Excerpt from 'Crossroads' written by Francoise Caille
Cantrick, de Cicco, Greene, and Bottrell Cross Paths
The notion of crossroads, as highlighted by Susan Cantrick, Diane de Cicco, Leslie Greene, and Susan Bottrell within the framework of the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, offers a particularly rich polysemy. On the simplest level, the literal meaning of Crossroads evokes the image of an intersection, a convergence at a given moment that is not an endpoint, of four artistic paths crossing each other and beckoning to be followed. It is also a multicultural crossroads, that of four artistic trajectories that started in the USA, then continued in France, implying the idea of roads already taken and still to be taken. Yves Bonnefoy opens his book The Arrière-pays with these words: "I have often experienced a feeling of anxiety, at crossroads. At such moments it seems to me that here, or close by, a couple of steps away on the path I didn't take and which is already receding -- that just over there a more elevated kind of country would open up, where I might have gone to live and which I've already lost." 1 An artist’s pathway is rarely linear. Abstract painting, even less straightforward, is a sort of inner journey, which from time to time requires taking stock, exposing one’s work to scrutiny by others, exchanging views with one’s peers. The encounter of Cantrick, de Cicco, Greene, and Bottrell provides an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of their respective work and to understand their position as artists within the sphere of abstraction.
Today, abstract art is no longer as transgressive as it was during the 20th century, when each new trend broke with the preceding one. These movements were closed systems, each one oriented toward a particular approach, depending upon its own theory and developing its own visual vocabulary. Abstraction, here at the beginning of the 21st century, is much more fragmented, less grouped in cliques, less univocal. The concept of crossroads seems to fully correspond to this state, in which most current practices are being enriched by those of the past, crossing each other at various points. This reminds us of Gilles Deleuze’s rhizomatic thinking, in the sense that contemporary abstraction is a kind of branching network without dominant currents, where any point of the rhizome can connect with any other. Such networking leads to as much multiplicity within the gamut of abstract forms as within any single practice, as can be seen in the work of these four artists.
Leslie Greene : two sign systems, two ways of looking at the world
Leslie Greene’s relationship with painting has induced a certain rapport with the support. The canvas is fixed to a provisory wood panel that is placed on the floor: it becomes a space into which the artist can plunge and draw forth her imagery. “The first moves open up the canvas,” she says -- as one opens a door to another world. The white surface is animated, and the bird’s eye view is not unlike looking into a mirror that simultaneously reveals identity and difference. “Oh mirror!” writes Mallarmé3, “I saw myself in you as a distant shadow,” which Greene herself suggests in affirming that “painting is a great way for the unconscious to reveal itself.”
The artist crosses the canvas, walks around it, engages it from all angles. At first, there is no top, no bottom, no sides, just a space on the floor defined by the contours of the chosen format. The physical relationship is not that of easel painting; it is more mobile and open, also freer. It assumes, in the first instance, a letting go, an abandonment of the systematic control of the gesture, without abolishing it altogether.
For Greene, painting is a process of search and discovery, a withdrawal into self, a psychic tension, a going beyond social reality in order to give way to images of dreams and the unexpected. Technique comes from experience. The result is a rich palette of colors – often contrasting -- and a vast repertoire of forms, from which two dominant registers emerge: one created by spontaneous gestures, curved and supple, and the other derived from orthogonal lines. The latter are produced by drips, the flow of which Greene attempts to master by lifting the edges of the support (Red-yellow-blue), or simply by applying brushstrokes: in both cases, the fragility of the line is perceptible. We grasp what the artist calls “the great tension between the unknown and control,” the risk of the accident and its resultant uncertainty forever confronting the concern for equilibrium.
Greene’s orthogonal framework forms a textile warp and weft that give rhythm to the surface while deepening the space; the “weaving” creates frontal strata with color fields in the background. Certain paintings are like netted mesh that imprisons the space, partially concealing the underlayers. They prefigure a system of gestures that Greene is currently exploring: two pictorial planes in the same painting. A ground, freely painted, is partially masked by an openwork plane in the foreground. The latter, which lets in light, sometimes evokes a Moroccan moucharabieh (Itinerant views), whose purpose is to protect interiors from the sun, to see without being seen.
The space in Greene’s paintings is constructed through the interaction of two systems, one based on impulse and the free deployment of gesture, and the other on a more determined hand, which arrests the gaze. The background thus appears as the fruit of a primal, irrational interiority, a baring of profound emotions that the artist attempts to overlay with a more controlled register. Greene’s painting is engaged with the desire for self-discovery followed by an impulse toward self-protection. The result is the expression of the unconscious duality of what one wants to offer, or not, to the viewer. Here, one of the profound questions of abstract painting is posed, between the desire to go to the depths of one’s impulses and the limits imposed on the psychic space because of its exposure. In English, the term “exhibition” expresses even more than in French the extreme nature of the act.