Work of the Week – March 10, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014


by Adrian Etheridge

George D. Green (1943- ) is an example of an artist who has extreme growth and change in artistic expression throughout a long career. The Oregon-native abstract painter says himself that his style has evolved over his 30-year career to the point that much of his late work suggests his vision as a painter changed drastically at some point. However, looking through his extensive body of paintings and drawings – more than 1,000 – one can see that his early work was a jumping off point for his elaborate and skillfully crafted later post-modern pieces. While his incredibly skillful early work is certainly pleasing to the eye and intriguing to the mind, his later work pushes the boundaries of abstract art and photorealism to make viewers walk away from a piece with more questions than they came with.

Green attended Oregon State and the University of Oregon for his undergraduate degree, then went on to Washington State University where he received his M.F.A. The post-modern painter stayed in the education field for another decade instructing both at the University of Texas in Austin and the State University of New York in Potsdam.

Green’s painting style is so technically difficult that one look at a painting causes a viewer simply to stare, marveling at his ability to paint objects to look as though they are coming out of the work itself. This distinct type of painting, called Trompe-l’œil (French for “deceive the eye”), uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion of three-dimensionality. The illusion technique, which dates back to Greek and Roman murals, is comparable to forced perspective in architecture and other fields, which employs perspective, scale and vantage point to make it appear as though space and objects are closer, farther, larger or smaller than they actually are. Trompe-l’œil paintings also use photorealism, a style of painting that looks as “real” as a photograph. Where Trompe-l’œil takes a turn from traditional abstract painting is this employment of photorealism, bridging the gap between illusion and “reality.” However, Greens points out in his artist statement that on some level all painters work in the abstract as a painting of a tree only represents the tree and is not the real tree. Arguably, Green’s best use of photoreality manifests in the impeccably depicted frames and mats that enclose the main subject matter of his current paintings.

In Green’s painting Trickster, one flat and one 3D shape interact to create the illusion of odd block shapes coming out of a loosely-painted ocean landscape. Although the blue, green and white swirls do not explicitly look like the ocean (it is abstract art, after all), as many of Green’s scenes depict oceanic imagery reflecting his many happy years spent near an ocean, it is a safe guess that the white sandy-looking swirls coming off the the outskirts of the flat shape allude to the surf. More difficult to read, however, is the pink and yellow shape that at once both pops out at our eyes and recedes into the background. Green’s skillful use of layering combined with the extensive employment of color gradient look as though the irregular shape on one side could be a wooden block with drying paint and on the other could depict a fragment of a beautiful orange sunset. Like most good paintings, Green’s work makes his audience think. Questions like, what is that image? Why did he add irregular shapes on top of a beautiful landscape? And – most often – how did he make that look so real? These questions plague viewers’ minds, giving Green’s pieces an intriguing sense of mystery. Although abstract art can sometimes seem forced and overly contrived, this illusionist painter achieves a delicate balance between intriguing abstract optical skill and beautiful, hyper-real imagery.

Artwork above:George D. Green, Trickster, 1986, Acrylic Painting, 72.00 x 49 x 2.5 inches.Gift of Louis K. and Susan Pear Meisel. Permanent Collection. 1997.09.01.24.