Reviews: (partial list)
The Washington Post
The New York Times
New York Herald Tribune
Art in America
Here are a few exerpts from museum catalogs:
“A more successful sculptural project emerged in 1964 from the Corcoran Gallery School of Art’s National Playground Sculpture Competition, supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Artist Colin Greenly’s winning design, Wishbone House ), was a six-foot-high precast concrete A-shaped frame that encouraged both active climbing and quiet play in the shaded bench area within. For this project Greenly considered, as he explained, “playground, sculpture, climb on, climb in, sit on, shade essential, minimum upkeep, maximum shape, minimum cost, reproducibility.” He objected to the placement of the original cast in a wealthy section of Washington, D.C., and Lady Bird Johnson arranged for a second installation in an underserved neighborhood. Others followed, and multiple Wishbone Houses still exist today, including at the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia.”
“Century of the Child, Growing by Design", Exhibition catalog by Juliet Kinchin & Aidan O'Connor. The Museum of Modern Art, 2012.
"For many years Colin Greenly has been searching for means to express visually the nature of existence. Because this quest has dominated his approach to art, there has been a number of dramatic transformations in his work as his focus has shifted from one aspect of the problem to another. Often he has pursued his goal in several directions simultaneously with a constant interplay of internal references, so that a sequential description of his creative evolution is certain to be misleading. Consequently, it is impossible to characterize Greenly's work in terms of style, but stylistic labels, of course, are beside the point when one is striving for universal truth. In tracing the rough outlines of his search in this brief essay, I am necessarily omitting many facets of his art that have been significant in the development of his imagery.
In his dedication to the expression of universal relationships, Greenly may be likened to Piet Mondrian, the great Dutch painter, even though the imagery of the two artists is entirely dissimilar. Mondrian began with a deep devotion to nature, gradually developing the power to extract from natural objects their formal essences and, learning much from Cubism, he progressively eliminated "accidental" elements until he had stripped down his means of expression to black, white, and the three primary colors, relating them only in what we would now call the "goo gestalt", but for him the implications of pure plastic expression were also highly moral, even religious, and always closely related to the essence of nature. "When one does not represent things," he wrote in 1914, "a place remains for the divine."
Like Mondrian, Colin Greenly began as a painter of nature's objects. As early as the mid-1950s, he began to sense an energy exchange, both in space and in time, between the objects represented in his painting. This was especially evident in a series of hand-string-kite evocations and in certain paintings and drawings in which images emerged subconsciously, as if from other times or lives. His awareness of these energy/time exchanges grew constantly, and he initiated a search for universal forms through which this exchange could be communicated more directly. Greenly's searching did not lead him to the splintered shapes of Cubism or to Mondrian's purely plastic expression, but rather to the discovery of forms in nature that are frequent enough to be considered almost universal. The forms he used became completely abstract, but through their organic quality they retained the energy of nature. These shapes were roughly square, but with rounded sides and one side smaller than the others. In an effort to add the dimension of time to his work, Greenly soon began constructing sculpture, using the shapes from his paintings in layers cut from plastic. The quality of light in them resulting from reflections on the different layers changed constantly as the viewpoint and daylight varied, so that the dimension of time was incorporated into the perception of them. As he worked with the plastic materials, the artist continually refined the shapes, trying to reduce their individual directional energy so that they would become more peaceful and mutually supportive.
By the early 1960s Greenly began to feel increasingly that the forms he had evolved still seemed somehow tied to specific natural objects; although they embodied natural energy both in space and in light changes, they lacked the inevitability of a truly universal symbol. Because each of the superimposed layers had at least one dominant directional thrust, the energies released still tended to be combative, lacking the peacefulness of a dynamic equilibrium. Finally, early in 1964, he intuitively arrived at his "Primary Transition Symbol." a distillation of his previous work and of his awareness of natural forms and time/change energy. In a single figure, which he describes as an extension of the periphery of a square toward the realization of a circle at infinity, he found a symbol expressing both the natural world and the infinite universe, both samsara and nirvana.
