by Sarah Sentilles
How do you represent absence? How do you depict loss? For two decades, Julie Green has been painting the final meals of people on death row. Green’s ongoing series “The Last Supper” (2000— ) includes 850 (and counting) paintings on ceramic plates, almost every one painted blue. Green looks directly at hard topics, and the artist keeps looking, keeps painting, for years. Yet there is delight in the work, playfulness, humor, a clear love of paint and pattern, of material and experimentation. For Wallpaper (2015), two hundred sheets of mulberry paper, hand-painted in sumi ink with thousands of seashells, covered the gallery walls in Portland and served as backdrop for “My New Blue Friends” (2015), blue airbrushed egg tempera paintings, abstractions of food (figs. 1, 2). In 2-pack Trauma (2017), 34 flattened cardboard vinegar boxes are the artist’s canvas, and on each box Green has painted in acrylic and Day-Glo a small oval scene depicting a personal traumatic event (fig. 3). The work plays with the idea of confession—the brand is Four Monks, vinegar can be used to clean and disinfect, and the date stamps suggest repetition, ritual. What does forgiveness look like? And who can grant it?
This essay appeared in FIGURING, a publication of The Ford Family Foundation. The annual arts journal (shifting title as it progresses) is part of the program element CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS, led by the University of Oregon with partners Portland State University, The Cooley Gallery, Reed College; and PNCA at Willamette University.
The inaugural publication is dedicated to notions of “figuring,” that is, the processing of a moment to inform a position from which to act, the presentation of a form, or expression of a body. By holding space for both indeterminacy and latent form, Figuring conjures histories and possible futures, lived experiences, and propositions for ways that ethereal matter might exist concretely or be allowed to endure as defined by its own logic.