New York

Stephen Greene

Zierler Gallery

Stephen Greene’s show, “25 Years of Drawing: 1947–1972” at the Zierler gallery, demonstrates that Greene has mastered conventional drawing skills in enough styles to qualify as an eclectic. Roughly a quarter of the 40 drawings in the show are Renaissance-ish multiple sketches or studies on a page in pencil, sanguine, and ink representing the years 1947–51. What Barbara Rose, in a brief catalogue essay, calls paying “homage to the old masters” seems more like trying to be an Oki Master. It is not that Greene’s early drawings are simply conventional figure studies, but that his use of medium, style, and the arrangement of fragmented studies on a page in just the right way suggests an intention toward achieving a Renaissance drawing look. In the mid-’50s, Greene’s Old Master draftsmanship turns to Rico Lebrun-type Expressionist crucifixion studies, and eventually in the late ’50s and early ’60s, the drawings evolve into something closer to Abstract Expressionism.

Greene’s new drawings start in 1965 and show large, open expanses of blank paper forming a synthesis of several drawing styles: Lissitzky-type Constructivism; the diagrammatic and smudge elements of Rauschenberg; Picabia’s machine abstractions; and an occasional drawing fragment of a section of bone structure, which if it is necessary to the documentation of the synthesis, could be said to represent conventional figure drawing. These drawings are mostly pencil with only small bits of occasional color, and some collage elements. The most recent of these drawings contain fake writing, or perhaps symbols belonging to a symbol system which is simply not a familiar one. All in all, these are handsome drawings with compositions which in their sparse awkwardness create a certain amount of tug and tension. The titles of these drawings, Biograph, Pictograph, and Recall, clearly suggest that the individual symbols of the drawings are intended to carry certain biographical meanings, but I have no idea what those meanings might be, though the possibility of those lines and bits of diagrams and smudges having the capacity to carry meaning of some sort is an interesting one. But Greene’s drawings don’t seem to go beyond their sources, and seem not only to be a synthesis of certain art historical elements, but a rehash of them.

However what I find most puzzling about Greene’s show is the nature of the show itself. If Greene is really interested in his current work, why does he want to show all that Old Master and figurative Expressionist stuff which is so blatantly derivative? I get the feeling that the purpose of this show is to demonstrate how well he can really draw and, that if Old Master-derived drawings were acceptable right now, he would ditch the new drawings in a minute. Greene seems to have conceived art as a matter of mastering drawing skills with a certain amount of feeling and poetic enigma, a conception for which I haven’t much sympathy.

Bruce Boice