New Museum Exhibit Results in Grand Name Recognition

Just as he wasn’t always a denizen of the northern suburbs, Paul Grand wasn’t always involved in the realm of the right-brained; in fact, it was just the opposite.

To find the subject of its latest show, the James A. Michener Museum in Doylestown didn’t have to go far. The titular subject of “Paul Grand: Beyond the Surface,” lives right in Bucks County.
Just as he wasn’t always a denizen of the northern suburbs, Paul Grand wasn’t always involved in the realm of the right-brained; in fact, it was just the opposite.
“I was born in Brooklyn in a Jewish neighborhood that today is a slum,” Grand recalls. And that’s really his family name, which his grandparents were given when they arrived in this country from Poland and Russia.
“We played stick ball and I still know a bissel of Yiddish,” he reminisces. Then he went to Brooklyn Technical High School. “At 14, my Mom was confronted with my future and she decided I would be a chemist.”
Today, almost six decades later, Grand lives in a 6,500-square-foot home he bought to hang and display 250 of the large photographs he has created since 1998, when he became seriously committed to the art form. This summer, Lisa Hanover, the CEO of the Michener, came to Grand’s home to select the majority of the 50 works that comprise “Paul Grand: Beyond the Surface,” which opened Oct. 24 and will run through Feb. 7. They are brilliant and breathtaking, resembling abstract paintings more than photographs.
“My earliest recollection of taking photographs is 1964 at the University of Michigan when I started to fool around with black and white,” Grand says. “I was very painterly, but I had a whole career to attend to.” 
That career involved getting a Ph.D. in synthetic organic chemistry at Cal Tech and training as a drug chemist. He then spent 19 years at Colgate, where he learned everything about soaps, detergents, toothpaste and other hygienic necessities and niceties. 
“When I left in 1988, I was VP of Colgate-Palmolive Venture Company, which was based in Manhattan and Piscataway, N.J.,” he says. “I decided I wanted to start my own business. I was very excited about opening a series of espresso shops. The first would be on Broadway between 42nd and 43rd Streets, very close to the Port Authority.” 
It was an ideal location but Paul quickly discovered he was no entrepreneur. “I famously walked away from signing the lease — perhaps because I didn’t want to be getting up at 4 a.m. every day,” he admits. 
Starbucks, however, snapped it up and today the location has the highest sales of any of its 22,000 stores worldwide. The story of his failed entrepreneurship does have a silver lining, however: Grand had the foresight to invest in Starbucks. “If it weren’t for Starbucks, I would never have had the money to buy my house,” he says.
He was 46 when a friend suggested he take up photography again. “So I bought a camera and returned to landscape photography” he recalls. “I was very inspired by Ansel Adams. But I am a colorist at heart, and when I showed my body of work to a photo gallery director, he put me on the path to where I am today. He said my work in color was distinctive and he encouraged me to visually explore subject matter that excited me and intrigued my eye for reasons I didn’t then understand. 
“What ended up interesting me were peeling building walls that present themselves as abstract and colorful paintings. In effect, the wall is my canvas. When I’m successful, I am creating a bridge between photography and painting — effectively using my camera lenses as paintbrushes.”  
There are 1,900 images on his website (, distilled from 8,000 images taken over 18 years. “My production rate is very slow,” says Grand, adding that he will take only two or three images a day, whereas a commercial photographer may use 500 rolls. 
Over the years, Grand has traveled around the world in pursuit of those painterly images. His favorite country is Morocco, followed by India and Mexico, in that order. Not all of his photos of are peeling walls, though — he has taken many stunning portraits, but it is the context in which the person is framed that interests him. “Portraits are very hard and they take me a very long time,” he confesses. “I’ll spend hours framing the subject in my view finder.”
He then sends his film to a specialized photo lab in New York City, which prints his work on slightly metallic paper that lends itself to his style. Grand describes the result as a “sandwich of Plexiglas, paper and cardboard with a wood mount.” Although he sometimes sells his work privately, he readily acknowledges that his main purpose as an artist is to hang his photographs in his own home, where the adjacent images inform each other. “Placement is powerfully important,” he asserts. “Like Rothko, my intent is to infuse the viewer with emotions radiating from the images surrounding them. My office is Matisse-red because it is high-energy. I like the feeling of hot red surroundings. I also love sky-blue, and I’ve recently introduced power wires into my work as a linear element.”
His primary purpose in mounting an exhibit at the Michener is to increase the prominence of photography at the museum. “We want to expand photography and bring in young people and expose them to art. Because they use cell phones, they already think of themselves as photographers. I think it will be a 10-year project.”
Grand’s next trip will be to Mexico in the spring. In the meantime, there is no place he’d rather be than home with his wife, Sunitha, and his stepson Aaron, whom he sees on college breaks. He does not walk around with a camera or seek out subject matter when not traveling. He fills his days walking, reading novels and listening to Bach and Keith Jarrett. 
Most of all, he loves gazing at the walls—not peeling but glowing with his own beloved photographs. “The track lighting was enormously expensive,” he enthuses. “And I have Howard Schultz’s Starbucks to thank for it.” 


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