Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mark Greenwalt at Hooks-Epstein

by Robert Boyd

I first saw Mark Greenwalt's art a year ago at the O'Kane Gallery at the University of Houston-Downtown. Some of the pieces that were in that show are included in this larger exhibit at Hooks-Epstein. In writing about the previous show, I speculated that Greenwalt was influenced by Renaissance-era artists sketches, as well as by the medieval visions of Bosch and the neo-medieval visions of Odd Nerdrum. This time around, Greenwalt provides a few possible clues to the question of who his masters are.

Mark Greenwalt, Molting Ingres, graphite and acrylic on panel, 2010

Can Ingres really be one of Greenwalt's influences? The master of serene classicism, the bulwark against Romantic excess--I don't quite see it. Perhaps, though, what Greenwalt gets from Ingres is a classical foundation, from which he builds his not-very-classical grotesqueries.

Mark Greenwalt, Cellini With Synthetic Figure Drifting, graphite on paper, 2008

At least here the figure looks a bit Cellini-esque. Cellini is usually considered a Mannerist artist, and Mannerism itself, with its distortions of human anatomy for dramatic effect, does seem like a possible influence on Greenwalt. And while Cellini was an elegant artist, his subject matter (and his life) was often quite violent. Violence is implied in many of Greenwalt's pieces. But what's going on with the "synthetic figure"?

Mark Greenwalt, Synthetic Stubbs, 2008

I am deducing that the word "synthetic" in these titles refers to the building up of a figure from anatomical basics instead of drawing from life or from a photograph. In each of the two, we see examples of this kind of figure drawing (or horse drawing, in the latter). When you see the structure underneath, it implies a "synthetic" creation. But does that then imply that Greenwalt also draws from life? In any case, in these three pieces, he identifies three rather heterogeneous masters--Ingres, Cellini and famed 18th century master of horse paintings, George Stubbs. In addition to being a great painter, Stubbs studied the anatomy of horses by dissecting them, which lead to the publication of the book, The anatomy of the Horse.

Greenwalt's work is grotesque, in both the modern sense but also in the sense of strange decorative figures one sees, for example, on Gothic cathedrals (surely a source for Greenwalt) and in Mannerist art.

Mark Greenwalt, Bundles Feeding a Muse, graphite and acrylic on paper, 2010

The "bundles," which appear in more than one piece in the show, seem to be part of Greenwalt's private mythology, and could be classified as grotesques. The existence of a private mythology is also suggested by several of his other pieces, including Systems for Budding Universes.

Mark Greenwalt, Systems for Budding Universes, chalk, graphite and acrylic on panel, 2009

But he is also willing to engage the old mythologies, those that enthralled the old masters he seems to have learned so much from.

Mark Greenwalt, The Birth of Venus, graphite and acrylic on panel, 2010

His groteque Venus, however, bears only a slight similarity to Botticelli's elegant, beautiful Venus.

Two last pieces I want to mention are drawings of enormous monuments, set in forbidding landscapes (a desert and on a mountain respectively). I like the Ozymandian Monument to the Great Propagandist. The image, with one smaller head seemingly growing off a larger one, also recalls the story of Athena's birth from the head of Zeus.

Mark Greenwalt, Monument to the Great Propagandist, chalk, graphite and acrylic on panel, 2010

The monument appears to still be under construction, and the telephone poles leading away from it speak to the idea of communication, the prerequisite for propaganda.

The other monument appears to be a depiction of a mythological creature, a bird-headed figure, carved in stone. We see the head, the hand and the mountain from which it was carved. The fact that the mountain is still rough suggests that this, too, might be an unfinished monument. Ruins evoke feelings of nostalgia, sadness, and a sense of the impermanence of life--this is why so many painters of a certain romantic sensibility have been drawn to this subject. But what draws one to pictures of incomplete architectural/sculptural fantasies such as these?

Mark Greenwalt, Monument with Bird Head, acrylic on panel, 2010

I don't know, but I like them.

Greenwalt is apparently part of a group called Modern Plow Collective, which also does film. Here is a video of Greenwalt drawing a portrait. I don't know if this is indicative of his technique, but it certainly seems that many of the pieces in this show could be the result of a process like this.

1 comment:

  1. As one of Mark's former students, I can say without a doubt that he is quite the fan of Renaissance masters. It is an awesome experience just to watch him draw anything. He once showed a sketch he did of a seascape... very Un-Greenwalt-ish looking. He is certainly a living master.