The Grain of His Skin

An archive on the artist Tony Greene (1955 - 1990).
Commentary by Richard Hawkins unless noted otherwise.

Jul 20, 2013 9:36am

Tony Greene and myself. “Chains of Bitter Illusion”, a collaborative mural at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, 1988.

 Though we do share credit, to be totally honest, this project was about 99% Tony Greene and about 1% me: concept, quotes, resource materials, supplies, production, transportation, etc – all Tony. I think I did paint the “clinging vines” over the archway to the lower left, lacquered the doorways black and dribbled half the “viscous drips” onto the exposed brick. But all under Tony’s direction … “more prickly thorns on the vines … if you please … Ricky” is a phrase I remember, “just imagine them being something Morticia might love”. I was a jobless, car-less, darkly depressed and broke fiction writer at the time, living off the kindness of Cathy Opie and, frankly, hardly the best collaborator for a large scale mural. It was all mostly Tony’s doing. The title was definitely his.

 Commissioned for the already somewhat decayed back wall of LACE, I’m quite sure we saw it in correspondence with Jim Isermann’s kind of mod-ish and graytoned almost Flintstoney video-viewing lounge and Lari Pittman’s murals on the walls of the mensroom inside – all pendulously scrotal images of gourds with lots of curling filigreed creepers. I think the idea was to tap into these two relatively foofed-out elements, use the architecture as a metaphor for the body, add a little dark miasma (one of our favorite words) … and just embellish the shit out of it.

 The elements of Chains can be described as follows:

-       four pendants of male torsos, photo blowups from physique magazines shellacked amber and drizzled with a runny brown, ruled across the upper level of the two-story building. The reference was to metopes in a Classical frieze.

-       a large section of the pre-existing old white paint was scrubbed off to expose the raw brick underneath. We believed we could get an allusion to crumbling ruins here.

-       that section of wall was then dribbled with rivulets of wood glue that Tony had tinted with acrylic to resemble snot green, pus yellow and diarrhea brown … as if the skin of the wall-as-body had been flayed and these were its seeping oozing purulent discharges.

-       the lower left archway was black-lacquered by the swamp-thang (Tony’s phrase) Munsters’ front yard vines I mentioned above.

-       the archway to the right of that, with a door leading directly into the exhibition space, was also lacquered but with a kind of glowing red center – like an ember. On top of this was painted the phrase “To Glorify the Cult of Pictures”, a quote Tony had found in Baudelaire. I have never particularly known the meaning of this quote or why we used it … but the old world trappings of “cult” and “picture” (as opposed to paintings) was something we were both interested in. And who wouldn’t want to quote Baudelaire?

-       at the bottom of the stairs to the right was a blind niche where Tony put another photo blowup of - and I can verify this better than the source for the frieze torsos - a Bob Mizer photograph. It’s streaked with a murky glaze and shows a handsome gladiator menacing an equally handsome slave into submission with a blunt saber.

-       above this is a quote which I’ve been unable to attribute. It says “The individual who has lost the most precious human treasure, chokes down the tears in silence. Grief creeps between the walls like a shadow”. Half of me would like to say that the quote is Edmond de Goncourt on the death of his brother Jules since both Tony and I were heavy into the Goncourt Journals then and the idea of two decadent brothers writing together in the royal “we” was almost too apropos.

-       the quote is printed out, by the way, in banner mode on one of our cruddy dot matrix printers. We both flirted with some very CalArtsian ideas about Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction – but perverted, becoming a kind of a fetish for the dot-pattern in rephotographed pornography, the “degraded” (another of our favorite words) Xerox and the primitive inadequacies of early computer print technology. Where the faults of the machine cause a flaw, that’s facture.

-       anything we could not cover with a picture of a boy or plaster with some maudlin phrase or was just simply out of the reach of our ladder were all gilded with cheap metallic paint: the posts of the stairway, the retrofitting plates and braces, even the fleur-de-lis caps of the wrought (yet another favorite word) iron fence.

-       we floated the idea of enameling or faux-corroding the razorwire … but it was actually kind of dangerous.

 Thanks to the industrious research of Kourosh Larizadeh and Luis Pardo who contacted the current owners of the building, went downtown and documented it, I can confirm that a few elements of the mural still exist, particularly the snotty acrylic drips. Strangely enough, though it’s now a private residence, the commemorative brass plaque that was placed there as a gift to LACE from Roy Dowell and Lari Pittman, is also still there – though cloying ivy has almost consumed it. I’m pretty sure Tony would love that.

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