On View: Greenan’s houses


“Blast Off” by Amy Greenan



Artist Amy Greenan paints pictures of houses, but don’t expect Andrew Wyeth’s sentimentality or Edward Hopper’s romanticism. Greenan’s paintings depict Western New York houses that have been abandoned for whatever reason—the recent economic collapse has helped provide plenty of subjects. Greenan artistically responds to these forlorn domiciles, attempting to intuitively arrive at some deeper meaning for their existence. “There’s always some kind of story there,” says the artist, adding that making a pretty picture is not her goal. “I’m aiming at the heart of the thing.”

Greenan’s houses are more like spirits, ethereal vestiges of architecture that exist in some ambiguous void in space and time. They are both highly familiar and eminently abstract. “I’m not interested in realism in the traditional sense,” says Greenan, “so much as in a very personalized and internalized sense.” Some of her painted houses appear firmly anchored to the earth, others seem to hover above the ground, and some float against empty space.

The painter claims that her style—most works are acrylic on canvas or wood—comes out of experimenting with “comic book directness.” But while her flat and sometimes saturated colors may hint at comic reductivism, these are full-blown paintings in the grand modernist tradition, complete with richly layered and masterful brushwork, flattened picture planes, and expressive drips and runs.

Greenen has a keen sense of what to paint and what to leave out. She allows enough information to convey a sense of architectural structure—we see rooflines, windows, doors, awnings, and so on—but many features are eliminated or washed over, leaving only ghostly traces. “It’s the opposite of what people imagine when they think of realism, which often focuses on the smallest details and extreme clarity,” she says. “I am focusing on the generalities, and, at the same time trying to crack the mysteries that manifest when I’m making these images.”

It is appropriate that these paintings about houses are being shown in a grand Italian-Villa-style abode, the Kenan Center in Lockport. With its twenty-five-acre campus, and individual rooms turned into small galleries, the Kenan is a fitting venue in which to contemplate the stories houses have to tell.

Greenan is represented by Dean Brownrout of Modern/Contemporary. Brownrout describes this as Greenan’s “most comprehensive exhibition to date,” and says she will be introducing some never-before-seen work. Greenan hints at what might be included. She’s been working with watercolor, she says, and intriguingly she mentions some “Delaunay-ish little gouaches I’ve done.” She explains that it’s been a turbulent time for her in the studio lately, “with some opposing forces at work.” Nevertheless, she is excited about the new directions her work is taking. “It’s also a little scary,” she says. “I hope it will make for an interesting exhibition.”

Greenan’s show opens with an artist reception Sunday, February 23, from 2 to 5 p.m., at the Kenan Center, 433 Locust, Lockport, and runs through March 30. The reception is free and open to the public. There will also be a Tea & Tour Sunday, March 9, at 1 p.m. Information can be obtained by calling the Kenan Center at 433-2617 or visiting kenancenter.org.