Şafak Güneş Gökduman: George D. Green And Abstract Illusionism

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Şafak Güneş Gökduman: What is the Abstract Illusionism? What are the characteristics of An Abstract Illusionist paint?

George D. Green: Abstract Illusionism is the combining of trompe l’oeil (fool the eye space) with abstract painting. It first emerged in the New York art world in the mid-‘70’s. The art world (painting) at this time and since back in the ‘50’s had closely followed the ridiculous and confining ideas of the critic, Clement Greenberg.  He, among other things, fiercely advocated for absolute flatness in painting. The idea of introducing trompe l’oeil to abstract painting was, at this time, revolutionary.

The primary characteristic of Abstract Illusionist painting is that despite the complete absence of subject matter, an absolutely believable (fool-the eye) space is achieved.

Ş.G.G.: The main general characteristics of Abstract Illusionist artworks have been listed by Peter Frank -the author of the essay in catalog of an exhibition titled Breaking the Plane occurred at the Louis K. Meisel Gallery, in 1984- as being the use of the cast shadows device, the painterly quality of their work, the use of focalized compositions, the lack of reference to the real world and a serious concern for paradoxical visualsituations .What are you going to say about it? Do you approve of what he said?

G.D.G.: Peter is correct in identifying these characteristics. The use of the cast shadow is of particular interest. All space we see in nature occurs in the brain and is a consequence of the memory and experience of past visual and tactile interactions. The perception of space beyond a few inches is a function of stereoscopic vision (vision from two sources—eyes combined in the brain to create the sensation of space). Close one eye and the world flattens. The space is gone but the memory remains and all the attendant clues (perspective, etc.) remain to remind us of space.  This is the sense of space we see in realistic painting. Perception of space on the small scale (about one inch or less of depth) does not depend on stereoscopic vision. This shallow space is almost entirely the consequence of cast shadows. These shadows occur nearly always when one shape overlaps another.  The skillful, illusionistic replication (painting) of this phenomenon is nearly identical to that which exists in nature. This device (cast shadow) has been used in paintings for centuries but never before in abstract painting. This phenomenon of the cast shadow was so effective in the Abstract Illusionist paintings of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s that it eventually came to be used in commercial illustration. It is now a ubiquitous illustration device in computer design programs. It’s interesting to remember that something, now so commonplace in the computer world, originated 36 years ago with the Abstract Illusionists.

The painterly quality of my work in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s was extreme and very real. The aggressive and expressionistic brush strokes were actually super thick paint, sometimes rising as much as a full inch above picture plane. This stood in sharp contrast to the absolutely flat, yet magically believable trompe l’oeil space.

George D. Green, Architect and the bishop

The lack of reference to the real world increases the effectiveness of trompe l’oeil space.  A super real painting of a bowl of fruit sitting on a table, illuminated by golden light may seem real enough to touch, but no matter how real it is painted, we always know it’s a painting and not a real bowl of fruit. An Abstract Illusionist picture has no such governor—there is no object/subject dichotomy—these paintings become their own reality—they are believable in themselves. In my most recent work, even though there is a reference to representational subject matter (seascapes and elegant, wooden frames) they are paintings of pictures of seascapes in trompe l’oeil and extremely believable, “until touched” frames. The abstract, gold, filigreed arabesques float ahead of the entire picture and add a magical, musical component.

Paradoxical* visual situations for me, are essential, visual energy-creating devices.  They also assist in establishing the self-referencial structure necessary for magical illusion.

 a paradigm, a paradox, a pair of shoes, a pair of socks

  a parody, a pair of dice, a parable, a pair of mice

  I realize this little poem may not translate well into Turkish.

Ş.G.G.: What is the differences and similarities between Op Art and  Abstract İllusionism?

G.D.G.: Op Art and Abstract Illusionism are similar in that they are compelling, visual and assessable pictures without need of recourse to expert instruction. Op Art, while interesting, still largely, if loosely conformed to the prevailing Greenbergian orthodoxy of pictorial flatness. In contrast, Abstract Illusionism was truly revolutionary. And, though it is just now beginning to be properly historicalized some 36 years, after the fact, we here in the USA still have some university art departments churning out students steeped in Greenbergian faux, avant-garde orthodoxy. It’s of great fascination to me that considerable interest is being generated and interjected into the New York art world by scholars from other countries.

