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An interview with Denise Green.

BZ You've recently written a book, Metonymy in Contemporary Art: A New Paradigm, an engaging story of your own career in relation to artists with whom you feel a close connection. Could you talk a little about why, as a practicing artist, you took the time to write the book--and why now?

DG My interest in writing the book goes back to 1976 when I made a return trip to Australia and visited Kuringai Chase, a site sacred to the Australian Aborigines. I came away from this experience with the conviction that there is a whole other aesthetic and way of looking at art, and a different meaning to this work, that does not exist within the Western opus. Over the following years I was compelled to explore other Eastern cultures through travel to India, Burma, Japan, and Indonesia. A. K. Ramanujan's writings were also extremely influential. The decision to write the book was based on these experiences as well as a desire to further introduce in the West the metonymic way of thinking and how it applies to contemporary art. The argument that I make in the book could not have been made before this. It is only within the last two decades that an Eastern cognitive framework has been available to Western thought through the writings of Alan Roland and Ramanujan. This different aesthetic and cognitive mode is missing from the critical discourse in contemporary art. My book presents a new paradigm for looking at contemporary art, based on this Eastern way of thinking.

BZ Would you say more about how you got involved in this mode of critical thinking based largely on Asian and Indian art?

DG I had been looking for others with whom I could engage about this aesthetic and thereby further my understanding of it. I didn't see anything in Western critical writing that was close to my experience. I was introduced to the metonymic mode of thinking in Alan Roland's book In Search of Self in India and Japan (1988), where he cites Ramanujan's essay "Is There an Indian Way of Thinking?"

BZ How does your painting technique tie into the mode of thinking that you spell out in the book?

DG When an artist creates metonymically, the artwork is a seamless extension of the artist's state of mind. In describing my paintings from an Eastern perspective, I would consider them to be a partial manifestation of myself. The black-and-white works, such as Cinderella--What?, which grew out of feelings of loss and absence, do not symbolically represent those emotions--rather, they are a direct portrayal of them. The metonymic process allows me to bring out many different aspects of my inner life, including those disavowed feelings that can only be expressed through paintings that convey this emotional state.

BZ Has the process of telling your story given you a special understanding of your work?

DG I wanted my paintings to be understood not only in formal but also in more personal terms. I usually don't immediately understand the meaning of my work while I am creating it. It is only with the passage of time, sometimes as long as a year, that I come to understand what I am trying to express. My paintings use an abstract vocabulary that draws upon a bank of stored images, both personal and cultural, which tell the story of my life. Understanding my own story and its artistic progress has helped my work to develop. I gain this understanding through my writing, through telling my story to myself.

BZ I am intrigued with the direction your art has taken since the publication of your book--and especially with the paintings in your current show in Kleve, Germany. I'm thinking particularly of your series A Rose Is a Rose Is ... of 2005. Would you talk about the new paintings and their literary titles?

DG While the title itself comes from Gertrude Stein, of course, my literary inspiration here is not Stein but rather A. K. Ramanujan. Ramanujan refers to South Indian medieval poetry as being structured like a concentric nest, with successive encompassments. This descriptive reference resonated with me and stimulated my use of the repeating rose image. I was also motivated to introduce this motif to memorialize my mother, a gardener, who passed away in 2003. In the "Rose" paintings I was interested in finding a visual equivalent to the concept of ephemerality, but the formal emphasis is not on dark brooding emotion. Instead, it is on the fleetingness of life as conveyed through permutations of monochromatic color in the multiple images of the cut rose. These paintings do not attempt to picture my mother or symbolically represent her death. Instead, the image of the cut rose is a metonym that stands in for her, and the briefness of life.

BZ Would you say a few words about your upcoming exhibitions and lectures?

DG Currently I have two exhibitions in Germany, one at the Galerie Heike Curtze in Berlin and another at the Galerie Cora Holzl in Dusseldorf. Both have works from my 2006 retrospective at the Museum Kurhaus Kleve. The Square Column Series (figs. 5, 6), an installation of twenty-six panels that I made specifically for my retrospective, is now on view in Berlin. In it I introduce the imagery of a stone. This architectural fragment was given to me in Dresden at the site of the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche, which had been destroyed in World War II. The work also memorializes the World Trade Center, the attack on which I witnessed from the window of my studio. The stone makes reference to collapse, but by arranging the panels into six vertical columns, I am symbolically rebuilding what has been destroyed. On view in Dusseldorf are two triptychs that further the theme in the Square Column Series.


BZ Finally, what books are you currently reading?

DG I am reading A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: The Life of William Dampier, Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer, by Diana and Michael Preston, which is a biography of a wonderful seventeenth-century adventurer and pioneer. I am also reading an exhibition catalog from the South African National Gallery in Cape Town, titled Picasso and Africa, edited by Laurence Madeline and Marilyn Martin. The exhibition and catalog are a dialogue between Picasso's art and the continent that profoundly influenced it.

August 2006/March 2007
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Title Annotation:Arts & Culture
Author:Zabel, Barbara
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2007
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