Everyone who has ever made art in Memphis has a Greely story to tell. Before I moved here from Tuscaloosa, one of my favorite profs, Brian Bishop, told me about the great discussions that he's had with Greely. I thought it was nice that the two of them got along so well, but didn't realize at the time that almost everyone who sits down to talk about art with Myatt--in a museum, in his office, in his studio, or in the P&H--comes out with a new, unforgettable perspective on art as a verb.
I remember the first piece I saw of Greely's. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of that whirling wooden bird way up in the ceiling of the Brooks Museum rotunda the summer that I moved to Memphis, in 2005. The bird was part of a complicated installation that was being taken down, but I didn't know that--I just thought it was a funny and unexpected treat.
When I mentioned to Greely that I had seen the piece, he sat down with me in the middle of the whirlwind of a crazy college day and took some time to show me some slides. I didn't take any of Greely's sculpture classes--and yet I learned that day that Greely is a person who is willing to take time out of an amazingly busy schedule to spend an hour or so flipping through images and talking about some of the projects he had recently completed and how they related to art history and to our shared experiences living in the South. For an artist I guess nothing is more valuable than time you could spend in the studio finding a way to make all of the crazy things that pop into your head. Greely is generous and not only finds a way to make things, but also to make other people feel like they're worth his time.
Greely's generosity gives him some amazing karmic superpowers. Not only does he laughingly claim to tell lies during every lecture and to have blatently stolen all of his best ideas, but through his work he's managed to take ownership of otherwise mundane aspects of visual culture. Lightbulbs and thought bubbles, zippers and quilts--any artist in Memphis who wants to appropriate one of these symbols finds out quickly that they must be wrestled out of Greely's unique vernacular--just as he is constantly wrestling with legends like Phillip Guston.
During the summer of 2006 I was working for a few weekends as an intern at David Lusk Gallery when Greely's show "Lapses to Kill" was up. That opening was one of top ten all time best nights of my life. I got to wear a special corsage (a tiny, orange, plastic citrus fruit) that matched a boutonniere on a sculpture of a man and woman who, instead of holding hands, were attached by the crowns of their heads. Even though I normally feel ridiculously shy and awkward at art openings, I loved each of the sculptures so much that I felt like a different person talking with strangers about mitotes and comic abstraction. Every detail of the artwork seemed perfectly considered, down to the drawing of a four-leaf-clover made by the electric cords that burst from the incandescent bulbs over our head. To top it off, at the end of the night, my name was attached to my first red dot in a real gallery.
It felt like a rite of passage. A month later I took home one of the speech bubbles from the show, one that combined the green grid of a cutting board with drips of paint that Greely later told me were remainders of one of Larry Edwards' work surfaces. I hung it in a place where you would see it as soon as I opened the front door. I wished for higher ceilings and better lighting and a more perfect wall.
The speech bubble prompted a discussion in my house, of course. Why exactly did we get it? What exactly does it mean? About ten months after that there were other discussions to be had as I sat under that speech bubble holding my newborn daughter. I rocked her to sleep in its shadow.
I never worked as a Greely disciple--there's not a lot a painter of little watercolors can do with little tiny paintbrushes to assist a man who physically alters the architecture of our city through the use of pieced steel quilts and whose sketches look brilliant as billboards. I did get to help him dust off a few sculptures at AMUM last week and take measurements of a few pieces, but really that's nothing compared to the contributions my heroes, friends, and colleagues have made to this extravaganza.
Thanks for the palooza, Greely.