Review: Elliott Green

By Barbara A. MacAdam. Art News, September 2000

There's much afoot in Elliott Green's newest work literally and figuratively. In the painting Baby Arm Reaching, there are a couple of shod feet, a bare foot, a hand asserting itself trying to be a foot, and a set of indeterminate digits engaged in an apparent colloquy. All power to the feet.

Art language and body language meld, as in Farmer Farming, a painted construction against a bright geometric backdrop. Arms link up like a jungle gym–characteristic Greenian architectonics–while a figure stretches across the bottom, like farmland being worked by disembodied hands. Sex and nature are universal connectors.

Green's inventiveness remains breathtaking. His personal iconography offers a weird and effective vehicle for expressing complex emotional states and relationships, both formal and figurative, and the unidentifiability of the cartoon characters prevents sentiment from becoming mawkish.

In the mother-and-child portrait Forgivable Kindness (echoing Arshile Gorky's classic?), the boy (the artist?), with large, ungainly hands and a half-witted smile on his pitiable face, is pressed into his distracted mother's embrace.

Much has changed in these new paintings: more primary colors, blockier forms, more geometry, bodies sometimes intact and of one species (except for the head). The line is assertive, and narratives are more direct and less slapstick, often about children torn between parents and reaching for love. Green's figures are no longer so much in the continual process of transmogrifying into impossible forms. They have come into their own, however uncomfortable that may be.

Green draws from art history (Hans Hofmann, Cy Twombly, and Willem de Kooning), television, mythology, and now the computer-and-Internet world, with its ever-evolving interconnectedness. Proof of Green's success is that we do suspend our disbelief and buy into his compelling fairy tales.