"Where would you like me to begin? The start? The end?
That's the problem with the past - the choice it offers. The advantages of hindsight.
Things don't unfold before your eyes. You have to give it shape."
~LIAM DAVISON, THE WHITE WOMAN
Mike Green - Bio
I was born in New Zealand in 1941 and arrived in Australia at the end of World War 11.
The son of creative parents, I observed early on, that life is a journey inseparable from art and vice versa. In my teenage years I painted a lot, not particularly expertly, but enthusiastically. My father told wonderful adventure stories and I really liked painting outside in the landscape, but among my favourite subjects were deserted old (possibly haunted) houses.
I chose not to go to Art School, which set my art career off into difficult territory. Every stage and misstep was exposed and I have learned a lot and un-learned a lot along the way. I have been lucky with supporters, including some fine Art Dealers, who trusted me through some very dangerous career decisions.
This website has been designed to show a large amount of my work through its various phases.
Today Yesterday Tomorrow
2007 - 2016
I am very lucky to have access to family letters and documents that stretch back to the 1790s. From fathers to sons, brothers to brothers, they link the experience of the passing of time and a changing world - directly to me. And I find parts of myself in them, across all those years.
If you look at my paintings from the earliest, my interest in history has always been evident. In the places and rooms that I painted in, physical evidence provided some narrative I could guess at, but the “true” history of the space remained metaphysical. This was the interesting part of the process of painting for me.
The discovery of these documents in the 1990’s enabled me to look more personally at what I was doing. My own family’s written experiences provided a concrete, more relevant framework for me to explore personal philosophical interests.
Themes of rapid unforgiving change emerged in context of family, journeys, separation, survival, race, religion and money – in dozens of staccato notes - contact over thousands of miles and hundreds of years. Many of their concerns are the same as mine today and I enjoy the exploration of this. In a time of what seems sometimes overwhelming change, it interesting to consider others who faced the challenge of our history.
I started creating “cloaks” as a way of suggesting the multi-layering of history and memory. It interests me how a memory can morph into something quite different over time, bringing into doubt “truth” as you get older. The “Cloaks” also allowed me to create using the words of my ancestors and there is something very nice about that. Similarly, the frameworks allow for a dimensional play with words, something like “concrete poetry”. I also get to experiment with paint and materials and I can review old works ( like “Waterhole, Manunda”, where I did a watercolour sketch of this subject).
As individuals, all we have is our small experience of the world. The brightest can portray the grandness of the human condition, the rest of us can only tinker. It is a time in my life when I would like to be able to try and bring things together, to communicate this sense of history that I feel. This may not be possible, so I have decided to just keep “doing” and see what happens.
Tonga to Mexico
2003 - 2006
I had travelled to Tonga in 2002 to gain some first hand visual understanding of my family’s history, and was inspired by the beautiful use of whatever was at hand creatively in memorials, architecture and everyday decoration. Originally I purposely avoided travelling to Tonga, I wanted to deal more with the “soup” of my family memories. As a relation, dismissively said, “ Your fantasy – my reality”. She didn’t like my delving into our mixed race heritage. The images I found in Tonga inspired the structural development of my work and I started to set it in constructed frameworks that directly referenced Tongan Cemetery memorials and the beautiful detritus I saw on the trip. I became deeply aware of how change can impact over a relatively short time, both visually and perceptually. How one day something can seem true and the next a fiction. The exhibition that resulted was called “Parallel Journeys”.
In 2003, an artist friend asked Janet and I to stay with him and paint in Mexico – the trip galvanised some ideas I had been thinking about for a while. In the 1990’s I started teaching in the TAFE system and I loved it, but towards 2000, I was coming to hate what was happening within the education system and politics generally, particularly with regards refugees. As a coping mechanism, I decided to develop an exhibition satirising the period and the result was the exhibition called “Under the influence of Mexico”, expanded later into an exhibition called “Land”. Mexico was an amalgam of colour and fireworks. Wonderful adaptable people, sensational art and antiquity, so much created from our waste - from plastic bags to old magazines. ( a connection with Tonga)
I really loved working on this series, but by 2006 it seemed to be important to focus again on “family” and see if, as I get older, I could bring together my ideas about generational change and the passage of time.
1993 - 2002
By the early 90's my interest in painting interior spaces was waning and I was looking again for change. You can see this easily in my “transitional work” of this time. The change presented itself to me via my own family history, when I gained access to family letters dating back to the late 1700’s. For nearly 20 years I had painted in other people’s spaces, subjectively documented other people’s lives – now I could have a go at my own.
Of interest to me, was that the letters were almost exclusively from father to son and brother to brother, framing the years of 19th century exploration - outside the contemporary rigours and restraints of contemporary migration. The starting point was Australia. Through these documents I can see aspects of myself, my multicultural heritage and contrast it to the world I live in.
To create a visual language for my new work, I developed surreal interiors, using parts of old paintings, family photos and extracts from the letters – then created models of spaces and characters. For much of it, I used simple stick-like structures, wrapped and bound (Polynesian style) to suggest maps, lineage and connection. Because this was a big change in my work, I decided to switch from watercolours to acrylic on canvas. After the first few exhibitions I gained confidence to take these ideas into watercolours and later into sculpture.
Family History Series
The Boston Years
1980 - 1992
By 1980 I wanted to study, I wanted to leave Australia for a while to try and get some perspective on what I was doing. I was interested in sculpture – I have always been interested in working with my hands, but also I wanted to learn more about materials, life drawing and print-making. I was lucky to be accepted by Boston’s fantastic Museum School. It lived up to my expectations and more – I was exposed to the amazing art and artists available in North America. I was encouraged to embrace my abilities and take them further. I discovered how easy it is to loose a sense of yourself as a painter and as a result started to trust my process more.
The “interior space” offered an opportunity to push my watercolours to a more extreme point of darkness, I embraced this to explore more ambiguous mid tones and strengthen the use of “light” as a more abstract force.
Return to Australia
1975 - 1980
The creative climate in 1974 was buzzing in Australia and I decided to return and try to paint full time. In Canada I developed a great respect for traces of local(as against European) history and creative re-use of old materials. Similar things had happened in Australia while I was away, but I still set out seeking something of the old and historic Australia for myself. I felt, that as a self taught “realist painter” my only hope of finding originality lay in exploring from my “own bubble”. This has continued to give my work a strong introspective quality that has been at odds with the “Wow” of Contemporary Art.
I travelled around the country, seeking subjects that interested me and in the process met some wonderful people, gaining access to places that would not be possible today. I had become at ease with watercolour and set out to make it my medium and painted what I wanted to paint - my challenge was doing it as well as I could. Throughout this time I moved from painting outside to the inside, seeking initially to get away from flies, the heat and difficulty of painting my kind of watercolours outside. In doing so, I discovered a whole new environment for my subject matter. I started trying to paint what was in front of me, in a way that would indicate something else. By the late 70’s however, I could not ignore just how unfashionable my work had become.
Early Pen & wash, Watercolour on board
the Canadian Years
At 25 I married Janet and we emigrated to Canada the next day - hoping to find work together as a creative team. We didn’t know where it would lead, but were excited by the possibilities. The hundred dollars we arrived with forced our hand. We had the luck to work freelance on some fabulous projects like Expo ’67 and subsequently started a small ceramic company, The Green People. I painted and illustrated for magazines and did a brief stint with The Montreal Star and later became involved in the start up of a very excitingAdvertising Agency.