Friday, October 19, 2012

Roy Green – Faunatopia – by Philip Willey

086  092 copy

Art….what is it? ‘Mimesis, expression,  communication of emotion…’ according to Wikipedia. All of those things but also it’s whatever you think it is. Or whatever artists say it is. For Roy Green ‘art is an illusion of the utmost importance’.

It’s hard to find a single word that describes Green’s work. Naïve? Hardly. But it isn’t svelte either. Whimsical is too frivolous. Playful? Yes, that may well be a better word, but there’s an underlying seriousness. Without anything too heavy. Certainly his work reveals a knowledge of art history but there’s something about it that invites a lighthearted approach.

In an age when shock and outrage are knowingly manufactured his paintings are light and capricious. But not without a certain tension. This ambiguity presents the writer with a dilemma. I think anybody who criticizes his work on the basis of it being naïve is missing the point. He is serious about art and he knows what he’s doing. The pretentions of the art world annoy him. In conversation he likes to use art jargon but with his tongue firmly in his cheek. Which suggests an ambivalence about art itself. The fine variety anyway. Perhaps he finds a lot of it pretentious. The outcome is a kind of urban folk art.

In a catalogue essay for a show by Green in the Nanaimo Art Gallery Greg Ball notes that ‘historically speaking, Green’s paintings have a loose and raw aesthetic referencing the Neo-expressionistic movement of the 1980s. He paints in a spontaneous manner, interacting with his brush and his thoughts and emotions…’ (1)

There’s a deliberate casualness about the drawing. One thinks of Chia and Lupertz with their anti-academic awkwardness, Salle’s seemingly randomly juxtaposed imagery and the controlled clumsiness of Schnabel. And of course the short-lived brilliant Jean-Michel Basquiat, without the racial undertones, or the volatility. Basquiat, who allowed his ‘calculated primitivism’ (2) to be exploited and ultimately devoured.

Not that there’s anything particularly controversial about Green’s work. If anything one senses a desire not to give offence. Green doesn’t seem much interested in shocking anybody, gallery goers being pretty much unshockable these days anyway, he’s gone beyond that. His is a gentler more subtle approach. He deals in what Deborah Alanna has called ‘ encapsulated enigmatic experiences’. (3)

Why birds and animals? Green sees them as neutral. Animals and birds are things everyone can relate to. This is especially true when they are wearing sweaters and hats. They make the paintings accessible. He is obviously drawn to the innocence and simplicity of the animal world while remaining conscious of the way we, humans, like to endow animals with our own characteristics. It’s this curious mix of naivety and awareness that creates the dialogue in Green’s work. It’s joyous and celebratory…something of an anomaly at a time when so many seem drawn to irony and cynicism. He seeks pleasurable simplicity behind the complexity of modern life.

What about meaning? The paintings are unreal, rather than surreal; all the elements that have caught the artist’s eye somewhere now exist on a single dreamlike plane. If there is a narrative here it’s diegetic drawn from a rich palette of ideas. It is perhaps too much to ask for any obvious meaning. As Green says, in an article by Brian Grison, “these things come and go”. (4) Or, as Grison himself says, Roy Green makes ‘serious paintings about absurd subject matter’.

Getting back to Basquiat, there’s no denying he’s a tough act to follow. Here’s Marc Mayer talking about Basquiat. Hopefully Roy Green won’t object to any perceived association.

"Basquiat speaks articulately while dodging the full impact of clarity like a matador. We can read his pictures without strenuous effort—the words, the images, the colors and the construction—but we cannot quite fathom the point they belabor. Keeping us in this state of half-knowing, of mystery-within-familiarity, had been the core technique of his brand of communication since his adolescent days as the graffiti poet SAMO. To enjoy them, we are not meant to analyze the pictures too carefully. Quantifying the encyclopedic breadth of his research certainly results in an interesting inventory, but the sum cannot adequately explain his pictures, which requires an effort outside the purview of iconography … he painted a calculated incoherence, calibrating the mystery of what such apparently meaning-laden pictures might ultimately mean." (5)

Roy Green demonstrates a similar agility. Everything we need to know is in the paintings themselves. Usually there is one central subject. External references vanish and reappear. There are areas of pure abstraction; squiggles and coloured geometric areas that become symbols representing art itself. Stencils provide texture and refer directly to the barrage of information we have to deal with.

Likewise speech balloons, where form and colour stand in for text, suggest an alternative to any known language, like tweets from Greenland. He wants, he says, each painting to be like a three minute psychedelic pop song, an attempt to encapsulate and make sense out of all the input. When he gets it right there is a harmonious wholeness and all the pieces fit.
Polycrome Fine Art
Oct. 18 to Nov. 1, 2012 
(1) Greg Ball. ‘Atomic Dog’, Nanaimo Art Gallery 2005.
(2) Leonhard Emmerling, ‘Basquiat’, Taschen GmbH 2003
(4) Brian Grison Focus Magazine January 2008
(5) Marc Mayer, ‘Basquiat in History’, Merrell & Brooklyn Museum, 2005.

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