When Joanne Greenbaum’s distinctive paintings started to gain recognition in the mid-1990s, she was no longer a “young” artist. Although the large-format paintings from that first phase (covering the period up until 2004/05—what went before is her own business) were executed in oil on canvas, they look a lot like drawings and are clearly related to the two early watercolors from 2001 and 2003 that are illustrated here. In 2005 her oils started to take on a much more painterly air, even if they also contain a drawn, under- or overlaid armature that often remains visible. This trajectory in Greenbaum’s oils—from quasi-drawing to painting in the usual sense—is also apparent in the extensive group of around 30 watercolors in the Baloise art collection; it is even seen in the difference between the two earlier watercolors and the three later watercolors (from 2008) shown here.
Three of the first exhibitions in New York that Greenbaum participated in had titles that perfectly befitted her position as a painter: “New York, Abstract Painting” (1994), “Exploiting the Abstract,” and “Painting Now and Forever” (both 1997). Joanne Greenbaum was always at home in abstract painting—she never had to deliberately pursue the path to abstraction. It was already part of her skill set and the full panoply of its potential was at her disposal—that might be one way of reading the title “Exploiting the Abstract. ” At the same time, despite having cut her teeth on Minimal and Conceptual art in an era that was openly skeptical of painting, Greenbaum always believed in painting’s right to exist—today and in the future. Painting, for her, is and always will be an adventure. As she herself put it in a conversation in 2008: “When I start a painting, I have no idea of what I am going to do or where I want to go. I like working in the territory of the unknown which fascinates me and exposes as false the prevalent idea that everything has already been done in painting.”(1)
Joanne Greenbaum always draws, as she says, in order “to stay connected to [her]self.”(2) She produces countless swift, so to speak unthinking, doodles and “scribbles” in ballpoint pen. But, to quote her again, “painting is another kind of energy … ”(3) Whereas those drawings are a law unto themselves, there is a close affinity between the watercolors and the large-format oil paintings. In both cases forces that tend toward conceptual order, planning, structures, and patterns come up against energies that are sooner likely to bring about disorder and chaos. There are hints of rudimentary architectures, forms are built upon other forms or organically combined, small-scale motifs proliferate across the picture plane in a more or less structured manner; often numbers distributed around the composition entice the eye into seeking out the progressive emergence of a particular figure. Since 2003 Greenbaum has also created ceramic sculptures: it may well be that the development of her painting so far has in part been influenced by her experience of working in three dimensions.
(1) Joanne Greenbaum in conversation with Bob Nickas, “Often the Mistakes Become My Best Works,” in Joanne Greenbaum. Painting, ed. Dorothea Strauss and Susanne Titz, exh. cat. Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich; Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, Ostfildern 2008, pp. 98–102, here p. 99.
(2) Ibid., p. 101.
(3) Ibid., p. 101.
Further works by Joanne Greenbaum in the Baloise art collection:
Inv. no. 1106–1115, each: Untitled, 2001, Watercolor and gouache on paper, 35.6 x 36.8 cm
Inv. no. 1116, Untitled, 2003, Watercolor on paper, 76 x 56.2 cm
Inv. no. 1118, Untitled, 2007, Mixed media on paper, 66 x 50.8 cm
Inv. no. 1128, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 41.5 x 29.8 cm
Inv. no. 1130, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 42 x 30.3 cm
Inv. no. 1131, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 42 x 30 cm
Inv. no. 1132, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 41.8 x 30.5 cm
Inv. no. 1133, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 41.2 x 29.9 cm
Inv. no. 1134, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 42 x 30.3 cm
Inv. no. 1135, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 42 x 30.2 cm
Inv. no. 1136, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 42 x 30.3 cm
Inv. no. 1137, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 42.5 x 30.4 cm
Inv. no. 1138, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 41.7 x 30.1 cm
Inv. no. 1139, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 41.8 x 30.3 cm
Inv. no. 1140, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 41.8 x 29.8 cm
Inv. no. 1141, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 42.1 x 30 cm
Inv. no. 1142, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 41.7 x 30.3 cm
Inv. no. 1143, Untitled, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 41.6 x 30.3 cm
Inv. no. 1249, Untitled, 2008, Mixed media on paper, 75 x 56 cm