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  Howie Green Interviews

Interviewed by Helen Rosenbaum
High Tech High Media Arts
San Diego, CA

on the subject of Pop Art

What do you try to say through your artwork? (ex. Do you try to make people smile or do you try to make them laugh, do you try to tell a story?) Does it change for each piece?

I'm mostly presenting familiar images in my work that I want my audience to look at in a new context. My painting of a famous album cover, say Meet the Beatles, is not the actual album cover but my painterly wacky fun impression of the cover. It's a familiar image but done in my style which presents the image in a whole new light. I like to take something that exists and is familiar but do in a whole new way. My fans and folks who like my work are usually surprised and then excitied by what I did in a painting and by the fact that I'm giving a new twist to something they have seen before.

Pop art is not a very narrative genre of art. For the most part my pieces don't tell stories but are simply bold and graphic inmages from our culture. My flower paintings are just decorative and the more fuzzy subject matter works like my ladies and landscapes and others are the kinds of images I hear people invent stories about, but I don't have that in mind when I paint them.

When people see my paintings I want them to feel the impact of the color and the image. If they do and let that into their brains they usually smile and get a positive feeling back. I try to keep negativity out of my work. My work is about color and light the uplifting feelings I can create with those tools and my brushes.

How does color affect the purpose and feeling of a piece of work? What does color represent in your pieces?

For me color is everything. My paintings are all about the colors and the active brushstrokes and the images and the forms come second. This lets me apply my particular technique to almost any subject matter. i studied color theory in depth for most of my life. I studied with Fritz Trautman, who worked with George Eastman on the development of color film and with Joseph Albers one of the acknowledged color masters of the 20th century. I learned different ideas from both men and combined them into my own process. I did a lot of early paintings in my 20s that helped me work through the process of what color does in pantings and how it all works. Having studied Monet's and Pissaro's paintings first hand at various museums I picked up addtional information about how they used color. Monet is the Color God as far as I'm concerned. He was the color genius of all time and I have no idea how he did what he did. If you look closely at his paintings in person they resemble the splatter drippings of Jackson Pollock which makes what he achieved with his painting even more impressive. Sort of controlled chaos.

Having said all that I will freely admit to screwing around with color in my work to make things jump and vibrate. I purposely break all the color rules in my work to mess with the viewers brains and what their eyes will try to process while looking at my work. I hear from people all the time about how they love "my colors" which is funny becasue I don't think of myself as using a particular palette... I just use ALL the colors and combine them in new ways.

Is there an underlying message or theme in your work?

Not really, just that art is a great joyous experience and should invoke a sense of fun and happiness in the viewer. I hate going to museums, as just happened last week at Yale, and being told to not talk. Art museums are not churches and I hate overly serious academic types who think looking at art should be all serious and scholarly. Art is as enjoyable experience as eating and love and all the other higher functions of the human brain. WhenI look a painting that I love I want to eat it and I want people to feel that way about my work. It's color, its fun, it's movement and action. Enjoy it.

What do you think pop art in general is trying to say? Is there a way to generalize what pop artists are trying to convey?

Basically I think Pop Art has a simple message: "If treated properly anything can be art and art is not an elitist thing for only a select few to enjoy." The great thing that Pop Art did for the art world was to take the whole idea of what art was and make people realize that comic books, soup cans, album covers and all sorts of other things are just as beautiful and interesting as a Rembrant painting or a Turner landscape. Pop Art opened up a whole new dimension in art and forever changed the dialog about art... and it really pissed off and disturbed the entire art establishment in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Art Establishemnt hated Pop Art but The People LOVED it which upset the status quo. It's even more apparent in Europe where they really love Pop Art and have embraced it even more than in America. Amercian don't trust art to begin with and art is not really part of the American mindset. But Eurpoeans think of art like money and bread and love - a basic component of everyday life and any kind of art is OK and great. Since pop art reflects the popular culture and every day objects it's very visble in Europe and in Asia where they are mad for Pop Art.

Is an inspiration for a piece always the same as what you want a viewer to get/feel after looking at that piece?

Probalby not. I get inspired to do a painting for any number of reasons: have to pay the rent, a particular image really strikes me, someone asks me to do a particular image, I see something that I know I can have fun with, etc. so I never know where or when the muse will strike me. I paint pretty much every day so its kind of an ongoing thing and I always have a stack of sketch books full of stuff that I want to paint.

What are your general thoughts on the pop art movement?

Pop Art was the most important movement in the 20th century. It altered the landscape of the art world and brought the masses back to art. When pop art hit the scene it was the beginnig of the 60s cultural renassaince that lasted for a little over a decade and touched on every aspect of life from art, music, movies, literature, politics, religion, education - literally everything underwent a rethinking and reinvention. Pop art was both part of the fuel for that time and part of the reaction to it.

How did you get interested in pop art?

Well I was a kid learning to draw by copying the comics from the newspapers when I started hearing rumblings about soup cans and such. My parents were not the least bit interested in art - then or now - and for me to have heard about pop art meant that it was causing quite an uproar in the culture. For some reason, and I can't remember why, my junior high school class went to the Albright Knox art museum in Buffalo, NY to see the very first traveling pop art show and when I walked in and saw Dick Tracy and soup cans my life changed on the spot. I remember to this day feeling like I had been hit by lightening. I knew right then and there that I was part of it all. By the time I got to art school in 1966 I was already on my way and working in the pop art genre and I never stopped.

What classifies something as pop art?

Good question and one with a lot of different answers. My personal feeling is that pop art reflects the world around us with a style and presentation that makes you see the familiar in a new way. A realistic life size bronze sculpture of a pear is not pop art. An 18" plastic lamp made to look like a pear is pop art. Pop art takes the familiar and redefines it in terms of size, color, position and presentation.

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