Denise Green’s work in this exhibition comprises paintings on canvas and photographic montages. In the canvases, such as ‘Motion Blur’ and ‘Collage in Orange’, the artist combines hard-edged forms with directly-brushed, energetic floating patches of abstract mark-making. These intricate areas of meandering, twisting marks reappear obliquely across the exhibition.
They next appear in the sliced slivers of her drawings which intersect black and white wartime photographs. Most of these photographs were taken by the artist’s father on a box camera during his service in the North African campaign in WWII (these images were re-photographed as hi-res digital images by New York photographer, Robert Kastler). We see a long line of Italian POWs; the decimated Rue des Soeurs in Alexandria; battleships; air-raids; parachutists.
Green has spoken of the trauma suffered by her father during his experiences in WWII, a trauma which filtered through her family, so that she inevitably absorbed some of it herself. These photographic montages are a melancholic exploration of this theme.
The artist has attached fragmented strips of her drawings to the photographs as a way of adding an emotional dimension to the pieces. Each component assumes an equal value. The confluence of the past and present is deeply moving – history and generations are bridged through this economic and precise device.
‘Siegfried: Pines 2 (Variant)’ (2016) and ‘Siegfried: Shadow’ (2016) feature photographs taken by the artist herself of sections of the Siegfried Line. Featured here are the Drachenzähne (Dragon’s Teeth) – the reinforced concrete barriers, designed to stop tanks in their tracks. The Siegfried Line was an immense German defence system stretching more than 630 km, from the German border with the Netherlands, along the western border of the old German Empire, as far as the border of Switzerland. It was riddled with many thousand bunkers and tunnels. The artist again interrupts the images with slices of her drawings, making both a personal and an emotional connection with the images of the remnants of historic conflict.
In the drawings ‘Fields of Subjectivity’, Degree of Loss’ and ‘Degree of Loss (Saar)’, the artist puts down her marks intuitively, covering or partly-obscuring previous layers of now-embedded information. Sections of the paper have been instinctively ‘corralled’ and isolated. The ‘authority’ of shapes is toppled as newer marks obfuscate earlier states, now covered and long-gone. Various sections dissolve, or jostle against other encroaching areas. We are keenly aware of the ‘history of making’ within these drawings as we sense various sections move to prominence, or drift to subjugation under the weight of subsequent marks. The ‘Saar’ in the title of the latter work is a reference the protectorate partitioned from Germany after its defeat in World War II.
The photomontage process is also used within the landscape-based works, such as ‘King Island: Tide and Trees’; ‘Bendigo Light’; and ‘Bendigo Gold’. Again, the artist has utilised strips cut from her drawings to intersect with the imagery, thereby presenting an artistic as well as an emotional connection with the various scenes.
There is a very long tradition of artists who have dealt with themes of war within their work – think of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ (1937) and ‘Massacre in Korea’ (1951), for instance, or Otto Dix’s many traumatic images of his experiences in the trenches. Consider Robert Motherwell’s magnificent series of abstract paintings on the Spanish Civil War – ‘Elegy to the Spanish Republic’. More recently, artists such as Wolf Vostell incorporated wartime photography and film footage into their work. Motherwell said of his Spanish elegies that they were “also general metaphors of the contrast between life and death, and their interrelation.”
We may discern the same contrasts within Green’s work here on display, but the artist also provides a personalised commentary on the ways in which wartime experiences do not conclude with the final gunshot, dropped bomb or surrender: they reverberate down through the years, like ripples on a lake, deeply affecting the families of returned men and women for generations after the event.
Internationally-recognised artist Denise Green has had a long and distinguished career. She began her studies at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1969 she moved to New York where she completed a Master of Fine Arts at Hunter College, the City University of New York (CUNY).
In 1978 her career was launched when she was included in the important exhibitions Young American Artists at the Guggenheim Museum and New Image Painting at the Whitney Museum.
She has staged more than 130 one-person exhibitions. Since 1999, nine museum retrospectives of her work have been presented, at such venues as: P.S.1/MoMA, New York; the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum Kurhaus Kleve in Germany. Her work is held in major public collections, including: the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, and the Albertina Museum, Vienna.
She is the author of two books: Metonymy in Contemporary Art: A New Paradigm (2005), in which she developed a new approach to art criticism and creativity inspired by Australian Aboriginal and Indian philosophy, and An Artist’s Odyssey (2012). She has also written for Art Press, Paris; Art Monthly Australia; Art and Australia; Arts Magazine, New York; and Asian Art News.
In 2007 Denise Green was awarded the Order of Australia.