Alan Green

Abstract painter with definite ideas
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The Independent Online

Alan Michael Green, painter and printmaker: born London 22 December 1932; married 1958 June Barnes (two daughters); died Monmouth 7 May 2003.

Alan Green wrote that he "got into art because it was the only thing I was any good at". With a dual practice as a painter and a printmaker (for which he won a swathe of prizes) he conducted an extremely active exhibiting career which extended to Japan and São Paulo as well as innumerable European venues.

He never attracted the fame of some of his contemporaries and, because he avoided publicity and tended to bypass current trends, he never received quite the critical recognition that he deserved. On the other hand he established, as one commentator put it, "a definitive set of ideas about painting", for which he was highly respected by fellow artists; Edwina Leapman, Bob Law, Peter Joseph and Yuko Shiraishi come to mind as among those with whom he had affinities.

Indisputably abstract, his painting moved from severe grids to "columns" of paint and then to squares that lay delicately out of kilter with one another, setting up relationships between areas of a canvas, between centre and edge and, especially, between colours. Colour was a "substance"; he liked paint to be thick, for its texture to be felt and its successive layers to be just discernible. Squares gave way to more complicated arrangements where the eye was carried around corners and in and out of spaces (always on an impeccably flat surface). For his last show at Annely Juda's gallery in London in the autumn of 2002 his canvases were covered with small coloured discs which shimmered and floated in light; this was perhaps his most beautiful group of paintings.

Green was born in 1932 in London, where he lived until the family moved to Wales, near Monmouth, in the late 1980s. He went to Beckenham School of Art intending to be an illustrator and graphic designer, then in 1955 to the Royal College of Art. In between National Service took him to Korea where, with true military irony, he drew maps. On leave he visited Japan where, enthused by Japanese ceramics, he visited the great potter Shoji Hamada. Unable to afford one of his pots, Green bought instead one by Hamada's chief studio assistant.

He started at the Royal College just before Abstract Expressionism made its official début in London, coinciding with a wave of abstract painters: Robyn Denny, Richard Smith, Michael Chalk and the spectacular William Green, who famously finished his bitumen paintings by setting them on fire. Alan Green was more retiring and less confident, making his first painting only in his second year.

Uneasy with design he had transferred to the print department run by Julian Trevelyan, then to the painting school where, bucking the trend, he became a figurative painter, making still lifes: "We used to nail things on a table-top, then hang the table-tops on the wall and try and paint them." Evidently he was a satisfactory student since he won a major travelling scholarship which took him first to Italy, which he disliked, and more happily to France. During this year, 1958, he married June Barnes, a sculptor from the north of England. They had two daughters and several grandchildren.

On his return Green was recruited to teach at Hornsey School of Art by Maurice de Sausmarez, one of the leading exponents of Basic Design, working with the painters John Hoyland and Brian Fielding. Basic Design was the pedagogic flavour of the moment but its internal logic may have stimulated Green's insistence on process and the way that each stage of a painting would lead inevitably into the next. From 1961 to 1966 he worked at Leeds College of Art then, until he ceased teaching in 1974, at Ravensbourne College in Kent. All three schools were instrumental in developing new thinking about art, artists and teaching.

After the Royal College Green became known first as a printmaker, making monoprints and etchings with a limited range of colour. He had his first solo exhibition at the AIA Gallery in London in 1963 and from 1970 he showed regularly with the Annely Juda Gallery. A comment by a recent visitor encapsulated their relationship: "I always identify him as being what the Annely Juda Gallery is about."

The blossoming of his career in the 1970s coincided with a long moment of high theory which he mistrusted as "dogma", convinced that painting should be an everyday activity producing everyday objects. At the same time he thought deeply about it and was constantly wary of the freedom that painting offered.

An extremely disciplined artist, he imposed severe limitations on himself, finding printmaking less worrying because it was restrained by the demands of the medium. He kept the two strictly separate, as if he were afraid of what might happen if they were allowed to overlap, though his imagery was of a piece: "I wouldn't try to use an image in a print that is divorced from my painting."

It was only in the work that he showed in the autumn of 2002 that he acknowledged a connection between prints and paintings.

Margaret Garlake