New York

Leslie Greene

La Galleria

To paint abstract is to think big or think small, to get very far away or very close. Once it was a part of all painting; later it was enough on its own. But abstract painting was a problem for abstraction in painting because of its avoidance of content. Even token content made the abstract work easier. The token content was the frame for the real content.

Leslie Greene’s paintings enrich token content somewhat by choosing an utterly basic subject. Most of her paintings are of overstuffed chairs, often the same chair. The paintings are not about the chair, but the chair is a better ground than something from nature or something with moving parts. It’s easier than painting a cathedral, and being nonexotic, even mundane, it highlights the process of looking and depicting and translating and lying and adjusting.

Neil Jenney has said, “all illusionistic paintings require frames.” Greene paints on the frame, stretching patterned fabric and painting her picture in the center so that a frame remains. In Burning Bright, 1984, the frame is a punky fake-animal pelt fabric, a kitsch fabric redeemed by the picture painted on it—a vase of roses on a drop-leaf table in an unearthly window light casting impossible shadows.

Wombatomba, 1984, is a close-up of a fat chair from above, easily identifiable as a chair only because of the surrounding paintings. Here the frame is a faded ’50s jungle print. The shadow of a straight-backed chair is cast across the rumpled upholstery, which also has rumples and body dents that are pure design. Here and in the other paintings the shadows contain ghost images which connect the spirit with the ghostly meaning of the word “shade.”

Greene’s blacks are filled with ghosts and possibilities. Her colors are canny as parts of an abstraction, wild in context: in Orange Tremble, 1983, an orange-caned, pink-framed chair glows against a green swatch by a black-on-black shadow. Although content is mostly canceled here, it creeps in effectively occasionally, as in the bathtub trilogy of Born Confused, Spoiled Youth, and Grave Age, all 1983. In the first a tub is filled with bluish water, the bathroom walls are red, and toys line a shelf; in the second the tub is less full, ifs at an oblique angle, the water is clear, and the mirrored cabinet reflects a shape that’s as like a flame as a face. Finally there is no bathroom, just a tub in the inhabited blackness. Is it empty or emptying, is the shape inside water or waterline? The bathtub becomes a sarcophagus and its mummy, a machine-tooled thumbnail, a nose-cone moving into deep space. Here are metaphors where in pure abstraction there would be only similes.

Glenn O'Brien