Balcomb Greene 1904 —1990

Biography

"I do not believe that art should be explicit. It should be
suggestive and ambiguous so the viewer has to enter in."   Balcomb Greene


 


Greene was an independent-minded artist who followed his own aesthetic inclinations regardless of what was in vogue among critics and the public.  At the outset of his career, he eschewed Depression-era realism in favor of a cutting-edge geometric abstract style that set him apart from the mainstream art establishment and from many of his fellow abstractionists.  During the 1940s, when non-representational painting came into fashion, he began to incorporate the human form into his work, creating enigmatic figure paintings in which variations of light and shadow played a vital role in creating mood.

 
Balcomb Greene was born in Millville NY in 1904.  He was graduated from Syracuse University with a B.A. in Philosophy in 1926.  He went on to become an instructor in English at Dartmouth College where he taught from 1928-1931 before making the choice to focus entirely on art.  In 1931, he studied at the Academie de la Grand Chaumiere in Paris.  In 1935 he became the first president of the Artist' Union and the Editor of The Art Forum.  Greene along with many other artists during the depression, was employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  Greene worked in the mural division from 1936-1939. It was during these years that the American Abstract Artists union was formed.  In 1937, Greene became its first President.  He served as president during the years 1939 and 1941, resigning from the group in 1943. 

 
Greens's abstract-cubistic style was influenced by Juan Gris and Piet Mondrain as well as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.   His semi abstracted compositions with emphasis on angular planes and muted tones are signature works.   His first one person exhibition in New York City was at J. B. Neumann's New Art Circle Gallery in 1947.  The following year, he bought property and began building his home and studio on the cliffs of Montauk.  In 1950, Bertha Shaeffer Gallery held the first of many exhibitions of his work, exhibiting there annually thru 1961.  In 1959 Balcomb Greene was one of 23 artists included in The Museum of Modern Art's important New Images of Man exhibition. 

 
Success followed and in 1961, he was honored with a retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.  At that time, John I. H. Baur, director of the Whitney Museum wrote, 


"He is, above all, an intuitive painter who will not be bound even by his own concepts...In on form or another he will continue to explore the deep inner springs of mind and emotion that make man what he is." 

 
By the time Greene joined the Saidenberg Gallery in New York in the early Sixties, important museums, notably the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art; The Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, already owned his work.  Noted collectors, among them Joseph Hirshhorn, Roy Neuberger and J.M. Kaplan, bought his paintings.  Art News wrote in 1962: "Stating his vision with naturalness that makes the world 'style' seem too contrived, he has left behind any limitations of the studio situation, the props and the model, to enlarge the experience and its scope...." During the following four years he exhibited annually at Saidenberg Gallery NY - during the years 1962-1965.  In every new exhibition, critics found excitement and power in Greene's work.  As Saidenberg Gallery focused more exclusively on the works of Picasso, Greene sought and found a more vital contemporary gallery in Bela Fishko's Forum Gallery where he showed from 1970-1977.
The sea has been a major theme of the artist.  Inevitably following the rhythm of the waters,  the boats lose their solid form, they merge in the broken light and the depth of an unknown space in the sea, and in the sphere of the artist's imaginative world of nature. 

 
He was honored by his colleagues twice during 1976.  First with the prestigious Altman Prize in Figure Painting, and again in the same year with his election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

 
Of his earliest work, little exists.  Much was destroyed in 1941 in a fire in a studio he shared with Albert Swinden.  Fire again swept his studio some years after his death, severely reducing the numbers of available works.

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