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An Interview with Jeff Green at Art House on Routh and in his downtown studio

all work © 2003 by Jeff Green

informal portrait of
Jeff Green in his studio 

 

I wanted to interview Jeff Green, because his art usually baffles me and because he said he was going through a personally difficult period, and he was working it out in his art — which is what are all artists are supposed to be doing with whatever medium we use.

I met him at Art House gallery (since defuncted), and Jeff and I trailed through his show of very recent work. We'd settle on one piece at a time. I'd photograph it, then start writing his words down in a spiral notebook.

(The next week I bought a portable tape recorder.)

Jeff spoke quietly but slowly. I'd let him know when I'd caught up, and intersperse questions as they arose. I usually did not have to prompt him. Jeff was eager to talk about this very personal show.

In the interview below, the interviewer's words are in bold gray like this, and Jeff's words are in solid black like this.

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Support
  

The Gash (above) is almost a take off of Victorian dress.

I wanted to create a structure that was feminine but still use the materials I wanted to use.

The piece was intended more to be feminine than an individual.

I got the materials and started several pieces at once and just started creating feminine shapes.

Why feminine shapes?

I wanted to do more personal work for my next show. Usually I just make stuff — animals or goofy creatures or something. Generally, I just go for something I thought was funny.

I'm going through a period of separation from my wife, and I wanted to do a show thanking the women who had been influential to me.

I wanted to do something that worked out my feelings about that.

I've always had far more female friends than male friends.

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Tsunami

 

What are the wings made of?

Test tube holder metal

Who is it?

Jeff smiled. And would not answer directly.

It's kinda violent, because her head's ripped off, and only the jaw bone is left.

I was going to do that with more pieces, but it didn't work out, although it showed up in a lot of my sketches.

I mostly sketch my work half way through. I do a few sketches as I go, just to see the composition.

I had no intention to use the autoharp as a wall piece like this, but it just worked out.

 

Grandmother

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None of them has heads.

Jeff pointed out the belly button, central doorbell, which, he said, made the piece "interactive," although most people probably won't know that it's possible to ding-dong the bell.

I wanted something there. I liked putting something there that somebody might not know they could do something with.

Jeff called it, "passively interactive."

Why do none of these pieces have heads?

I think it lets people make up their own. It's more universal. It lets them have more personality.

If I put heads on them, the facial expressions would have been the focal point.

How is this your grandmother?

It's the attitude. She won't take no guff. Kinda uppity and cantankerous.

 

Fragile Messager, detail —
Jeff rewinds the delicate, old tape.

 

The central, interactive portion of the next piece is an ancient Instructograph, a tape playing audio machine used to learn Morse Code.

Who is it?

A friend...

That conspiratorial smile again.

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Just one of my friends.

Jeff showed how the mechanism central to the work actually played morse code, with old-time radio-like audio bleeping out bursts of code.

He carefully rewound the delicate, hole-punched paper tape, then played it again.

Actually, it is kind of a stretch to figure out who this piece is.

He described it as "delicate, fragile."

It's called Final Message.

But I wish I'd called it just "message."

I don't want to demean this person in my mind. But she is more fragile than the rest of the women in this show — but fragile in a good way, more feminine. It's more... not masculine... but more independent.

One of Jeff's friends — and someone portrayed in one of the more powerful pieces here, says that each work in this show actually looks like the woman who is portrayed.

The works are delicate. Probably 60 years old...

Yeah, that's a fragile piece

 

I admired the delicate lace of wrapped wire that formed the torso.

Jeff showed me that the steamer right breast is adjustable and demonstrated by spreading it.

That says something about the person, too. Strength combined with fragility.

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Angel

 

A very, very close friend who has kinda come back into my life several times.

A long distance friend. Most of our recent friendship has been over the phone.

Why do you call her angel?

It's just a good word for her. She's been a real safety net for me.

Jeff showed me that on this and some other pieces, he had written or scrawled or otherwise obscured long messages.

The writing is purposely too messy.

All of my paintings have lots of writing that's too personal, but I try to write too small or backwards.

Pointing to the slumped glass wings, Jeff said:

I made these wings for another project, but I was really pleased when they fit so well — color and everything.

You can actually dial the dial.

I tried.

Sticking my finger in one of the old-fashioned dial's holes and spinning it provoked tactile nostalgia. The sound was a perfect, "ka-grind, click." It took me back to a time before tone buttons on phones.

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Founder

 

He called Founder "Another close friend of mine."

Jeff said Founder was about a friendship that has gone through a lot of changes. I've known her for a long time.

To me this piece looks very mobile. In some ways it's more fun than any of the others.

At least partially, because it is on a mobile base

[She] can be wielded around, he said, wielding the torso from the far corner to a place easier to photograph it.

It's probably the most realistic one in the show. It's loser to a portrait.

Is the bird connected thematically?

I don't know

Why did you use a Cardinal?

Because it was the only bird in my studio.

Jeff described the subject as very outgoing, very mobile, very physical.

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Record Angel

 

She's just very grounded, stable. She's my savior.

I'd done another record piece before and liked how they melted onto each other.

I looked up from my notes, Jeff was nodding appreciatively.

She's the lynchpin of all this. She's been my main personal support this last year.

Figuratively, she's the most important piece in the show.

Jeff and I walked through the gravel, crunch-crunching out into the cold, dark sculpture garden behind the gallery, under an overhang, and Jeff stood next to the last piece of sculpture on our gallery tour.

Hostess - detail

 

That's my mom.

Jeff clicked the switch at the top back and forth from "cook" on one side to "clean" on the other."

That's her. Because of its size and the way it's standing.

The whole servant/hostess thing is her. She was born to serve others without reservation. Completely selfless...

Like most of the work in this show, Hostess comprises

all found pieces — record holders, magazine holders, glass holders, serving platters...

I just attached things together. They are all ready made and some sort of serving tray or receptacle.

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When Jeff's dad died...

Ten years ago, she had to develop her own pursuits. So that's why it all looks empty.

Back inside the warmth of the gallery, Jeff showed me some of his recent paintings, long, elongated human forms very reminiscent of the sculptures we'd just examined.

My paintings are just all female forms. But the paintings don't represent any one person in particular.

After the gallery tour, Jeff drove me to his newest studio/home near downtown Dallas.

Of course, we talked along the way, but I didn't take notes again till we'd arrived in his fenced in compound, the paved outside of which was liberally scattered with Mastiff droppings and large Jeff Green sculptures, some of which I photographed.

Jeff holding a glass fish

 

Inside, he led me on a brief tour of where he made his art happen. It was dense with future sculpture materials, mostly small and large pieces of objects that had attracted his attention.

I've also been doing stop-motion animation, but I haven't shown it to anybody yet.

Wandering back to the bins of materials for future work, Jeff showed me several pieces in progress, including a series of found-object fish.

All the fish are lamps or lights.

He showed me even more sketches that end in a jaw — no heads, which, he explained, takes the expressiveness of the face and eyes out of the equation.

It was, Jeff noted, a more interesting place to stop.

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All through Jeff Green's work, there is a strong concentration of size and effort on hands.

These outsized appendages call attention to themselves, but upon closer examination, are often fascinating in intricate details.

It was not something I was conscious of till people pointed it out, I tend to focus on hands because [his] dad had rheumatoid arthritis

We always had a huge closet filled with stuff like that.

Jeff demonstrated several medical hand devices, like an odd looking glove and others.

On the way back to my car, we talked about many, more personal aspects of his recent work and mine. I took no notes.

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