Pale Faces

The Boca Museum's portrait show is sooo 1950

The end of the 1940s found the artist staking out territory he would explore for the rest of his life. The bright colors all but disappear, replaced by a palette so muted that at times it approaches monochromatic. The human figure and, increasingly, the human face become more and more central for Greene as a way of avoiding what he saw as the sterility of pure abstraction.

There's a remarkable consistency to the look and feel of the paintings included here, even though they're drawn from the next four decades. Greene never stopped experimenting, but he also never abandoned his efforts to integrate the figurative and the abstract.

In 1947, Greene and his wife at the time -- fellow painter Gertrude Glass, who died in 1956 -- bought some land at Montauk Point, on the eastern end of Long Island, and built a house and studio there. The sea and the sky had a profound impact on Greene, and they reappear in his paintings for decades to come, often to great effect. Consider, for example, the cascade of human faces and body parts in the painter's reinterpretation of The Birth of Venus(1975) or the dunes that turn out to be a jumble of naked bodies in Life on the Beach(1981).

Boyle's Ulysses S. Grant
Boyle's Ulysses S. Grant
Greene kept trying to integrate the figurative and the abstract.
Greene kept trying to integrate the figurative and the abstract.

The 1940s and '50s were good to Greene, who spent 17 years teaching art history and aesthetics at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Institute of Technology. Andy Warhol and Philip Pearlstein were among his students, and his work was in demand by such institutions as New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum. His 1950 solo show at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in New York was named one of the year's best by ARTnews, and in 1960, he got a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In the years since, unfortunately, Greene's reputation has faded. This excellent exhibition is a small but significant step toward remedying that injustice.

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