Artist takes inspiration from father’s past

LAUREN MARTIN

Denise Green grew up down the street from Cavendish Road State High School on Brisbane’s southside and remembers playing in the fields that surrounded Logan Road.

International artist Denise Green

International artist Denise Green is based in New York but grew up on Brisbane’s Southside and still exhibits her work in Brisbane. Photo: Lauren Martin

 

Today she is an acclaimed artist based in New York who still holds exhibitions in Brisbane.

Her most recent exhibition in Brisbane was Marking Memory, at Jan Manton Art in Spring Hill.

The exhibition featured pieces including collages of screen printing, photographs and a highly rebellious scribble. 

Ms Green said there was an easel under her childhood house on which she would draw chalk pictures of ladies in extravagant dresses.

She said she kept her drawing a secret from her brothers and sisters, but said her dad knew about it.

“He took me to Woolloongabba where there was a police youth club and he put me into an art class and I won a prize, a cup,” Ms Green said.

“I still have it.”

Denise’s father, Richard James Green, was a soldier in World War II.

He was a medical corp. driver who assisted wounded soldiers get to medical facilities.

“My father had post-traumatic stress disorder,” Ms Green said.

“When he came back from the war he was drinking and gambling.”

“At that time there was no ladders out of the social circumstances that my family was in.”

“No program, no way my family could access aid,” she said.

Denise Green RJG Rue Nabi Pacha

Denise Green’s RJG Rue Nabi Pacha (Variant 2) (2017) is a collage of a photograph taken by her father combined with three drawings. Photo: Lauren Martin

 

When Denise Green was 13 years old her parents took her out of school so she could earn another income for the family.

“I was very annoyed, very rebellious,” Ms Green said.

“I decided I had to leave, I had to go away and do something for myself otherwise I’d be doing things only for my family.”

“I understand it was my mother who put pressure on my father to take me out of school,” she said.

Ms Green left for New Zealand for a working holiday before catching a ship to London.

In London, Green met a Canadian woman and was convinced to go to Paris where she finished high school and moved on to the L’École des Beaux-Arts to study architecture.

At the Beaux-Arts in Paris Denise Green tried to conform to the high expectations of the architecture world.

Ms Green said the school had “a very traditional curriculum”.

“You had to begin by drawing these casts of Greek figures and they had to be exact geometric, you had to understand the geometric structure underlying of those figures.”

“I couldn’t get these drawings right, they were always rejected.”

“I had some friends who were architects and I said ‘what am I doing wrong?’”

“They gave me this secret instruction,” she said.

Frustrated by the meticulous nature of traditional architecture she changed her studies to fine arts.

“What I was taught in Paris was to draw so you can represent something accurately,” Ms Green said.

“And I was appalled at that.”

“It led me to a more abstract vocabulary,” she said.

Denise Green charcoal and crayon

Denise Green uses charcoal and crayon in her works Degrees of Loss II (left) and Degrees of Loss Saar (right). Photo: Lauren Martin

 

The presence of soldiers and the destruction of war can be seen in Green’s newest pieces.

The familiarity of the soldiers and destruction that helps the viewer relate it to more modern conflicts.

The more you look at the soldiers walking across the plain the more you question if they are soldiers.

Their presence is blurred by the style of screen printing.

“It was a very difficult life for my mother; he would drink and gamble away all the money for the maintenance of the family,” Ms Green said.

“He was just falling apart,” she said.

The pieces shown at the Marking Memory exhibition were some of Green’s most personal.

They heavily featured photographs taken by her father while he was on deployment.

Ms Green used collage to reimagine the photographs.

Jan Manton Art gallery associate Sophie Kubler said the photographs “helped explain who her father was, to her”.

“It possibly allowed her to process the trauma he possibly hadn’t,” Ms Kubler said.

Learning fine arts was a precarious path, there was little security for an artist.

She held the belief that she could do anything because of the faith her dad placed in her works and herself personally.

“I had been special to my father and somehow no matter what I did, I thought someone would appreciate it,” Ms Green said.

“It was a very risky endeavour.”

“It helped me to be resourceful.”

Ms Green said what really anchored her was her practice as an artist.

“When you’re an artist, knowing how precarious it is you, have to be open to new opportunities,” she said.

Denise Green Derailment 2018

Denise Green’s Derailment (2018) features a photograph taken by her father while he was deployed during World War II. Photo: Lauren Martin

 

After a lifetime of success Ms Green made a special revelation about her family’s and father’s past

“I realised I had gotten a lot of stuff from my mother,” Ms Green said.

“You get things from your parents who help you to be who you are.”

“Sometimes they make decisions which are difficult for you.”

“I went on and did what I needed to do” she said.

Denise has used her strength, resourcefulness and faith to create a life for herself and many collections of art to share with the world.

She transcends normal ideas of a social classicism to overcome the restrictions placed on her as a child in a struggling household.

“It does help if your family supports you and opens doors,” Ms Green said.

“But it is always your own efforts.”

“Your parents can help you but you need mentors in other areas.”

“We can’t do very much without mentors.”

“They are helping us because they get something out of it and it makes our options much wider,” she said.

You can find more information about Denise Green’s upcoming exhibitions and her works on www.denisegreen.net.

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