For the late artist Alan Green, painting was about one thing: the paint. His passion for material has earned him a reputation as something of a painters’ painter, and his lifelong interest in experimenting with the most elemental aspects of the medium is evident in a new exhibition that takes selections of his work from 1972 to 2003 at London’s Annely Juda Fine Art.
From the earliest works in the show through those created near the artist’s death in 2003, the exhibition highlights Green’s interest in geometry. While squares and rectangles are a recurring theme, these aren’t the cool, crisp shapes of Minimalism. Instead, Green’s shapes show the artist’s hand in their uneven lines and layered, sometimes incomplete shading. But despite their human touch though, these aren’t expressionistic works. Green was trained as an illustrator and graphic designer, a background that allowed him to detach himself from concerns of art history and instead focus on experimentation with form and color—themes that would follow him his entire life. In pieces like Untitled Blocks (1972), Green approached the canvas with a sense of emotional distance as he attempted to create “ordinary paintings as ordinary as the real world.”
Here, the forms are defined by the washes of vivid colors—made from raw pigment—that fill them. The 24 rectangles in the work run the gamut from inky black blocks to flat gray or thin washes of the color with blue peeking out from underneath. Here and there, plain paper shows through, as shapes trail off or the brush jumps over a small passage. In later works, like Two Angles Three Rectangles To Top (1993), this interest in texture—and paint’s dual power to conceal and allow things to show through—continues. For Green, art was all about the constant development of paint and materials, and he experimented with various techniques to push its limits, like using combs to scour his work’s surface. As such, in Green’s work paint is elevated from mere tool to the very subject of painting itself.