Mark Greenwold is an American painter, born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1942, whose subjects often include figures in psychologically charged domestic interiors, executed with pathologically laborious detail. He began exhibiting in New York in the late 1970s, where he currently lives and works. Though he came of age in an art world known for minimalist and conceptual trends, his work has always centered around the figure and his style has fallen somewhere between surrealism and photo realism.
Mark Greenwold attended the Cleveland Institute of Art from 1962–1966. After which he continued his graduate studies at Indiana University Bloomington, earning his MFA in 1968. At Indiana, his professors were William Bailet and James McGarrell. After grad school, he moved to Seattle, where he got a teaching job. By 1986, he had relocated to Albany, where he had a teaching position at the State University. Mark Greenwold now lives and works in New York, NY.
Mark Greenwold's paintings are best described as humans engaging in discomfiting behavior represented with pathologically laborious detail. He sees his art as a place to put all his mishigas. And, as that mishigas is often human-centered, the figure is absolutely central to what Greenwold paints. The subject matter always appears physiologically charged.
Greenwold's process is painstaking. Some of his paintings have taken him four entire years to complete. His pace has always been slow, steady, and intensive. He uses photography as a starting point, which includes taking source imagery from low-end interior design magazines and photographs of friends and family members. Richard Vine, in a 1993 Art in America review, explains: “Greenwold, who acknowledges an affinity with Woody Allen, subjects a repertory cast of relatives, lovers and friends to various emotional crises, blatant or implicit, while never quite letting go of a self-deprecating humor that is his best—and perhaps only—psychological defense.”
When Greenwold first embarked on his painting career after grad school, he was entering an art world concerned with little else other than minimalism and conceptualism. This was an art world dominated by Greenbergian modernism, which opposed everything Greenwold valued: space, content, emotion, sex, violence, and humor. Yet, he remained transfixed by the figure.
While still a student at Indiana, he spent six months working on one single painting: Furlough, which he finished in 1968. The style and pace of this painting would set the tone for the rest of Greenwold's career. The work is very much set within its own time frame. Much of his work in the 1970s, for example, took interiors that were classically seventies or used source imagery from porn magazines. But beyond that, the sexual excess of the seventies is represented by Greenwold as an orgiastic celebration of humanity.
Much of his career has been plagued by controversy. In 1973, Greenwold's Secret Storm was allegedly censored from publication in an exhibition catalogue for the show "12 Painters and the Human Figure" at the Santa Barbara Museum. While Greenwold suggested that the museum had shelved publishing the catalogue - an injustice to the other painters in the show - because of cries to censor his explicit painting, the director of the museum, Paul Mills, suggested that Greenwold's painting was never meant to be in the catalogue and that the production had ceased because Greenwold did not cooperate with other photography.
Along these same lines, an exhibition of one single painting was vehemently protested by art critic Lucy Lippard. The exhibition at Phyllis Kind in 1979, Brown's first solo show, included one single painting, Sewing Room, whose subject matter was a husband stabbing his wife with a pair of scissors. Lippard bemoaned Kind's exhibition of a painting that clearly glorified domestic abuse. Greenwold came to his own defense again, penning a letter for the Village Voice, in which he explained that simply depicting an event does not mean he was glorifying it.
By the 1980s, Greenwold was still focused primarily on placing the human figure in gaudy interiors. However, his style shifted slightly away from the tight almost photo realistic look of his previous paintings to a looser style. Also, in an effort to speed up his process, he shifted away from acrylic on large canvases and instead began using gouache and watercolor on a much smaller scale. Richard Vine, writing in Art in America in 1993, explained how Greenwold's style was reminiscent of Giotto and other Sienese painters of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Grace Glueck described his style as similar to that of magic realism and surrealism, where every inch of the painting is rendered in precise detail; though his paintings are intense they are just ever so slightly too staged to be convincing.
In the early 2000s, abstract designs made out of colored lozenge forms start appearing in Greenwold's paintings. These may be a reference to forms used by his friends and fellow artists, Chuck Close and James Siena. He stays true to the subject matter he always focused on, including interiors from architecture magazines and a depiction of the psychological landscape of dysfunctional family life.