Balcomb Greene


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Painter. After working nonobjectively in the 1930s and early 1940s, he gradually turned to painterly, romantically charged imagery. Born in Niagara Falls, he grew up in Iowa, South Dakota, and Colorado. Following graduation in 1926 from Syracuse (New York) University with a major in philosophy, he departed for Vienna, where he studied psychology with Sigmund Freud and others. Upon returning to the United States in 1927, he studied English for a year at Columbia University before accepting a teaching position at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. While living in Paris between 1931 and 1933, he had his first one-person show, despite almost complete lack of formal training. Subsequently back in New York, in 1934 he found employment in the federal art projects, for which he painted murals and designed a stained glass window. Active in 1936 in organizing the American Abstract Artists, he was elected the group's first chairman in 1937. In 1943 he earned a master's degree in art history at New York University. From 1942 until 1959 he taught at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh, although he maintained a New York residence. By 1935 Greene had evolved a style marked by hard-edge, planar geometries, occasionally relieved by the inclusion of biomorphic shapes. Beginning in the early 1940s, figures sometimes appeared in his work, which became amorphous and atmospheric, more in tune with the fluent styles of emerging abstract expressionism. The loosely painted Composition: The Storm (Whitney Museum, 1953–54) suggests clouds and turbulence. In certain works of his later career, sometimes based on photographic images, exaggerated lights and darks veil representation and create patterns of movement. Place Pigalle (Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Austin, 1964) portrays numerous blurred people traversing a city square, suggesting the anonymous, unstable, and sometimes unintelligible character of contemporary life. Other works reflect the rugged seashore near the summer residence he maintained from the late 1940s near Long Island's Montauk Point. He died there, following two years in poor health.

His wife, painter and sculptor Gertrude Greene (1904–56), is noted for painted relief sculptures deftly combining two- and three-dimensional forms in skillful manipulation of reality and illusion. Born in Brooklyn, in 1924 Gertrude Glass began two years of study at the tradition-oriented Leonardo da Vinci School of Art. She married Greene in 1926. Exposure to varied forms of abstract art in Paris during their sojourn in the early 1930s enriched her development. Particularly struck by the work of Brancusi, Mondrian, and Naum Gabo, by the mid-1930s she had begun to produce her characteristic reliefs. In addition, in partnership with Ibram Lassaw, she experimented with sheet metal as a sculptural material. She, too, numbered among the founding members of the American Abstract Artists. Also affected by abstract expressionism in the 1940s, she incorporated spontaneous effects into reliefs, while also producing vigorous, gestural paintings. In later years, she constructed three-dimensional canvas pieces as well. She died in New York after a long illness.

Subjects: Art.

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