Among the pleasures of tracking the changes that Joanne Greenbaum has put her painting through in the last decade or so is watching her try out ideas, bring them to fruition, exhaust them and move on. All the while, she retains her core painterly identity: a certain gawky ebullience that embraces irresolution, hesitation, repetitiveness; the awkward, offhand and off-kilter. Plus, she makes it look easy. In the eight new paintings (all 2009, 80 by 78 inches, oil and acrylic on canvas) shown in “Hollywood Squares,” Greenbaum continues to deploy her spindly geometric motifs. But she relies less on the endless layering (each layer numbered in the painting, oy) that has lately subsumed her canvases, leaving it to Terry Winters, among others, to romance “process” to death.
Rather, each painting’s space is invested in one or two eccentric shapes, such as the tumbling, convoluted blue and pink mass scraped into Untitled (Hollywood Squares #5).Ziggurat steps appear below; above, wavy lines that would mean “stinky” in the comics. A scrim of magenta sets that central shape off from a turbulent field of underpainting the features the artist’s beloved fluorescent yellow. The painting’s candy-color variants include butterscotch, molasses and Nutella.
A murky, licorice lagoon settles into the midsection of Untitled (Hollywood Squares #6),where a lot of slithering painterly activity is dimly glimpsed. A great, cresting pink wave swallows up the graphomaniacal core of Untitled (Hollywood Squares #4).An allegory of this painter’s progess? Figure/ground ambiguity in the form of billowing, ragged patches of cadmium green and Bible black threatens to crowd out the noodly confetti in Untitled (Hollywood Squares #8). Greenbaum continues to evolve, balancing risk and caution.
Elliott Green, who has been paired with Greenbaum, periodically overhauls his style, coming to abstraction via a cartoony figuration that posits the human form as elastic tubes and encumbering sacs complicated by heads, hands and feet. In the seven small, theatrical, Surrealist-tinged paintings in “Personified Abstraction,” the artist dismisses his actors but retains their poses and gestures: body language, disembodied.
Many paintings align with the pastoral tradition of figures in the landscape. Lemmonny Soap (18 by 24 inches; all works oil on linen, 2008 or ’09) depicts an encounter between two loopy, baggy characters on a greensward under a hazy purple sky. The larger thrusts an incongruously raw brushstroke in the other’s (implied) face as if in discovery or accusation, a play on “gestural” mark-making.
There is more bravura brushwork in Roots Come Up For Air (30 by 40 inches), in which a slick band of green suggests a grassy mound, buttery yellow bulbs nod in the breeze, and a pedestal supports a quizzical hybrid of animal, vegetable and industrial forms. The gaps between the bigger forms are populated with tiny annotations that border on the figurative, and even the distant background, with its sweeping curves in neutralized secondary hues, is sweetly anthropomorphic. Green’s comic choreography of elasticity and resilience is a fine counterpoint to Francis Bacon’s vision, recently surveyed in a traveling exhibition, of the human figure as beat-up meat.