Los Angeles

Balcomb Greene

Feingarten Gal­leries

The viewer who steps into a room lined with Balcomb Greene’s quavering images experiences an initial start; it is as if his entry frightened a covey of pigeons into fluttering for safety. Adapt­ing to the shuttling paint-patches which comprise Greene’s manner, the perceiver recognizes a world fragmented by a cold white light which dissolves form rather than articulating it. Volumes become silhouettes or disperse into contingent refractions under the flashy glare which floods the pictures. Greene uses this flickering as a vehicle for unifying fig­ures with environments, but in obliterat­ing substantive qualities everything is wrapped in anonymity. Color also is stripped of its amplitude, the thin blues and violets or greens and umbers are simply value contrasts in spatial inter­play with white and swatches of un­painted canvas. The pigment itself is restricted to the transient austerities of wash technique. Even the same compo­sitional devices are exploited in each painting, a close-up figure is backed by a diminishing perspective facade.

Having minimized so many pictorial elements, Greene rests his work almost entirely upon the virtuosity of his brush­manship in distinguishing the particular gestures of men in motion as contrasts to the impersonal actions of light. When he is successful the overall effects seem to be memories reconstituted from movie stills. He depicts the brimming sex­uality of men and women aprowl, as countercurrents in the indifferent com­motion of the city. Greene captures the differing shapes of a man strolling across a boulevard from the rebellious stride of a T-shirted hero Walking in the Village but both images stop at the level of stereotyped gestalts ac­quired by way of the camera’s frozen records. Occasionally a specific face looms out of the jostling transparencies, but the curious familiarity to the kerchiefed woman in Parade stems more from a vaguely remembered newsphoto than from a living encounter.

While the second-hand character of Greene’s imagery could be expounded in terms of social significance, the real issue is their esthetic value, and this is unfortunately minimal. The present exhibition is extremely uneven in qual­ity; slick and pedestrian canvases alter­nate with genuine endeavors. Rocks at the Edge of the Sea reveals, for Greene, a rare opulence, the chunky facets flaked from the rocks and their shim­mering reflections are skillfully paced so that the painting’s whole surface (rather than its subject matter) is of interest throughout; using it as a yard­stick, Northern Harbor and Woman of Avignon seem potboilers at best. Perhaps submitting to the exigencies of filling gallery walls explains the dis­parity in achievement among the can­vases exhibited, but it doesn’t excuse the artist from self-imposed standards of quality. The Spanish poet, Juan Ramon Jimenez wrote: “What a conflict within me between my good and my best!” Balcomb Greene obviously has a reservoir of pictorial power which is only implied in the present works. He seems to have arrested himself by di­vesting painting of the elements which defy his virtuosity. This impoverishment of means has been matched by a nar­rowly thematic content, so that despite the artist’s potential, slickly illustrative works result more frequently than not. Virtuosity is only impressive when it tries to do something challenging. 

Rosalind G. Wholden