news and social justice at christianalilly.com.