18 February 2012

Call It Superlative: Gerrit Greve

Dreaming #68 (2006)
   No canvas can be completely reproduced through a photograph nor through digital pixels. And no art-piece remains the same after its artist has been met and his or her ideas, intentions, and experiences have been verbalized. These are old truths, but they find a new and clear realization in the work of Gerrit Greve.
   Pooling together his backgrounds in subatomic science, dance, language studies, and art history, as well as his personal passions and losses, Greve consciously infuses every piece with the sum total of his being.
   We already knew before we showed up for our meeting with the artist, this last week, that Greve has been creating sensational visual artwork since the 70s. We also knew that one of his paintings had been featured in the 2007 book 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die. And we knew that he had co-founded the Arts for Healing program at Scripps Memorial La Jolla, and has been the driving force behind its off-shoot, the Hearts for Healing program, which sees children creating art-pieces to adorn community medical centers. In short, we were already fans, when Greve showed us into his Cardiff-by-the-Sea studio. 
   Greve's painting Dreaming #68 is clearly a meditative masterpiece. Whether you see ocean waves or a radio pulsar reading, it is a piece that encourages the viewer to follow every line through its winding swoops, squiggles and smooth sailing stretches. Greve, however, shared his story of how he was thinking of ancient pictograms, specifically how parallel lines were the means to convey a journey, in simulation of the tracks created by a person's left and right feet. Every line of Dreaming #68 was painted by hand, the canvas laid out flat at Greve's waist-level, Greve standing in the graceful pose of a dancer, remembering to breathe, and envisioning himself walking, as if he were moving atop the cloth of the canvas. At first, he saw himself as person on foot, standing above the ground, apart from it, but as the journey progressed and he found himself moving with shape of the land, he found his vision of himself shifting into one of a current of water, a river in communion with the land. Through the act of his mental journeying, his initial intention of the journey transformed, and that transformational process remains documented before our eyes in the piece.

Journey #265- Buddha (2009)

Journey #255- The Lap of Kwan Yin (2009)

   Themes of journeying and of shifting perspectives come up several times in Greve's body of work, as do ancient forms of language, and sand. In his pieces Journey #265- Buddha and Journey #255- The Lap of Kwan Yin, Greve opted for a ground of iron oxide rather than gesso in order for it to better hold the pieces' sandy textures. The multiple layers of patterns, the alternating bands, the swooping lines, and opalescent hues all signal a fantastic metaphysical tone. Though we had previously perceived the frame of a face in each piece, the curve of the brow where the alleged third eye of wisdom is located, Greve's back-story tells how he wanted to convey spirituality without religion and overplayed iconography. To achieve this, he moved his focus from the face of the Buddha and the face of Kwan Yin, to instead focus on the lower body, the lap. Now, we can see the rounded belly and knees of the jovial Enlightened One. And now we can see the rippling hem of the gown belonging to the cherished Female Deity.

   Are there right answers in art? Are some interpretations better than others? Does the artist hold the answer to the riddle or does he or she only ask it? Clearly, Greve, as the artist, has his own answers. But we, as the viewers, have the opportunity to hold multiple keys, multiple answers, and even to find multiple questions in a piece. What can hardly be disputed, however, is that Greve has made himself a vessel of beautiful energies and of images soaked in mystery. Greve seeks to communicate, not about any single particular meaning, but rather about the ways in which we communicate, in general. And he offers up his mode of living to us through what he creates and through how he creates it.
   "It's not the materials or the application style that makes a painting a great work of art," says Greve. "It's the ability to transcend the limitations of our understanding of space and time, and our strict separation of the two."

Spirit Boat #61-
Sea of Written Prophecies (2007)
Voyage #22-
Phlegethon (2008)

   Greve's series are different from most artists, in that he doesn't ever completely leave one  for another, but rather they are open-ended series that he returns back to whenever the situation may arise. His dozens of depictions of boats originated when he encountered a modest-looking old row-boat in the icehouse of friend who had died. Whereas boats have long been a symbol of the body, or of the conveyer of bodies, Greve's boats are always empty. They succeed in communicating the concept of the solitary soul.  

Abstract Expressionism #11 (2003)
   In his Underwater series, as well as in some of his Abstract Expressionism series, Greve marries his love of Monet's Waterlilies with his love of writing, resulting in pieces that feel like a distant relative to modern-day graffiti. 
   As for his series title, Abstract Expressionism, he uses it with some irony, saying: "The titles of art movements come after the fact, often in a depracating sense. Artists don't work within those kind of limitations. They just create."

Colorfield #219 (1998)
   When asked what steps could be taken to enliven San Diego art, Greve speaks with the same refusal to be boxed in: "When I lived in New York, nobody talked about New York art. But since I moved here, I keep hearing people talk about local art, Southern California art, San Diegan art. I'm not a San Diego artist. I live here, and this is where I happen to make my art. The way to expand what's going on here, the way to nurture it, is in how you look at it and how you think about it. If you stop seeing it as something apart from the art that's being created in the rest of the world, then it ceases to be small and apart. I'm sorry. I don't want to come across as pretentious, but I think it's an important distinction to make."

Colorfield #249 (2003)
   That wasn't pretension on Greve's part. That was honesty. We find truth in his comments, and we're grateful for the distinction he shared with us. YowzerYowzer doesn't necessarily cover San Diego art. We cover work that is made by people who happen to live in San Diego. And we do so, because we find a unique energy in focusing on a manageable, navigable chunk of the globe. This way we are focusing on art that is made by our closest neighbors. We have more of a chance to see these pieces in person, to bump into the people who made them, to have a conversation with those people, and to thank them. 
   We knew several things when we showed up for our meeting with Greve, but when our time was up, and the sun had set on Cardiff, we had begun to understand, and to transcend the limitations we had unknowingly put on ourselves. 
   Thank you, Gerrit Greve. There is truly no more accurate name to call your work but superlative.

[Gerrit Greve was the mystery artist from the previous post. His 1976 painting Two Women is as steamy and lovely as if it had been created today. For more info on Greve, feel free to visit his website at: gerritgreve.com]

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