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How Painter Amy Greenan Restores Abandoned Houses

6801 Maple Rd., or as the artist, Amy Greenan, calls it, "the Green House."

From Old to New

One notable aspect of the houses featured in Buffalo-based painter Amy Greenan’s work is the way they stray from their “real-life” prototypes. These are the aged houses in Buffalo that have been abandoned, with the weathered facades and sagging beams to prove it. Most of them have been deprived of human touch and quietly sit, boarded up, disheveled, gathering dust and detritus. Removed from the public eye, these houses forlornly sink into the ground.

Greenan injects them with new life. She calls these houses “lost architectural souls,” and they have proved to be the valuable blueprints for her Abandoned House series, which she started in 2009. The first installment of the series, 6801 Maple Rd., (Greenan unofficially calls it “the Green House”), is currently in the collection of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College, and was inspired by a casual obsession that evolved into a strong springboard for her current projects.

“I thought it was beautiful in its dilapidated state,” says Greenan. “Having grown up in a house that was abandoned when my parents bought it, I’ve developed an appreciation for old houses.”

Greenan’s paintings are surrealistic, somber and dream-like, each one a little bit different from the next. They explore different areas of the subconscious, but converge again into a shared cataract. They speak to a part of the brain that is seldom exercised, except perhaps when exposed to powerful relics of the past. Accordingly, Greenan’s acrylic surrogates are wistful composites of reality and fantasy, soul and body, reminiscent of something not quite fathomable.

Greenan points to “the contrast between the weightless and weighted, the ambiguous and definitive” as a central part of her work, and this translates into the exaggerated colors, tweaked geometric order, and the bold dismissal of logic that appear in her art.

“I am not interested in realism so much as creating an entirely new space for them to occupy,” explains Greenan. “If an element isn’t working for whatever reason, I will partially or entirely obliterate it—the ghosts of those can be more interesting.”

Much like the paintings she produces, Greenan relies on a visceral and spontaneous response to things. Her painting process, though loosely guided by a photograph of the house, mostly involves her train of thought as she works.

“Stuff like song lyrics, random phrases from past conversations guide me, title the work, even inform the images to an extent,” she says.

Greenan’s work, which was recently exhibited at the Western New York Book Arts Center under the title A Sense of Place, has been the target of both regional and international acclaim, with a showing currently underway at the Houghton Gallery in Corning, entitled Looking Out, Thinking Back (through September 30), to be followed by her international debut at the Steele Gallery in Falmouth, England on October 18.

“I think that the architecture that I am dealing with is something not seen across the pond, and I think that alone might spark curiosity,” says Greenan. “I’m very excited for this opportunity and hope that the English audience will respond with a similar interest and enthusiasm that my audience here has.”

Alongside her abandoned house series, Greenan says she plans to explore aspects of city life as well—a broadening of scope that is to be included in the Falmouth exhibit. Exhausted from a busy but highly productive summer, Greenan confesses that she’s looking forward to a break in the fall, and remains optimistic about the future.

“I love being a cheerleader for the arts, getting people enthusiastic about art, being friends with so many talented artists,” says Greenan. “I’m looking forward to some new opportunities in 2012.”

—so eun kim

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