Red Grooms was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1937. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the New School for Social Research, New York. In the 1950s Grooms moved to New York City to immerse himself in the art scene. For nearly fifty years Grooms has combined color, vibrancy, and a generous dose of self-deprecating humor to produce art in all media that provokes and delights. He pokes fun at the icons of American politics, entertainment, the art world, while paying homage to his subjects at the same time. No artist since Honoré Daumier has had a greater understanding of humor or a more direct connection to his audience. In return, Grooms has earned the public's unqualified admiration and appreciation.
As a painter, sculptor, printmaker, filmmaker and theater designer Grooms' career to this point has been prolific. His graphic works alone includes an array of art forms including etchings, lithographs (two and three-dimensional), monotypes, woodblock prints and spray-painted stencils. Throughout the late 1980s and the mid 1990s Grooms devoted himself to a series of prints and three-dimensional works called New York Stories for which he is well known and admired.
Today Grooms is recognized as a pioneer of site-specific sculpture and installation art. City of Chicago (1967), a room-sized, walk-through "sculpto-pictorama," features sky-scraper-proportioned sculptures of Mayor Daley and Hugh Hefner "joined by such historical figures as Abraham Lincoln, Al Capone, and fan-dancer Sally Rand, accompanied by a sound track featuring gunfire and burlesque music. Grooms's genius for rendering the intricacies of architectural ornament is vividly apparent in several three-dimensional vistas of Chicago's famous buildings. Evident here and in the numerous other cityscapes Grooms has created is his extraordinary ability to capture a sense of place with a great sensitivity to detail."
Another sculpto-pictorama, Ruckus Manhattan (1975) exemplifies the mixed-media installations that would become his signature craft. These vibrant three-dimensional constructions melded painting and sculpture, to create immersive works of art that invited interaction from the viewer. The pieces were often populated with colorful, cartoon-like characters, from varied walks of life. One of his biggest themes is the use of painting people, often using other artists or their styles to show his appreciation for their works.
Regarding his large wall relief, William Penn Shaking Hands with the Indians (1967), based on a similarly titled painting by Benjamin West, Grooms remarked, "To tell the truth I did [the work] more because of Mr Benjamin West than Mr. Penn. Benjamin West is a hero for American Art. ... As I understand he set up the whole tableau for The Treaty on his estate using actors from a touring Shakespeare company Then he had an easel installed in the basket of a hot air balloon tethered at 60 feet, and with the help of sandwiches and birch beer hauled up to him by his wife, painted this great masterpiece in six days. To me, this is exemplary American behavior."
Grooms's two most notable installations—The City of Chicago (1967) and Ruckus Manhattan (1975)—were enormously popular with the public. These works were executed in collaboration with then-wife, the artist Mimi Gross. Along with Gross, he starred in Mike Kuchar's Secret of Wendel Samson (1966), which tells the story of a closeted gay artist torn between two relationships. In the 1990s Grooms returned to his Tennessee roots, creating likenesses of 36 figures from Nashville history for the Tennessee Foxtrot Carousel (1998).
Grooms' sculpture The Shootout, which depicts a cowboy and an Indian shooting at one another, drew protests by Native American activists when it was unveiled in Denver in 1982. The sculpture was evicted from two locations in downtown Denver after protesters threatened to deface it. In 1983 the sculpture was moved to the grounds of the Denver Art Museum, and now sits on the roof of the museum restaurant. Grooms commented "Denver is beginning to rival Grumpsville, Tennessee, as one of the great sourpuss towns."
The artist's work can be found in museums and private collections worldwide including the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; Fort Worth Museum of Contemporary Art. Fort Worth Texas; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California; Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York; and the Nagoya City Museum, Nagoya, Japan.
Grooms currently lives and works in New York City in a studio in lower Manhattan at the intersection of Tribeca and Chinatown, where he has lived for around 40 years. He has one daughter, Saskia Grooms.