“Surface,” a new show in the Hartnett Gallery is a bit dramatic for the work the show contains. One series of paintings did not recall for me the tactile experience I expect to encounter from a show with such a title. There are many types of painting that employ media to make the paint thicker or use thick impasto brush strokes, but these paintings do not seem to exhibit these techniques.
These textured surfaces were absent from the current show, making me wonder exactly what John Greene meant when he said in his artist statement, “For me, painting is about paint. Color, texture, the joy of putting it on or scraping it off.” I didn’t see much layering or scraping in the paintings. Paintings are by their very nature flat surfaces, and there was nothing that spoke to this intrinsic flatness either.
In fact, nothing in his artist statement matched the visual experience I had while exploring his paintings. There were a few paintings that looked like impressions of landscapes, a few which were more abstract. There were some toward the corner of the gallery that appeared to be small boxes, and they reminded me of a time when I would paint the outside of shoe boxes.
In the corner of the gallery, seemingly unconnected with the rest of the show, was a lone statue. While being impressed that the curators of the show found a way to display something in that awkward corner, I was unsure how the nature of the sculpture related to anything else, or for that matter, how the paintings related to each other as a collection.
For me, there was nothing engaging about his subject matter. Greene’s landscapes seemed monotonous, most of them sharing a similar composition and a similar treatment of materials. His more abstract paintings looked like something one would see in a doctor’s office. His art, to me, was industriously bland.
I left the show disappointed. On my way out, I grabbed a copy of the catalog and, after reading more about Greene’s process and materials, I had the barest pique of interest. His work is all done in encaustic. There was no explanation of the process or material used to do such work, so after a quick Google search I found the process of encaustic painting to be quite interesting.
Very basically, encaustic paint is a pigment that is suspended in wax. In order to be applied, the paint must be heated up and, once applied, takes seconds to dry completely. In order to rework a surface, one simply needs to apply a source of heat and the wax melts again.
The possibilities of this material are just not seen in John Greene’s work. His work reminds me more of the flat and glassy surfaces done in Rembrandts than an abstract artist working with a fantastic waxy material. His lack of exploration was another source of disappointment for me.
In all, I found John Greene’s work to be a source of continual disappointment, and if one were to go see the show, I strongly suggest not picking up a catalogue or an artist statement.
Rather, enjoy the struggle to construe some personal meaning, for that process of looking will no doubt be more satisfying.
Mallory is a member of the class of 2007.