Matthew Greene: she who casts the darkest shadow on your dreams
Dates: October 30 – December 18, 2004
Opening: reception for artist, Saturday, October 30th, 2004, 6 to 9 pm
Gallery Hours: Wed – Saturday, noon to 6 pm
Rotten and Blissful: The Forests of Matthew Greene
From Blake’s visionary world, to Baudelaire’s opium-induced dreams, to James Ensor’s monster-clouded spectacles, there are endless examples of artists and writers who have derived creative inspiration as a result of their hallucinatory breaks from consensual reality. The notion of the waking dream isn’t new. But to say that it’s old, a well-traveled road, might imply that the poignant-and crucial-possession of an interior fantasy life, and the impulse to make art that expresses it in some form, is something that goes in or out of fashion. Matt Greene doesn’t care about fashion, and neither should you. Zizek asserts that what distinguishes people from one another more than any other quality is their fantasies. Greene’s manifest as phantasmic windows, built up in Byzantine layers of color and glaze, to reveal a casually linked cosmos of dripping, macabre and voluptuous woodland scenes.
Greene culls from many sources, including music (the heavier the better), botany, mycology, horror films, the wide world of fetish fixations, and an expansive vein of literature. Like the Symbolists, he delves into themes of mysticism, androgyny, decadence and morbidity. In the Baudelairean sense, this cosmos features a shifting cult of images, which promulgate a subtle but radical line of thinking: A realm where death, life, gender, rot and reverie are tangled together like tree roots. His paintings are an ethos and an entheogen-a fantasia that elicits very real reactions. They might give you nightmares, or make you high. In the Rothko school of visceral contemplation, Greene’s paintings pulse and then linger, flooding a viewer’s mind like trace die.
Each of Greene’s landscape compositions is a unique permutation of his quasi-kaleidoscopic system of multiple horizons and nonlinear perspective. Giant trees (or sometimes mushrooms) are foregrounded, figures dwarfed in prodigious walls of earth and forest, a twisted take on the strategies of German Romantics like Caspar David Friedrich and Albrecht Altdorfer. Alternatively, elements are agglutinated into organically intermeshed orbs, with glints of trompe l’oeil that are quickly snuffed out by too many depths, bursting and receding like diseased and proliferating organisms. The effect: vision tessellated into non-cohesive components, pleasantly impaired.
Greene has an unkillable gift for drawing, and in many of the landscape paintings, figures are first drawn on paper, then pasted onto the canvas like decoupage-a term that seems apt given the artist’s use of botanical imagery (and particularly plants with trance-inducing properties or mystical significance). Like the orgiastic maenads in Greek mythology, Greene’s nymphs engage in various acts of coitus, playfully attending to themselves and one another. (As Paul Thek wrote, “To fuck someone helps to mold them.”) In 0))) (Indicating Enormous Sound Pressure), girls shower under a Moreau-esque waterfall; I can’t help but think of Alan Warner’s Morvern Callar, who hikes into the woods, buries her boyfriend’s severed head, takes a skinny-dip and then suns herself on a rock listening to Can’s Future Days. Dressed in bustiers and garters, teddies, bikinis, or diaphanous and lacy peignoirs, Greene’s wide-eyed ultra-femmes resemble glam rock starlets, or Warhol’s drag retinue-they populate in a broad spectrum of genders, a lusty tribe that went camping on the island of Lemnos and decided to stay. They preen and pose, some bending over and spreading, an act that seems not louche, but a wholesome and healthy sort of exhibitionism. Sweet (but self-possessed) surrender.
We Beheld the Holograph of our Second Selves (Why Did You Eat Us?) is an updated version of the classic Victorian fairy painting, opulently colored but without the esoteric froufrou of the genre. Greene’s toadstools, the poppy-red, white-spotted caps of amanita muscaria, hover as bright and weightless as the phosphenes that appear behind pressed eyelids, or the solarization effects in late ’60s sci-fi films. Fungus, a key element in the artist’s matrix of ideas, is neither plant nor animal, but a unique life form that gives us bread, and wine, and comes in 36,000 genders. A. muscaria apparently tastes like liquid fire; it’s also a hallucinogen. In We Beheld the Holograph, figures emerge dreamlike from a darkling field: a topless (and headless) woman floats in a white cotton apron, an uncanny resemblance to the bare-breasted figure in Jean-Jacque Lebel’s 1964 collage Miss America, as if the father of Le Happening sprinkled sand on a younger generation of originals. In the center of the canvas, a leggy female figure wears a red polka dot shift, the same hue and pattern as the toadstool caps. This fairy has traded in her bell-shaped dress for a garment that ends at the top of the thigh. Here and elsewhere, Greene’s rendering of garters and stockings sing praises to the Pierre Molinier church of leg worship.
