Artist Interview: Jon Greene
At first glance, Jon Greene’s compositions feel fully resolved, with deliciously crisp edges and contained planes. They look as solid and considered as architectural structures, but move closer and façades become labyrinths. Driven by his passion for psychology and his belief in the inherent political nature of art, Greene troubles our perception in the name of intersectionality.
Read our interview with the Tamarind Institute alum and University of Iowa MFA candidate below, and then explore our new digital exhibition of Greene’s recent work.
I love the intentional ambiguity of your imagery, which you've said offers "simultaneous interpretations" of the work. In our current cultural and political climate, does the idea of broadening (or complicating) a viewer's perspective hold more urgency for you?
Absolutely. This year, I have been teaching a class called Printmaking and the Politics of Protest and Representation. This class and my students have been incredibly inspiring. I love to be part of a community that aims to spur change and help the world. I hope to direct a viewer's attention in my work, yet I do not want to make decisions for them. I fabricate compositions that can be understood in several ways.
The cultural climate and the global pandemic greatly influence my work. I do not want to speak for others, yet I hope my images of boundaries are emotionally and historically relatable to everyone. My piece, partitions, reveals the architectural complexity of the glass and plastic barriers that now fill public spaces and separate people. Boarded-Up was inspired by the BLM protests in Philadelphia. A large portion of the city was cloaked in a layer of plywood with terrifying efficiency.
All art is political. And, no matter how much they involve themselves in politics, every artist is political. I do not see my work as protest art; however, I am interested in how my work can alter someone's perspective – even momentarily.
You are primarily a printmaker, but you've also pushed your practice into other dimensions through digital and installation art. How did your passion for architecture inform those explorations?
Until the age of seventeen, I thought I would be an architect. I studied architecture as a child, drew impossible structures, and designed buildings and homes on free architecture computer software. However, fine art drew me in quickly. My passion lies in printmaking, but my linear method of creating structures harkens back to my interest in architecture.
Two of my favorite sources in my research are a book by the Center for Architecture and Design called Space and Psyche and The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. I am interested in how spaces affect our minds and how architecture can act as an illusion. Being from Pennsylvania, Frank Lloyd Wright influences my work. I find myself referring to architects for inspiration just as much as I do artists.
Weichlbaur Otis' Grass Covered Home inspired one of my most significant installation pieces. I have very little interest in moving towards three-dimensional, sculptural work in my work. Instead, I work to pull dimensions out of flat surfaces. My recent show, Light Bends, was a 20-foot-wide artificial grass installation that changed in perspective as you moved around it. I will continue to make installations that provide commentary on material and space.
In our curatorial programs, we like drawing lines from Post-war and contemporary masters to rising artists like you. Is there an artist in the Zane Bennett collection who has inspired you, and if so, how?
It is sincerely tricky for me to pick an artist in Zane Bennett's collection that inspires me, as I cannot pick just one. Richard Serra and James Turrell have been significant inspirations to me for years. I frequented Dia Beacon in Upstate New York and MASS MoCA in Western Massachusetts in undergraduate school. I will never forget the visceral effects of Serra's Torqued Ellipses and the enormous hole in the ground.
While showing my work in Bilbao, Spain recently, I was able to visit his work at Guggenheim Bilbao. Once again, I was floored by the structures, how they direct human movement, and the natural and unnatural barriers they reference. Serra's work reminds me of exploring Zion National Park as a child, yet it also frightens me by its control and stance. I appreciate Serra's work so much, but I also find myself hoping to separate myself and my work from him. Masculinity defines Serra's work, and it completely controls its viewership. I attempt to make my work escapable and open for interpretation.
Turrell's work is simple and profound. He manages light and relationships between colors in mesmerizing manners. I look to him as an inspiration for installation and experiential art. I also want to mention how vital Ellsworth Kelly's work has been to my growth in art. In my practice, I work to associate form with color. Kelly was a master in displaying these relationships. I feel as though many of us are still learning from him.
Read part 1 of this interview on our website. Jon discusses his experiences at Tamarind Institute and the University of Iowa, and his constant collaboration with “autonomous materials” as a lithographer. Greene’s recent work currently appears in a special digital exhibition on Artsy.