Oil Painting: Daniel E. Greene: Gleaning Inspiration From Formative Experiences

0711gree2_600x379_2 In the Fall 2007 issue of Workshop magazine, we presented Daniel E. Greene's approach to teaching drawing and painting in art-school classes, short-term workshops, and filmed programs. Here we reproduce the article from the November 2007 issue of American Artist that focused on an exhibition of still-life and figure paintings inspired by the experiences and objects of the artist's childhood.

by M. Stephen Doherty

It’s Thrilling
2007, oil, 44 x 72.
All artwork this article
courtesy Gallery Henoch,
New York, New York,
unless otherwise indicated.

Daniel E. Greene is a master painter of portraits, still lifes, figures, and urban scenes executed in pastel or oil. Many of his noncommissioned pictures are based on personal experiences, including a series of New York City subway paintings that took him back to some of the locations he discovered in the 1950s, when he moved from his hometown of Cincinnati to study art and establish his career. His latest series of paintings is based on an earlier time in his life when, as a child, he was captivated by board games, an amusement park, and organized sports. “I loved competitive games that challenged me physically and mentally,” he remembers. “I did well at those competitions, and I think in many ways they prepared me for the problem-solving aspects of being an artist. Painting can be thought of as a similar process of acquiring knowledge, planning strategies, maintaining stamina, and facing challenges.”

That series of paintings, which is currently on view at Gallery Henoch, in New York City, uses game boards, balloons, toys, stuffed animals, signage, and orchids both for their identities and their visual impact. For example, a game board represents aspects of gamesmanship and also serves as an abstract pattern of shapes and colors that work in concert with the figures and objects painted in front of them. The collection of forms also introduces the theme of contrast that has always interested Greene. He continually juxtaposes objects that are animate and inanimate, new and antique, smooth and textured; but the recent paintings go further in contrasting the emotions of boredom and excitement, disappointment and achievement, risk and security.

Dartboard &

2007, oil, 42 x 66.

“I first started using game boards, dolls, and other childhood memorabilia in my paintings about 20 years ago, but I didn’t make them the focus of a series until I began working on these paintings about two years ago,” Greene explains. “I placed orchids in front of game boards within square-format paintings to contrast beautiful, living, flowing plant material against well-worn geometric patterns; and then I expanded the scale of the work with nude figures against boards enlarged way beyond their actual size. Eventually I allowed the pictures to become more autobiographical by pulling in images from my recollections of the Coney Island amusement park near Cincinnati.”

Greene documented the development of several of these paintings, including It’s Thrilling. “I visited an amusement park in Connecticut with my family, and I was struck by the images of garishly colored stuffed animals, crudely painted signage, bored attendants, darts, balloons, and colored lights—all of them associated with games of chance and skill,” the artist explains. “I remembered how exciting all of that was to me as a child, how my daughter was reacting with the same enthusiasm, and how the carnival had remained much the same as when it was depicted in drawings and paintings by such artists as Edward Hopper, Reginald Marsh, and Isabel Bishop. I imagined how I might respond to these scenes of isolated, lonely figures engaged in a business that was intended to be amusing, challenging, and rewarding. I was especially intrigued by a game in which contestants would earn points by rolling balls, with the number of points being used to determine how fast they could race cars occupied by ghosts. The person who won the most points and moved his or her car to the finish line first would win a prize.”

2007, oil, 54 x 54.

FOCUSING ON THE race of ghosts, Greene made replicas of the moving cars and positioned them on a board, hired a carpenter to construct the players’ booth, and asked one of his daughter’s friends to pose as the attendant. “I was determined to create these new paintings from life, not photographs,” the artist explains. “I searched the internet to locate appropriate stuffed animals, and then by chance I found a bag of them my daughter won at the very same amusement park. It was tedious painting the graphic designs on the booths and the signage above, and it took me a long time to determine where to position the stuffed animals and how to paint portraits of each of them.”

Greene indicates that one of the devices he used to resolve these kinds of compositional issues was to make a quick painted sketch of the objects on sheets of acetate, move them around the canvas, and then decide on the best placement. “It seemed a little curious to be assigning so much importance to toys, but a realist painter has to be willing to paint everything with the same degree of attention and detail,” he says. “They may have been stuffed animals, but they functioned within the pictures as colored shapes that would catch the viewer’s eye and contribute to the context of the ideas being explored.”

Wheel of Fortune
2006, oil, 54 x 54.

It was actually difficult for Greene to replicate the crudely painted signs in the various carnival booths depicted in the series of paintings. “My inclination was to make them more polished and precise, but that would have been inconsistent with the graphic images that are part of a carnival,” he describes. “In most cases, placards were painted decades ago by amateur sign painters to identify the individual booths and to encourage people to compete for prizes.”