Greene is interested in creating a synesthesiac/phenomenological nexus of music and color and form. A guitar neck juts from the central tree in Lair of the Hessians (a title that refers to the convoluted lineage by which the name given to German mercenaries who fought with the British against American revolutionaries was adapted as a moniker-Hessian shortened to hesher-for small-town stoners). In the center of By the Lust of the Basidiomycetes is a transparent, tetrahedron, its lines painted a lurid red. This motif reappears from painting to painting-ghostly, monolithic shapes half-melted in mist, like the churches in Caspar David Friedrich landscapes. But Greene’s delineations are a different sort of architectonic tradition: Marshall Stacks-the de rigueur hundred-watt rock setup. Amplifiers are the vessel through which sound flows, and Greene considers them perhaps the feminine counterpoint to the masculine, if not overtly phallic, electric guitar. What he’s listening to while he paints is a guiding influence as he builds up organic structures on the canvas, and the results are images that seem imbued with infrasonic effects-homages to the transformative power of music.
Greene ideates on a world where phyla are no longer crammed into a Linnaean hierarchy with humans at the top. Fungus might even be the ruler in this kingdom. Life is not prefaced over death or decomposition, mushrooms spawn people, and everybody-plants, animals, toadstools-mates. In JK Huysman’s Against Nature, Des Essientes dreams of terrifying flower-women engulfing him; he visits the greenhouses on the Avenue de Chatillon and returns, “exhausted, his purse empty, filled with wonder at the vegetative follies he had seen . . . magnificent and outlandish beds of flowers.” But like Baudelaire, who asserted that nature is nothing and teaches nothing, Des Essientes perceives artifice and adornment, precious gems and interior decoration, as the true nobility of the human soul. Which is where Matt Greene splits off from the Symbolists. He shares their predilection for artifice, illustrated in the vast array of meticulously drawn shoes on his fairies’ feet: stilettos reminiscent of the models’ heels on early Roxy Music album covers, or the glam platforms in artist Luciano Castelli’s series His Majesty the Queen. But Greene merges glamour with an awe for nature, for old growth forests, the complex schema of ecosystems, curious and enchanting fungi that thrive on darkness and decay. Perhaps if Des Essientes had accepted natural beauty on its own terms, the flower women might not have threatened to engulf him. Or if they did, he would have enjoyed it.
In 1963 Henri Michaux made a film produced by Sandoz Laboratories (where the first LSD was famously synthesized), with the goal of depicting a visionary world with the elastic dimensions of a mescaline trip. Michaux was horrified by the results. In a public denouncement he said, “It is impossible to make a film about mescaline visions . . . [these images] should be more dazzling, more unstable, more subtle, more labile, more ungraspable, more oscillating, more trembling, more torturing, more swarming, infinitely more charged, more intensely beautiful, more dreadfully colored, more aggressive, more stupid, more strange.” Michaux’s descriptions of what the film failed to convey seem to uncannily describe not only his own drawings, but the artworks of Matt Greene. Greene’s polytechnic methodology deranges sense data into a fixed plasm-an anachronic, anti-Cartesian womb, where evanescence and mordancy, Adam and Eve, spleen and ideal, Leonardo and Led Zeppelin, sacred and profane, runnel and leak over exquisite (and horrible) terrain. If the sensibility here is dark, tonally or emotionally, it is a refuge against the worst kind of darkness: the dark night of nihilistic consumerism, pointless efficiency, and a life devoid of transcendence.
Greene’s susurrating message, a potential cure for those who can hear it: Drink me.
Matt Greene (b. 1972) lives and works in Los Angeles. In the spring 2005, he will have his European debut at Modern Art Inc., London. Recent exhibitions include “Drunk vs. Stoned” at Gavin Brown enterprises, NYC; “Obsession” at Diana Stigter Gallery, Amsterdam; Axxxpresssunizm at Vilma Gold, London; Noctambule at Fondation Dosne-Biblioteque Thiers (D’Amelio Terras), Paris; Scream at Anton Kern Gallery, NYC (traveled to the Moore Space, Miami); and, “lovesongs for assholes/the sixty-edged sword of the androgyne” with Banks Violette at peres projects, Los Angeles. In January 2004, Dennis Cooper presented Matt Greene in the First Take section of Artforum. His work has also been reviewed in The New York Times, FlashArt, The Village Voice and various other publications.
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