Stylistically primitive, at times almost to the point of entropy, Green’s expressionistic canvases exude metaphysical questionings of someone who’s been through it: through life, through trauma and despair, through emotional pain and suffering. But if they stopped there, if Green went no further, they wouldn’t be as powerful or exert the pull they do. The shamanistic images that dominate these works, dark and inscrutable as they may be, offer up, too, a sense of compassion, grace and hopefulness. Seemingly painted instinctually and in a state of abandonment, his paintings possess as much spiritual and symbolic intensity as the ones done by the members of the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Group), the early 1900’s German expressionists led by the free form approach of Wassily Kandinsky.
TITLE: A Song Of Healing
Lance Green’s paintings—of women, horses, birds, and other familiar subjects—are richly colored in cool greens and blues, golden reds and sunset pinks. There’s something about these works that urges a closer look—possibly their alluring mystery, oblique recognition or vague imbalance. Not until the viewer is standing before a Green painting does the multi-leveled work whisper some of its secrets.
Green’s Feathers Fall is a picture of a woman. Half in shadow, she appears to be standing at a large window, on a balcony, before a painting resting on an easel. Seen from the back the subject is unaware of our presence, lost in reverie. The objects and colors in this painting seem to blur as soon as they’re identified—turquoise to lavender to pink. Pigment mixed on canvas, layers of color, levels of dryness...hints of stories, histories. Her story. A tower splits, revealing a ladder; perhaps a way out. The landscape appears as scoured as the painting’s surface, scratched with arcane symbols. Raptors soar overhead—four, an ancient number—high in their obscure dance or prophecy. A white feather stoops to earth, recalling a Neil Young song: Feathers fall around you/and show you the way to go. And almost overlooked, a pink tulip affirms a quiet message of redemption.
Women are frequent messengers in Green’s paintings. He imagines them leaping, dancing, fired with power. Painting, he says, is a way of processing those kinds of thoughts: “I will personify the dancer myself.” Green dances with paint-thick brushes, obscures and reveals, laying “painting over painting over painting,” he says. Sometimes he uses the brush’s hard tip or his fingernails to quite literally inscribe the painting or probe its depths. But while a work’s impetus may be intense, even furious, he reveals, “my goal is to bring healing.”
Painting and music were Green’s refuge as a child in sometimes overwhelming situations. “Even as a kid,” he recalls, “I knew it was my way out.” Mustang embodies every emotion a frightened, running child experiences. Green describes the feelings as “a combination of panic/elation/rage/adrenaline.” In the painting, the horse is all there is to be seen, isolated in space with a strong contour line dominating the canvas in a powerful diagonal, his front hooves splintering the earth. His hide is itself a canvas, marked with time, circles/cycles, spirit lines, and all the colors of the earth and its minerals.
Encouragement came from a grandmother who was a china painter (“my beautiful grays are from her”) and a stepmother who painted abstracts, introduced to him art history, and gave gifts of art supplies. But much of Green’s youth, first in Colorado then California, was kaleidoscopic: the crowded, clamorous city of East Los Angeles, the “beauty and pageantry of Latin Catholicism,” the palpable fear of dirty and dangerous streets. Art became his lodestar, and high school and college classes shaped his abilities. One high school art teacher, Linda Stevens, remembers him as “precocious” and “widely admired” by a student body already attuned to the art scene.
Green’s strongest mentor was Fritz Scholder (1937–2005), famous for his controversial, Pop-influenced portraits of Native Americans. “What attracted me to Fritz was the incredible strength in his work. It was the most striking work I'd ever seen,” Green says. Scholder offered to teach him, one-on-one. “The first time, he looked at my paintings for about five minutes then said, ‘These are dreadful.’ I stayed and learned.”
From Scholder, Green memorized this maxim, “everything that you paint will always be a cliche. You must paint every painting in a different way than it’s ever been done.” He remembers Scholder as “a very aggressive painter and very aggressive businessman,” as evidenced by the books Scholder gave him—a biography of Paul Klee and Dale Carnegie’s Lifetime Plan For Success.
Scholder often spoke to Green about the shamanistic element of painting, the sense of being an intermediary between an idea and its realization. Green describes his own Shaman With Fire Landscape as “an apparition sent to instruct (and to initiate).” The figure’s dark blockiness embodies fire’s physical power. Underpainting radiates along its contour like incandescent blue heat, acting as a barrier and establishing dimensionality so that the figure overshadows the fiery field. The shaman created by the fire, not consumed by it. Heat pulses upwards until the head of the mysterious figure transforms into a fire whorl, returning its elements to invisibility.
Talking Rabbit is another Green shaman painting, and like Shaman With Fire Landscape its intensity is concentrated in its 16 by 20 inch size. Rabbits symbolize quick thinking and intuition. Although they are commonly thought to be silent, rabbits have a diverse vocabulary of sounds and body movements. Perhaps it is a special vocabulary, sensible only to the initiated.
The complex and sophisticated underpainting displayed in Talking Rabbit, and Green’s work generally, has many sources, purposes and effects. While his mentor stressed careful underpainting, Green relishes working things out on the canvas. “I may have fifty colors in a six-inch square,” he says. “Paint at varying stages of dryness does different things—there’s always a surprise. I’m enthralled with the changes.” He uses photos to make a line drawing, and then enlarges that onto the canvas. “It’s a jumping off point,” he explains. “You have to start with something real.”
In California, Green was drawn to the ocean where he could ride the waves of its ever-shifting surface. He understood the water’s sparkling playfulness and its absolute power. He recently completed a series of swimmers, a theme he connects to his return to Colorado.
“It’s me, starting over. Diving-in embraces everything, but I don’t know if I’ll find the surface again. As a surfer I learned that the only way is to go limp and float up. You can’t struggle with water.”
Submergence, followed by acceptance, then enlightenment—this theme is repeated throughout the world’s spiritual disciplines. The decision to jump in, whether forced or voluntary, is often terrifying, but there is an exhilarating moment in a dive when we are free of gravity, of all constraints. Crashing into the water our struggles defeat our natural buoyancy. It’s only when we concede that the water carries us up to the light.
When Green returned to Colorado after forty years away he submerged himself in his work. His studio, an abandoned car garage, adjoined a lake in the woods. He also grieved the breakup of a fifteen-year marriage. “It was winter,” he says, “and it felt like a huge spiritual death.” Ghost At The Window is anyone who has lost something or someone, who feels imprisoned by illusory bars, and who has overlooked the pink tulip growing through a crack in the wall.
The woman in Sings Softly To Herself is equally solitary, but is to my mind imbued with contentment and quiet confidence. The deep, warm red of the subject’s dress is the color of lifeblood. She walks in light. The song this singer sings is one of blessing, for herself, the painter, and for us all.
By Suzanne Smith Arney