ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New York artist Ralph Greene has lived in Albuquerque for almost 30 years while he also traveled the world.
Greene’s 31-piece solo exhibition titled “Singing the Blues” at the Freestyle Gallery includes new work most of which has been completed this year.
Greene is a second-generation abstract expressionist who studied under George McNeil whose advice to Greene included the admonition to hang his brain on a hook outside the studio so that he could become a conduit for all that is.
“It was hard to give up my ego and the need to control what happened at the end of the brush. It’s like a meditation practice that clears your habitual patterns so you become an open receiver. Now when I open a new pack of pencils I just start drawing,” Greene said.
In “Boat Under Fish” Greene pulled no punches as he densely covered every inch of his canvas with an intensity borne of pure natural energy poured into the complex composition. It is both frenetic and calming once the viewer gets their sea-legs.
The painting is filled with living forms, symbols of fecundity and a generous number of fish. “Boat Under Fish” is a wonderful example of his discovery process.
As is “It’s Chinese if you Please” a composition in which a female figure emerges from a chaotic background. Though Greene often draws from live models he remains in a meditative state and aims at the essence of form rather than attempting to slavishly copy the pose.
Greene’s technique shares a kinship with “white writing” practiced by Zen Buddhist adepts in Asia. Seattle artist, the late Mark Tobey was also enamored with the Zen technique as it allowed the artist’s hand to express the universal “white noise” that engulfs us.
The abstract expressionist philosophy and genre grew out of 20th century surrealism as well as Asian calligraphy that call into question the traditional western European aesthetic of absolute control. Even revolutionary post-impressionist Georges Seurat completed 400 preliminary drawings before painting his renowned “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” a pointillist masterpiece.
Greene, McNeil, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Joan Brown and many others extract inspiration from the zeitgeist while eschewing preconception. The results are dreamlike images that become interdimensional passageways for an alternative means of expressing visual perception.
Greene avoided pointing fingers when he executed “Political Mayhem” a beautiful rendition of the global chaos in which we all now live. This wonder filled painting transcends whatever controversy it may convey through its luscious palette and the gestural curvilinear arabesques that fill the composition with positivity.
If Greene was a football player, he would be able to provide his team with “all- purpose yardage” in that, as an artist he can also paint in plein air. Greene’s “Wow What a Day” was conceived during a plein air painting expedition in the Sandia Mountains with his friend Leo Neufeld, a portrait and landscape painter known for his exactitude.
But Greene’s real strength is his freewheeling imagery resulting from his outer-directed actions at the drawing board and the studio-bound easel. As a former Marine who discovered his love for painting through the lens of a camera while stationed in Japan for four-plus years, Greene in his 70s has still not reached the mountaintop. But this exhibition should encourage him to pull that flag from the rucksack, he’s almost there. Don’t miss this one.