Sounding to Unfamiliar Eyes Like the BlueMen vs Greenemann. Change the Channel, Barbara

by Tommy George

Portrait of a Lung-Cancer Survivor

Trying to spin the life and work of the artist known to me as Barbara Greene, who somewhere along years lost to followers became Barbara Greene-Mann, is critical folly. If there exists any spin, it is a natural phenomenon, like a female Elijah sucked up in whirlwinds and transported from one enthusiasm to another, or one despair to another, from heaven to hell, but ever-chronicling in one art-form or another the vertiginous view. She paints and she tap dances. She sings and she draws. She plucks feathers from passing birds and makes collages. 

In 1973, I saw my first Barbara Greene work, a lithograph of a large Cass Corridor house that stopped me in my tracks with its singularly somber vision of the charming dishevelment of Detroit. It was pleasing to behold, and I needed one. I had never seen the artist, but wanted to buy a copy, and tracked down her studio, cash in hand.

She made me frame it myself, but showed me how to do it. She was churning out art still influenced by her training and I suspect doing rather well, so busy was that holiday season. When she discovered education and selling zillions did not equate to
The Future Has Arrived
greatness or immortal works, she opted for the strangeness of the self-in-Bloom.

When I discovered her in her studio, I found her person a most desirable pistola, with a burgeoning bodily Bohemianism dreamt of by schmucks like me.  I purchased her work in 1973 due to the quality of her work, and over the years collected pieces from her body of work ever-changing, then lost track of her until fairly recently. 

When B Greene had gone B Greene-Mann I cannot say, but between the lines of difficult-to-decipher new messages my eyes heard the broadcast of a perilous Universal Grappling Match.  It was the Blue Men Group v. the Greene-Mann artist. I saw her battling as a pained, credulous waif against the infinite telomeres of a short-sighted cancer pack.  

If she or some Mesmerist can psychically contact the malignancy in question, and let it know that it will die should it kill her, she may wring more years out of it. Delivering the revelation to those retroviral malefactors that they are traitors to their own species might persuade them not to kill their hostess-host with the mostest. Of course, she may have already tried that.

The Early Dog Gets the Berm

The last time I saw Barbara Greene was in the ice-bound heart of early in Reagan's first term. What a fun winter that was. 1981, 2, or 3--your guess is as good as mine. Nobody was shopping for the holidays, but news of an opening exhibition--Barbara Greene's latest, to be displayed at some piece-of-shit gallery on 8 Mile Road--compelled me to go. Crackers and whine too!

The entire show was dedicated to 15 or 20 outsized black on white images of minimal strokes in tar-style, capturing the pointless antics of her dog whose name I never learned. It was the underground pinnacle of the true iconography of the time for most industrial cities, as opposed to the overproduced realpolitik of dangerous canned ham. 

The pathos of the dog show turned naturally to bathos in simple minds unprepared for the future. The paintings barked out an overdetermined minimalism, huge, dumbed-down--and well ahead of their time. I have thought a thousand times, and often think still, of those images. 

They were forerunners of the computer avatar style so prevalent today, except of supergraphic scale, waiting for its processor to be invented. It was a galaxy of pixel versatility seen from inside the computer, as beheld by an object the size of a retrovirus. A stupid, suicidal retrovirus.

Then came Fate to the gallery door, to round up the score of Barbara Greene's exhibition of her dog series to immortal, for its 

1) Contextual integrity. These were icons of time and place, yet anachronisms meant for an alien dimension; 

2) Historic location. She held the exhibition at the only address in Detroit eventually to become known to tout l'monde, that Broadway of Detroit, Eight Mile Road;

3) Evocation of future values. The bleakness of the medium--a minimalism totally unlike BG's usual tap-dancing--still resonates like cleats on wood in the mind after work unseen for nearly four  decades. The world reflects its tar-stroking black and white in every lie heard on waves of propaganda.

4) Divinely scripted peal of Truth. God, Fate, or the All-Seeing Eye sent inglorious notice from on high. The subject of the paintings, The Dog, went out to sniff and piss and scour the curbside of depressed Detroit and wandered into the fabled avenue where he was immediately mowed down and killed on 8 Mile Road, just as his exhibited images inside were accruing the necessary exposure time--to overcome the shock, noodle out such visionary work, and meet and greet The Dog. Like Oscar, it was mad, bad, and dangerous to know, that show. 

Missing Dog Found
(Not the Dead One)

How do you spin events born of the muse dismal, culminating in the death of the subject--in real life on 8 Mile Road before it became a star? An exhibition fearlessly synchronized to the blackened ice season, the new fuck-you world economy, and the paradigm shift from true to real?

It establishes in retrospect that art created without the sanction of the art-as-investment advisor need only await the failure of his popular wisdom. Only God could have arranged such a miserably triumphant, colossally failed exhibition opening, surely someday to be added in the annals of Art History--lore yet to be appreciated or fully recognized. This is true.

She sings and she tap-dances, as I mentioned, and from a friend I learned during the pre-Reagan rapture she enjoyed an active romantic life. Oh, how I envied the carnal knowledge he must have gained from close-up experience with the instrument of a God/Muse that punishes free-spirit and generous heart with insatiable hypergraphic longings, dead dogs, and accomplishments never understood by contemporaneous critics.

I almost got a taste. One late night (at a local tavern) I saw my one and only chance to be charming for Barbara Greene. There was no other man or dog to compete with at closing time. She actually came home with me, although it was not my home. She accepted my invitation for a night cap, although it was not my booze, and we drove to my (its) apartment. Out of the blue, my jealous gay keeper/mobster
Wise Beyond Tears
appeared, and would not let me taste of Art's pain and pleasure on a physical level. He literally pulled us apart, which was not his right. Only his gun, cash, and car called the tune that lost night. He insisted on driving her home--without asking me, or letting me ride along--before layer one had been peeled from the fruit I had so long craved. 

At least she got to ride in his stolen Rolls-Royce, but I think it was just another unspinnable event, guided by the whirlwind that apparently follows her wherever she goes, safeguarding or torturing her, depending on the mood of a muse. What those two talked about I cannot imagine.

Only recently has she reappeared in media, and presently fights for her life.

She is scheduled for a show in Europe, and I hope she will consider opening communication with the incorrigible, and talk her parasitic retrovirus out of doing anything stupid. I believe disease can sometimes be persuaded to cooperate, but only out of the germs' self interest. A poem about the process:

She's back in the saddle but riding much faster 

Trying to outrun an untutored cancer

She might warn them of success's disaster

To their own ambitions, the stupid bastards. 
When parasites run aglee and kill their own host
 with misguided zealotry to make it a ghost

Don't pathogenic fools know that they're going to die with her?
They better wise up and lay off of their dinner.

All the art shown on this blog (c) Barbara Greene-Mann
To return to multipost home cluck here.