The Thalassa Series
Mike Green walked into my life in 1982. It has been my pleasure to present his work to the Boston public and watch the paintings mature into sheer masterpieces. Mike Green has round a very personal idiom in his watercolours and interiors. Dwellings often abandoned and decaying, the vast spaces are filled with shafts of sunlight and atmosphere.
Although Green's realism includes accurate details, his painterly attack is fresh and laden with vitality. Locations chosen because of their mysterious associations with former inhabitants, and painted in situ during his travels. The viewer is, able to sense the historical scenario and
sees brilliantly as though through the painter's eyes.
Meredyth Hyatt Moses,
Director, Clark Gallery, Boston USA
A great deal of my painting is completed on site. Sitting in a space for a long period you become aware of the silence— like a long pause in stage dialogue; forcing your attention on to the insignificant, often mundane things in front of you. The light, the structure of the air and the passing of time take on a new perspective. The strangeness of now, the truth about the past and mystery of the next few minutes inevitably find their way into my work.
"THALASSA' AUGUST 1985
I wait outside the high fence. Above, the tangle of undergrowth thrusts up and over the fence as though it was anxious to escape. It takes her awhile each morning to lock up her dogs. Each Alsatian is almost her size. Fierce, only just controlled by her; the three dogs would probably eat her too, if she fell over and they had been very hungry. On the mornings that I am painting at "Thalassa", she locks up the dogs in an upstairs room, in what was once the servants' quarters.
I still wait at the gate. (On it are scrawled obscenities - they've been there for years, but each morning we go through the performance as though they were put there last night.) Soon I hear maybe a twig snap and the quietest noises of the bush, as she stealthily makes her way through the "jungle" to me.
The large old wooden gate has seen better days - it doesn't open easily. It takes her a while as she struggles to open it on its twisted hinges. She is strong minded and insists on doing it all herself, there is a ritual. First "Is that you Mike? - Oh good - I've had such a night, you wouldn't believe what those devils did...etc". The big gate wobbles back and forth whilst she chats and grunts and groans. Each brick —
extra support at the back of the gate) is moved methodically. Each one is placed just so - a trap, so she knows if anyone has disturbed the gate during the night. All of a sudden it opens little by little until there is just enough room for me to squeeze through. But first — she looks down the road each way — and across the road to see that everything is in order; then to see what I might be bringing in — if everything is OK, I'm allowed inside.
She is tiny, her long grey hair is neatly hut quickly gathered with a pin on top of her head into a "bun". She is stooped a little, inclined to a hunchback and with one withered arm — but such energy and hustle. One look at those quick darting eyes and determined chin and there is an intimidating strength that belies her size. Sharpish features give way to a smile or self satisfaction at the "crooks" outwitted. A busy and clever mind, full of questions and strong opinions, she flits a world of reality today, yesterday mixed with illusions and dreams for the future. |
It's hard to know — with such a reclusive person — whether it's you that is a little crazy. She keeps me busy doing silent jigsaws — mental games that help our relationship survive in a precarious sort of way - I really do enjoy her, but these "games" (are they games?) tire me at times — and at times are spooky. But I love the whole strange process — each day unfolds a little more mystery — something new to paint. I feel like a child exploring a "haunted" house. And my paintings attempt to project all the mystery of un-answered questions and surprises behind the next corner.
Inside the gate, the bricks are carefully replaced — the garden is full of little check points and complex booby traps for the unsuspecting intruder.
I bend almost double to pass through the undergrowth. Twigs grab at us and by the time we reach the front door they have dismantled her hair into tangled wisps about her wily face. We have dodged and twisted — carefully dismantling the "traps" and replacing them after us. It is easier now — without the dogs nipping at my thighs, calves, or hands as we go. It used to be like that years ago, we thought they would get to know me - but they never really trusted me (nor I them!) — never got used to me being allowed in. So each morning they are locked up, I am let in and locked into me front or the house. Then she lets the dogs outside and I am a prisoner until evening when she reverses the procedure.
There's lots we talk about - sometimes I lose a lot or painting time and I have to try hard not to look as if I’d rather he painting. I enjoy talking to her most of the time — especially if I'm happy with the progress or my work. We talk about everything — politics, the old house, the neighbours, but usually it gets around to "them". "Them's" usually crooks, or ratbags and often it's the “Moonies” (who have a house next door) — she believes they harass her into trying to sell out — initial friendly persuasion failed. She finds it hard to understand my love of "Thalassa" the way it is. I think she hoped that I would see it the way it was, paint it the way she would like it to be. I don't think it could ever be the way she dreams it could be. It's too far gone. But if by magic she could have her wish for the mansion — it would still be bizarre. For me, I have no interest in it for its past, or its future — just its present.