Ş.G.G.: When did you get interested in art?

G.D.G.: The first three years of my life were spent with my grandfather. (My father was overseas in Italy during WWII.) My grandfather, being both an amateur prize fighter and political cartoonist) believed that all people, to be properly prepared for life, needed to know how to box and how to draw. The lessons began almost immediately.

Ş.G.G.: Who were the artists influenced you? 

G.D.G.: I have been influenced by hundreds of artists from the ancient world to the present. Influence comes in many forms and when authentic and useful, does not reflect imitation.  My first influence, and an important one, was my grandfather. His constant advice from my early years to the time of his death was always this, and I now quote, “Buck! * Draw big! And put some action in it!” *This was my grandfather’s nickname for me. He never ever, ever, ever called me by my real name.

In 1982, during a residency at the Cite Fleure, I made a series of giant, charcoal drawings (6’ x 7’). These drawings contained enough action to set a large room in whirling motion. These were the embodiment of a lifetime of my grandfather’s advice. The next season, my longtime friend and dealer, Louis K. Meisel exhibited them at his Soho gallery (at great expense—they were a king’s ransom to frame and the prospect for sales of such work was dim). And true to expectation, none of the work sold during the show. Louis had presented the show as a favor to me and because he believed in the work. That was back in 1983. Now, most of these drawings are in museum collections (you never know when you are having good luck.

Ş.G.G.: Some sources is say that “George Green is not an Action Painter in the way that Jackson Pollock was, but his method of evolving his paintings over time resembles the methods of the Action Painters.” What can you say about this?

G.D.G.: My method for evolving paintings over time is largely stream of consciousness and intuitive. This is a process in which mistakes and accidents play a positive role in that they are used as opportunities for eccentric invention. The paintings may appear to be thought up, but they are in reality, the result of an intuitive process. What appears to be planned has instead, evolved. This is particularly true of my most recent paintings (2010).  The gold, filigreed arabesques are so precise that they seem to be carefully planned out.  They are not.  Despite the considerable time necessary to paint them (one to two months for a large picture), these gold arabesques are entirely intuitive and every bit as improvisational as any action painting, just way slower.

Ş.G.G.: Dr. Leda Cempellin says about the changes in your work that “George D. Green has justified these changes by his consistent attitude of “positive acceptance of chance and error”, so that he does not actively try to cause a change; rather he allows the change to ocur in his work. The artist has used the evolutionary theory of the Punctuated Equilibria, developed by the scientists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould in the 1970s, as the most efficient metaphor to explain the developments of his work.” What can you say about this?

George D. Green, The science of the angels part I

G.D.G.: What I mean by this is that my work grows/changes by an evolutionary process rather than by thinking up ideas. The particular model of evolutionary theory termed “punctuated equilibria” states that there may be many, tiny mutations often below “the threshold of notice,” punctuated from time to time by large, conspicuous changes.

Ş.G.G.: When we examine your paintings you did at the end of 70s like High Country and Church Light/Summer Skies we saw that shapes are more dominant than colors. Considerably sharp lines draw the attention in those paintings.  However sharp lines give way to vivid colors in your paintings you did between 90s and 2000 like Pulse of a Galloping Sun, Gateway Star and Moment to Moment.  As from 2000s, sharps lines and vivid colors give way to landscape and wooden. Considering all of them can we say that your art could be examined in three periods?

G.D.G.: Yes, in a very general sense. And, congratulations to you for noticing the prominent shape, bright color evolving dominance. This is a clear difference I had not noticed before.

Ş.G.G.: Louis K. Meisel says: “It is interesting to note that almost with each painting- from the very beginning to the very present- there has been a clear progression leading him to his present works. Viewing two or three successive works together from 1975 to 2010, changes and developments are subtle yet apparent. In seeing two paintings from five years apart, however, one would not perceive at once their relationship- they could, at a superficial viewing, almost appear to be the work of two different artists. A more contemplative viewing though would reveal the works to be by the same artist, and moreover, to relate to one another on levels both stylistic and philosophical.” Do you agree with his ideas about your paintings? What is your opinion?

