Los Angeles

Robert Greene

Richard Telles Fine Art

Those familiar with Robert Greene’s early paintings of figures, architecture, and landscape combined in fairy-taleish scenarios would recognize a shift in the artist’s most recent abstract works. Nonetheless, these oils on panel are of a piece with Greene’s project, for whether in those previous dreamy scenes or in these new displays of color, gesture, and form, the artist reveals an impressive capacity for engaging the viewer with seductive and evocative hints of other places, times, and experiences.

The seven paintings on view (all from 1999) play a simple game with the relation between figure and ground, as well as the old struggle between flatness and illusionistic space. The panels are covered with a layer of a single solid color—surface as absolute foreground—but each of these monochrome screens is presented like a slice of Swiss cheese, perforated by circles of varying sizes that reveal the intricate, dynamic, and multihued brushwork beneath.

It appears at first that Greene covered his panels with broad strokes of gestural underpainting and then laid down the hole-riddled top coats, allowing the openings in the color to randomly expose fragments of the compositions beneath. After spending time with the paintings, however, one notices that while some of the background strokes are visible from one hole to the next, others exist only within a single circle. Still other openings reveal splotches and swatches of color that are not to be found lurking behind any of the adjacent apertures. One realizes that Greene has handled the underpainting to provide for occurrences of continuity as well as discontinuity, and that he has located the openings in his top coat so as to allow the viewer to encounter connected paths as well as dead ends and completely isolated and sometimes seemingly out-of-place passages. Elsewhere, Greene has occasionally painted what appears to be a circle of background actually on top of the color layer or apparently filled in what was once an opening.

The net effect of what appears to be Greene’s strategic planning in the face of serendipity is that the viewer experiences each painting as a large abstraction that includes many smaller ones, which at times verge on functioning as vague representations. The holes in the surface layer become windows onto other spaces, scapes, and worlds (in some cases, literally like little planets, as perceptual shifts cause them to oscillate between having depth and hovering in front of the surface color); these orbs operate discretely, in groups, and as a totality.

Greene’s paintings offer access to pointedly specific impressions and feelings and yet open up to a range of association and even interpretation. For instance, the movements and spaces of gold, pink, and lavender peeking from behind an orange screen put my mind on frolicking when I looked at Holiday; the lavenders, beiges, browns, and olives framed by brilliant blue had me imagining Big Sur and Baja as I gazed at Shore Drive; and the Neapolitan colors of Creamsicle had visions of the Good Humor man dancing in my head. And that was before I even read the titles.

Christopher Miles