Once "Thalassa" was splendid in a grand muddle of Victoriana - a boom-time period piece. Beautiful? - I'm not sure. During the 1920s it was divided into apartments and tenanted to an odd bunch or retired gentlewomen, sea captains, policemen and other interesting "stories".
Slowly — very slowly after she bought "Thalassa" the repairs stopped, the power failed, the gas went out and the roof leaked. The once grand, then kitchened/ bathroomed verandahs with their delicate iron lace — collapsed, were condemned and pulled down leaving overgrown columns (like blown-out birthday candles) surrounding the house.
The house was oddly and ineptly divided into apartments — beautiful ceilings were divided mid-rose, doors and windows hard into corners with brass picture rails cut midway and left to remain unbalanced going nowhere. Gaslight fittings were carelessly converted to electricity with ugly fittings. Today thick cobwebs like black risking nets hang 12 and more feet deep from the high ceilings. Baths lie full of argumentative legal documents — chintz, mouldering-pigeons, and broken windows and bird dung are everywhere. Rooms full of antiques, junk, boxes, letters, dust and paper bags of treasures. And the wind, everywhere. Boxes of fallen cherubs from the ceiling and broken door knobs. Leaking pails full or water dripping from the ceiling and bits of plaster broken where it fell. Odd colours too — the handiwork of odd tenants. Odd noises when the wind blows and the Venetian blinds rattle, scrape and scratch.
I haven't seen the downstairs, except for the lobby and stairs — she lives there, alone with no electricity or gas, or heat. Outside the dogs roam and pillage the remnants of a once magnificent garden. Endless bones buried, "dead" cars, a vacuum cleaner and broken furniture. Stones hold down plastic bags, or notes. Piles of soup cans, milk cartons and plastic margarine containers. Everything precious, each in its special place. Tracks
through the undergrowth lead to special spots where the outside world can be observed at midnight or 3 am when the wild ones plague her life and this tiny figure darts to and fro — screaming at these nuisances and thieves and crooks! — the dogs barking at their noisy disturbances. They would be mad to set foot inside, the dogs would tear them limb from limb.
I hear a scream occasionally. Some idiot has jumped the fence. I am locked in upstairs and debating bow serious it all is down there. Do they deserve it as they jump back to tbe safety or the wall and the outside? Clambering up the wall to have their legs toothed by the leaping snarling protectors. Usually she arrives — (I have never seen a really serious situation) before any major injury can occur and a slanging match ensues. I return to my work and turn up my portable radio.
So quickly, the sun moves — some new mood asserts itself. A blind twists and rails, or sets some fantastic new shadow. Winter gives way to a stronger brighter intruder. I hear things as she prowls silently about. Is she at the door, or am I hearing house noises? The stories this place tells. The sea captain died, or never returned, his wife stayed at this window overlooking the bay. The policeman put an axe through this door — weathered and split by natural causes. What is real, what is imagination? Slowly paintings proceed and each night I am glad to breathe fresh air outside the gate — but each morning the adrenalin flows and I can't wait to paint again.
Max Dimmack, April 1985
Mike Green watercolours,
Realities Gallery, Melbourne
When I first encountered Mike Green s work some 6 or 7 years ago, I was not impressed. It seemed to me to be overly reminiscent of a well known local realist painter or, more especially, the American Andrew Wyeth. The work was subject dominated. There was not enough of the artist, of the person: Mike's personality or identity did not come through.
A remarkable transformation has occurred. The subject is now dominated by the artist. By integrating keenly perceived details of the subject, say an interior in an old house, with a creative use of light effects contrasting with rich and resonant colour combinations, he has given his recent paintings a spectacular sense of drama. Mike's latest works, whether in watercolour or pastel, are dramatic paintings indeed. They are imbued with a significant sense of mystery, It is impossible to view one of his recent shaded or darkened interiors and not respond to this feeling of mystery; to a feeling that somebody has been there quite recently. There is a palpable human presence. Someone sat in that chair or moved It. or opened that door, or looked out of that window.
But who? Where are they now? Why aren’t If they in the painting? Mike does not tell us. He leaves us to supply our own answers. He involves us In the mystery. And by doing this he Inevitably Involved us in his paintings, in his interpretation of the subject. We cannot remain aloof.
I believe it requires a very sensitive, thinking, feeling person, and a very talented artist to do this. Mike Green has become that kind of artist. I enjoy his current work enormously.