Jack of all trades

Ken Greenleaf moves from the word to the walls
By ANNIE LARMON  |  December 16, 2009

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FROM THE AUCOCISCO SHOW “2009-030,” by Ken Greenleaf.

Ken Greenleaf is a pretty familiar name around here. His byline has accompanied art reviews for this paper and others dating back to the late '70s. Among other things, I have heard him touted as an "authority on modernism." Out of the public eye, Greenleaf has worked making harpsichords, boatbuilding, and commercial fishing — but he also has had an extensive career as a sculptor, showing at major venues including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Farnsworth. After a significant recess from showing, Greenleaf has re-emerged with new paintings and drawings in three shows this year, two of which are currently up — at Aucocisco Gallery (with Richard Van Buren and Scott Davis) and in an invitational show at Greenhut Galleries.

YOU'VE HAD THREE SHOWS THIS YEAR AFTER A 15-YEAR HIATUS. WERE YOU WORKING IN THE INTERIM OR IS THE NEW WORK A RECENT RESURGENCE?
I didn't work at all for a while, except for writing. It was just the way my life went — I had a lot I needed to do. I've been working again for a few years, I guess, but I've only felt like showing this year.

IT LOOKS LIKE YOU'VE WORKED LARGELY THREE-DIMENSIONALLY IN YOUR CAREER, WHAT MARKED THE TRANSITION TO PAINTINGS AND DRAWINGS? I was always more comfortable with things than images, but in later years my thinking has become more abstract. I'm really loving what I am doing now.

THE NEW WORK IS STILL VERY ARCHITECTURAL; HOW HAS IT BEEN INFLUENCED BY YOUR SCULPTURAL WORK?
An old friend of mine, a sculptor, saw one of my drawings on the Internet, and it reminded him of a particular sculpture of mine he had seen in the 1970s. So I'm doing the same things, I guess.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PROCESS, FROM CONCEPTION TO FINISHED PRODUCT?
No. I don't believe that knowing someone's process is useful in knowing their work. That said, there are drawings and then there are paintings, lots of drawings and fewer paintings. They're related. As paintings, these works are very material, and technically simple.

YOUR PAINTINGS SEEM TO REFERENCE A SORT OF ORIGAMI-ED MINIMALIST CUBE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR METHOD OF DISTILLING EXPERIENCE OR IDEAS INTO YOUR STARK FORMS?
I'm working intuitively on the drawings, and I mean that in both the improvisational sense as well as Kant's use of intuition as a means to knowledge. Sol Lewitt showed that you can move the point of decision anywhere along the continuum of an artistic process, and that's a very liberating idea. I get more deliberate about my decisions as I move farther along on an individual piece.

The sense of spatial illusion is an artifact of the viewer's needs. It exists as an intuitive response on the part of the viewer, and that's fine. I don't intend that, but the fact that it happens is part of the reality of how we see certain arrangements of lines.

FROM WHAT ARE YOUR DISTILLATIONS DRAWN? WHERE DO THEY INITIATE?
I have no answer for that. In part I guess it's from hundreds of hours at the Met and the Modern, and jobs I've had like commercial fishing.

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