G.D.G.: Yes—very much so. He has been my dealer and friend for over 35 years. He has seen all of my work practically as soon as it occurred.

Ş.G.G.: Despite all distinctness what attracts my attention is your using contradictions acridly. In other words the colors are pale in pictures drawn with sharp lines however lines are softer in pictures with vivid colors. Moreover in your last works, seascape which symbolizes infiniteness is imprisoned with the large frames which symbolize finiteness. When we consider your works as a whole each term is different in visual aspects but I suppose they combine within a philosophic base. If it is so, what is the philosophical base of your works?

George D. Green, Resurrection awake and alert

G.D.G.: You are again, very observant. A general, extremely large overview philosophical statement would be: For me, art is painting and painting is about picture making and picture making, in consort with many other things, is about illusion. (It’s interesting to see the ridiculous ideas of Clement Greenberg, et. all . . . gasping for breath when taken out of the protective bubble of academia.)

Sculpture can also be about illusion (John De Andrea, Judd Nelson…) but sculpture begins in the realm of “something-ness”—(a block of wood, slab of stone, etc.), to which some alteration has occurred. The anticipated ontological state of wonder is absent. Sculpture has always been something, just something else. In contrast, painting originates from a ground of “magical nothingness”—pretty much like the universe. Before a painting happens, it’s nothing. Paintings are one of our culturally available forms of mysticism—a direct experience of reality—the cherished anachronism of a hand-made object.

This all stands stoutly in opposition to the current institutionally sheltered double helping of “fashion driven”— sociopolitical, recycled art from the early 70’s. Happily, the long needed art world reformation is underway. As far back as 1972, when asked about performance art, the late LA critic and painter, Walter Gabrielson, replied, “it needs to be at least as entertaining as the Mary Tyler Moore show.”[1] Most current work on offer today routinely fails to meet this standard.

Ş.G.G.: According to you what makes a work belong to George D. Green or what is the common ground of your paintings?

G.D.G.: I will refer you back to previous answer and add that each picture must present an overwhelming experience of visual magic. And in collective essence, be unlike anything ever before seen.

Ş.G.G.: As far as I know you don’t make use of technology while painting. Could you please talk about your techniques?

G.D.G.: Yes, you are correct, I use no technology when making my pictures. My technique is simply “old fashioned,” hand-eye coordination—actually, a very boring process entirely dependent on whatever limited skills I possess.

Ş.G.G.: Will you have an exhibition soon?

G.D.G.: I will be having two exhibitions in New York City this year—one opening on November 20 at the Louis K. Meisel Gallery and the other, opening December 2 at the Bernarducci Meisel.Gallery.

Translator: Ayşe Anaçoğlu

Not: Bu röportaj daha önce rh+ artmagazine, No: 77 January 2011 tarihinde yayımlanmıştır.


[1] A popular situation comedy television program from the 70’s

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Şafak G. GÖKDUMAN

Hakkında Şafak G. GÖKDUMAN

2000- İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Türk Dili ve Edebiyatı Bölümünden mezun oldu. 2001-2002- İstanbul Teknik Üniversitesinde İnkılap Dil Enstitüsü’nde bir yıl İngilizce Hazırlık okudu.(Sanat Tarihi YL) 2005- İstanbul Üniversitesi Türk Dili ve Edebiyatı ABD. Yüksek Lisansını tamamladı. Ocak 2017 “1980 Sonrası Türk Romanında Üstkurmaca” başlıklı teziyle İstanbul Üniversitesi Türk Dili ve Edebiyatı Doktora programından mezun oldu.Marmara Üniversitesi Türkiyat Araştırmaları Enstitüsünde Türk Sanatında doktora çalışmalarına devam etmektedir. 1998 yılından itibaren Varlık, Virgül, E, Hürriyet Gösteri, Sanat Antika Koleksiyon ve rh+ artmagazine gibi dergilerde sanat ve edebiyat üzerine makale ve röportajları yayımlanan Şafak Güneş (Gökduman), Kasım 2013’ten beri KolajART’ın Yayın Yönetmenliğine devam etmektedir. Abdülhak Şinasi Hisar’ın İstanbul’u adlı incelemesi İBB. Kültür A. Ş. tarafından yayımlanmıştır.

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