An artist whose work is embedded in a philosophical and theoretical framework, Ken Greenleaf is a committed modernist, working in the minimalist tradition. In recent years, his emphasis has been on creating streamlined paintings on shaped supports and paper collages, in which he continues the engagement with relations between shapes and materials that has been the central focus of his art. While comprised of geometric forms, Greenleaf’s art has a freeform aspect, forcing us to mentally organize what we’re seeing into “ideas.” He perceives the edges of his shaped surfaces, the color of his raw canvases, and the borders of his painted areas as “direct essays in understanding how we apprehend what we see and how we recognize what is real.” The tension between flatness and the feeling of and desire for illusion in Greenleaf’s art brings us to a place between raw sensation and the conceptual, which is ultimately a metaphysical one.
Greenleaf has spent his career in New York City and his native Maine, where he resides today on the mid-coast in Waldoboro (he was born in Damariscotta). His art has followed an evolutionary trajectory. After moving to Tribeca in 1973, he began producing large and strongly physical welded-steel structures with complex ground planes. Receiving a significant amount of attention from the press, these works were shown in several locations at once in 1973, including the lobby of the Whitney Museum. At the time, while teaching at the School of Visual Arts, Greenleaf became part of the dynamic downtown art scene. In this milieu he came to know the art critic Clement Greenberg, who inspired him toward contextual elucidation in his own writings about art. Over time, Greenleaf’s work evolved from steel plates to more complex structures produced with two or more materials. Imposingly large, these works depended on the distinctions between materials for their content—wood, for instance, was soft and round; steel was sharp and angular. For Greenleaf, the connections and support functions of forms became a syntactical vocabulary reflecting actions: logs would be gripped by steel rings and sometimes suspended by chains or turnbuckles. The theoretical aspects of these works consisted in the feeling that they had a past and that random, deconstructive effects were at work on their appearance. At the same time, Greenleaf derived them in a freely improvisational way.
While often returning to Maine, he continued his presence in the New York art world through 1991, actively exhibiting his work in solo and group exhibitions in museums and galleries. In the mid-1990s, he began reconsidering his relationship to art and focused his attention primarily on writing art reviews. His thinking had coalesced when he returned to his own work in 2007. In his subsequent art, consisting of two-dimensional forms that hang on the wall, Greenleaf states that he still “thinks like a sculptor, looking for resonance in the shapes of things and how relationships among planes and edges create meaning beyond discursive awareness.” In recent years, he has added color to his art, enriching the way shapes are seen. By jettisoning “narrative, rhetoric, and illusion,” Greenleaf strives to go directly to the nature of art.
Greenleaf has participated recently in a number of exhibitions, including Charcoal!, held at the Schick Art Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, in 2013; The Art of Collage, held at the Art Gallery, University of New England, Portland, Maine, in 2014; and Intercept, a solo show held at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Rockport, Maine, in 2012. Greenleaf’s work is in the collections of many museums and public collections, including Bates College, Lewiston, Maine; the Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, Maine; the Indianapolis Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; the Portland Museum of Art, Maine; the Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Kansas; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
LoGiudice Gallery, New York, 1973.
Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, 1973.
Walter Kelly Gallery, Chicago, 1973.
Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, 1974.
Watson/ de Nagy Gallery, Houston, 1974.
Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, 1976.
B.R. Kornblatt Gallery, Baltimore, 1977.
Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, 1978.
Barridoff Gallery, Portland, Maine, 1980.
Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, 1980.
Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, 1981.
Harry Lebau Jewish Center, Union, New Jersey, Monumental Sculpture Series, 1983.
Sculptor’s Guild Outdoors, New York, 1985.
John Davis Gallery, New York, 1987.
John Davis Gallery, New York, 1989.
Stark Gallery, New York, 1990.
Gleason Fine Art, Boothbay Harbor, Maine, 1992.
Stark Gallery, New York, 1992.
O’Farrell Gallery, Brunswick, Maine, 1994.
Gold/Smith Gallery, Charcoal Drawing, Boothbay Harbor, Maine, 2009.
Caldbeck Gallery, Rockland, Maine, 2010.
June Fitzpatrick Gallery, Portland, Maine, Drawing the Line, 2011.
Center for Contemporary Art, Rockport, Maine, Intercept, 2012.
Berry Campbell, New York, Ken Greenleaf: Recent Work, 2014.
The Art Institute of Chicago, 1972.
LoGiudice Gallery, New York, 1972.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Biennial: Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture, 1973.
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana, Painting and Sculpture Today, 1974.
The Museum of Fine Art, Houston, Geometry, 1974.
South Houston Gallery, New York, American International Sculpture Symposium, 1974.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Recent Acquisitions, 1974.
Sculpture Now Gallery, New York, 1975.
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana, Painting and Sculpture Today, 1976.
Maine Coast Artists, Rockport, Maine, 1976.
Water Street Gallery, Damariscotta, Maine, 1977.
Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina, Selected Works from the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 1978.
Weatherspoon Gallery, Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York, Art on Paper, 1978.
Nassau Museum of Fine Art, Port Washington, New York, Sculpture at Sand’s Point, 1979.
Portland Museum of Art, Maine, Recent Acquisitions, 1979.
Museum of Fine Art, Houston, A Century of Modern Sculpture, 1983.
Robeson Center Gallery, Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey, The Intuitive Response, 1984.
Modern Art Consultants, New York, Made in the USA, 1985.
Sculptors’ Guild, New York, Sculpture 1985, 1985.
Schulman Sculpture Park, White Plains, New York, 1986.
John Davis Gallery, New York, 1987.
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Ten Americans, 1988.
John Davis Gallery, New York, Daisy Croddock and Ken Greenleaf, 1988.
Stark Gallery, New York, Opening Invitational, 1990.
Maine Contemporary Art, Rockport, Maine, Beyond Geometry, 1991.
Chesterwood, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood, 1992.
Gleason Fine Art, Portland, Maine, Inaugural Exhibition, 1993.
Southern Vermont Art Center, Manchester, 1993.
Edwin A.M. Ulrich Museum, Wichita State University, Kansas, Recent Acquisitions, 1994.
Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, Maine, Original Place, 1994.
University of Rhode Island, Providence, Plans and Elevations, 1995.
Danese Gallery, New York, Works on Paper, 2011.
Sideshow Gallery, Brooklyn, 2011.
Bottega Gallery, Kyiv, Ukraine (traveling to Caldbeck Gallery, Rockland, Maine), Ken Greenleaf, Serge Momot, and Constantin Rudeshko, 2012.
McGowan Fine Art, Concord, New Hampshire, Lucy Mink, John Bonner, and Ken Greenleaf, 2012.
National Academy, New York, Annual Exhibition, 2012.
Sideshow Gallery, Brooklyn, 2012.
Schick Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, Charcoal!, 2013.
University of New England Art Gallery, Portland, Maine, The Art of Collage, 2014.
Bates College, Lewiston, Maine
Colby College, Waterville, Maine
Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, Maine
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana
Lannah Foundation, Boca Raton, Florida
The Museum of Fine Art, Houston
Portland Museum of Art, Maine
Round Top Center for the Arts, Damariscotta, Maine
Sidney Lewis, Richmond, Virgina
Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Kansas
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
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