The crudeness and harsh colors of the carnival became even more pronounced when Greene developed the paintings Ring-A-Ghoul and Whack-A-Clown. “I actually had to add some unfamiliar paints to my palette to replicate the day-glow orange, iridescent blue, and shocking purple of the bears in Ring-A-Ghoul,” he reveals. “And I spent many hours painting each of the pegs and their cast shadows on the spinning wheel included in Whack-A-Clown. The combination of shapes, textures, and patterns in that painting were unlike any I had ever combined into one picture.”

In recalling the creative process involved in each of these new paintings, Greene points out that for the past 25 years he has documented every aspect of the development of his art. “I keep careful
records of the canvas, board, paper, colors, preparation, mediums, model, preparatory studies, starting and ending dates, and hours of labor involved in each of my paintings,” the artist says. “I
recommend that every artist keep such records for his or her own benefit. I frequently refer to my notes when I want to recall how I achieved certain effects in a painting, where I got the still-life material, who the models were, what medium I used to modify the paints, what varnish I applied once the picture was dry, and where the paintings were exhibited and perhaps sold.”

2007, oil, 54 x 54.

Although some of the detailing of the carnival paintings was tedious, Greene relished the opportunity to paint portraits of the models and to create convincing images of such objects as the balloons in Dartboard & Balloons and the clothing worn by the man in Wheel of Fortune. “I particularly enjoyed painting each of the balloons because several were translucent enough to reveal the numbers underneath, while others reflected the colors and shapes of the nearby balloons,” he explains. “And I decided I wanted to paint a portrait of the young man in Wheel of Fortune as soon as he arrived at my studio in North Salem, New York, to model for one of my summer workshops. He was actually wearing that orange shirt and the decorated jean jacket, and I thought they characterized the kind of rebellious, free-spirited drifter who would take off to join the circus. His pensive gaze also suggested the contradictory emotions of a man who is supposed to be enticing people with a game of fun, excitement, and reward.”

In addition to including a captivating portrait in Wheel of Fortune, Greene used the opportunity to develop an elaborate border along the top of this oil painting. “I have long been fascinated by the decorative elements in Russian icons and gold-leaf decorations,” the artist says. “On some level the antique boards and well-worn signs serve a similar decorative function in the carnival paintings.”

Greene was able to take the carnival artifacts to another level of expression in the painting Dartman by including several menacing images. “On one level, the painting uses a standard portrait device of positioning a figure against a warm, brown background,” he describes. “But when you consider that the man is holding sharply pointed darts used to pop the balloons and penetrate the red-and-white wheel, and that there is a folk-art game in which contestants use a pistol to shoot metal objects extending from a man’s mouth, you recognize that games often involve a level of violence and destruction. I suppose one could extend that recognition to include the current video games that treat violence as a form of entertainment.”

2006, oil, 68 x 68.
Private collection.

Greene created the paintings included in this current New York exhibition on single- and double-primed Claessens linen and Fredrix No. 11 single-primed linen using the Daniel E. Greene line of oil colors manufactured by Jack Richeson & Co., as well as a few tubes of paint made by Winsor & Newton and Grumbacher. His standard medium is a mixture of 1/3 stand oil and 2/3 turpentine; but he does occasionally use a gel medium such as Maroger, as well as an oiling-out medium made with a higher percentage of stand oil thinned with turpentine (5 to 1, 4 to 1, or 1 to 1).

About the Artist
Daniel E. Greene is a former instructor of painting at the National Academy and the Art Students League of New York, both in Manhattan. In 1969 he was elected to the National Academy; in 1983 the Pastel Society of America elected him to the Pastel Hall of Fame; in 1995 he received the John Singer Sargent Award from The American Society of Portrait Artists; in 2001 he was awarded the Gold Medal from the Portrait Society of America; and in 2003 he received the Gold Medal from the Salmagundi Art Club, in New York City. Greene is the author of Pastel and The Art of Pastel (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, New York); he is the subject of six instructional videos and DVDs; and he has endorsed sets of pastel and oil manufactured by Jack Richeson & Co., as well as brushes manufactured by Silver Brush Limited. For more information on Greene or his art supplies, visit his websites at www.danielgreeneartist.com and www.wallstreetart.net. For more information on Gallery Henoch, where Greene’s paintings are on exhibition from October 11 through November 4, visit www.galleryhenoch.com.

M. Stephen Doherty is the editor-in-chief and publisher of American Artist.

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