Greenly invented the Primary Transitional Symbol out of a personal need to balance the energies implicit in natural forms, but it is perhaps significant that the square and the circle have been the two basic symbols of existence in most of the world's religions, the square containing the apparent directionality of experience on earth and the circle representing the endlessness and continuity of the universe. In Tibetan art and architecture, the symbol of a square within a circle or a circle within a square occurs frequently, and the ornamented mandelas of Buddhist sculpture and painting often contain both basic forms. In Christian iconography the square and the circle also appear repeatedly with similar references to earth and heaven.
For Greenly, the Primary Transitional Symbol solved all the inherent problems in his earlier work and became the basis for a new series of sculptural pieces, consisting of concentric layers of the symbol in acrylic plastic. Greenly soon felt the need to increase the scale of these pieces to avoid visual interference from the required pedestal, but expansion was limited by the present state of technology in acrylics. He temporarily turned away from the Primary Transitional Symbol to straight-edged polystyrene "progressions" that, by 1967, evolved into constructions of transparent glass and aluminum in which light reflections created intangible extensions into space of the concrete shapes of the material. Because of the multiple images caused by reflections, the tangible objects at times appeared to dissolve and to be projected into the space beyond, setting up an energy exchange as compelling as it was illusive. Over a period of several years these constructions grew in scale and often in complexity until Greenly discovered that one of his projected outdoor pieces would cost about $100,000 to fabricate. He saw that others of his projects would even surpass the present state of technological knowledge and manufacturing skill. He began to rethink the whole process of creating works of art.
Concerned as always with the communication of energy exchange between the natural world and the world of the spirit, Greenly perceived that the concrete existence of an art object was not indispensable to its message, that, if given enough clues, the mind can project ideas into reality. He saw that it was not necessary to wait for technological advances before sharing his colossal visions, and he began making drawing of huge geometric shapes rising from or suspended over natural landscape. Realizing the superior impact of photography in creating an illusion to natural reality, he soon used photographs to achieve the images he sought. Over photographic images of landscapes, Greenly imposed abstract "energy signs" of apparently great scale, creating "intangible sculpture".
The present exhibition is composed primarily of intangible sculpture. The objects' attractiveness as photographs of landscape is really incidental. The sites, for the most part documented by the artist, are full of directional energy, and the tension between them and the energy signs is often remarkable. Although the sites are not imaginary, most of them have been removed one step from specificity by the reversal of light through negative printing; they are maya - real nature- but not filled with the extraneous association of any particular countryside. Above these real, but generalized, poetic landscapes are "bars", clearly incorporeal, which set up an almost electric tension or exchange of energy with the land below, rising a number of questions. Where does this powerful force come from? Do the repetitive forms of the landscape exert pressure against the bars? Does more energy emanate from the bar or from the site? What dimensions are involved? What kind of energy exchange is implied - light, magnetic, solar, radioactive? How long will this evocation last? As long as the landscape? If the energy released in this image lasts long enough, will it become solid like the rocks and sand of the landscapes? Clearly these works are part of the same search that led to the discovery of the Primary Transitional Symbol. In fact, an arc of the Symbol actually appears in two of the works in the exhibition. Nature, space, energy, time, and spirit are united in each work to build an art form that is endlessly evocative and free from the struggles of the ego that creates or perceives it.
Greenly's development as an artist has not been along a single path. Paralleling the mainstream of his evolution have been many other activities, ranging from concrete playground sculpture to "color-line events", using miles of colored streamers in park sites. In this exhibition are included several color photographs depicting brilliant streamers flying against the sky. In these works, which have evolved from a series begun in 1968, the energy seems almost pure. The pieces rely on nature - the wind, the background of white clouds and blue sky - but the flexible lines of the streamers are anchored to a taut band limiting the freedom of their flight. Although clearly related to the rest of Greenly's oeuvre, this new series is fresh in concept and wide open in expressive possibilities."
Thomas W. Leviitt, Director, Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Cornell University
Catalog forward for a show at the museum titled "Colin Greenly, Intangible Sculpture", 1972
"This exhibition presents selections from the last four years of Colin Greenly's sculpture and drawings. It begins with a 1964-65 series of acrylic forms now identified as supercircles, from which the polystyrene, straight-line sculptures then evolved. The exhibitions surveys the embossed drawings of the period and concludes with the glass works executed in 1967.
The supercircle provided a new aesthetic foundation for Greenly's sculpture which was based on the primacy of its shape and which infused the subsequent work with new meaning. It is of interest that a parallel development in science may be cited. In September 1965, "Scientific American" published previously unknown, or at least unused, geometric configurations called the supercircle and superelipse which Piet Hein, Danish mathematician, writer and inventor, arrived at through mathematical computation and computer research. Hein's work is based on the supercircle, the precise form, between the circle and the square, was hailed as a major achievement by scientists and architects. More than year earlier, Greenly, unaware of Hein's calculations and working in almost complete obscurity in McLean, Virginia, developed similar configurations as an outcome of experiments with organic shapes made during the period 1961-64.
Although Greenly arrived at his supercircle through a visual and intuitive process, he did so with incredible mathematical precision. In spite of the fact that Greenly's forms are hand-cut, one of his supercircles shows no more variance than .004 of an inch of Hein's formulation.
The supercircle, which the artist refers to as a primary transitional symbol, provided Greenly with a universal denominator, one which integrated curved and staight-line forms and which brought together in a clearly defined form all of his earlier attempts to make an art which reflected natures's basic structure and which made visible the process by which a natural form became itself. Because the supercircle integrated a square and a circle simultaneously in transition toward each other, it symbolized natures's permanent state of flux. In the same shape, one finds a stable, measurable form and, at the same time, one that is in transition. Greenly himself describes the process as "extending the periphery of a square to a point where the resultant shape becomes transition - a symbol of becoming."
With the supercircle as his primary form, Greenly made use of concepts with which he had long been experimenting. To create a compact sculptural unit, he organized progressions of superimposed forms in parallel planes, keeping each form separated from the next by a narrow open space. Thus, the work assumed a life of its own through subtle and gradual changes of light, reflected in between and on each form. This effect emphasized the transitional quality of shape. This use of light appeared in his work as early as 1961 in a series of relief paintings and was continued in the polystyrene pieces of the next period of his work. Initially the works were either entirely white, although, the artist points out, not white alone, as the reflected light breaks down into various colors - or wholly black. In other sculptures of the same type, Greenly chose to experiment with other colors, thickness, and size, before abandoning the super circle.
The white embossed drawing are a reflection of Greenly's sensitivity to the essential quality of materials. No two-dimensional format could more clearly parallel his sculpture since, in effect, it is the subtle changes of light acting on the raised edges which activate these drawings. In these drawings, Greenly either experiments with new configurations or recreates form which have already been used in his sculpture.
In the straight-line polystyrene works, Greenly proceeded to create forms which were more stable than the preceding supercircles. These compact sculptures are, nevertheless, connected to the supercircles, for they evolve from them as logically as 1 follows 0 in our own mathematical system. Working with a lightweight material, polystyrene, afforded Greenly the opportunity to work in greater scale and to experiment with much more complex arrangements of form. In these works, as in the acrylic pieces, the artist assembled each work as a unified series of spaced, light-reflecting progressions. To reduce the presence of the material which is manufactured in porous blue sheets, he carefully filled, sanded, and painted each piece white. These works not only reflect the greater confidence of the artist, enabling him to work with several new shapes but they also signal his ability to apply his previous experience to a range of new problems. The polystyrene works led directly to the glass pieces which consist of more varied and open architectural forms.
The most recent works employ sheets of clear glass joined together by a system of aluminum joints and extrusions which the artist designed for the sculpture. The works are environmental; they are also almost immaterial due to the transparency of the clear glass. Their unity of form is achieved by the linear system of extrusions which define the edges of each form and through careful organization of their rectangular and/or triangular elements - some of which support and/or contain similarly shaped forms. In these works, one is faced with a complex of both real and illusionary forms which may be considered either separately or jointly. Each sculpture reflects elements of itself within and beyond its tangible perimeter - forms appear and disappear, often with unsettling clarity. In these works, with considerable imagination, Greenly has achieved in visual terms a reification of real and illusionary experience."
James Harithas, Assistant Director, The Corcoran Gallery of Art
Introduction for show at the Corcoran titled "Colin Greenly", 1968
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