Rodney Alan Greenblat arrived in Manhattan’s East Village in the early ‘80s and quickly made a name for himself as a pop artist along with friends Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf. Inspired by cartoons and pop culture, he created figurative paintings and sculptures. Greenblat was included in the 1985 Whitney Biennial and many shows at Gracie Mansion Gallery throughout the ‘80s.
In the mid-‘90s, he stopped exhibiting his work in galleries and took the opportunity to make commercial art in Japan. He designed characters for Japanese comic books, Sony video games like the PaRappa the Rapper series, and advertisements. Greenblat describes the distinction between creating commercial art and exhibition
work for him as the difference between playing solo versus in an ensemble. “There are a lot of artists who can do the same thing in their studios that they do for commercial clients, but I’m not like that,” says Greenblat. “When I’m working on a commercial project I think of it as a collaboration.”
In 2003, Greenblat returned to his studio to create a new body of work. “I left behind the cartoon imagery for a while and I concentrated on fun, colorful, abstractions,” says Greenblat. “It’s been a big shift.” His work has evolved and his influences have meandered from cartoons to 1940s and ‘50s modern art. He names Calder, Noguchi, and Matisse as examples of interesting, fun, and energetic artists. Currently, Greenblat’s paintings and sculptures revolve around his growing interest in Zen Buddhism. In fact, the only figures in his upcoming show at the BCB Art in Hudson are images of Buddha and like much of his work are fun—a purple Buddha gestures OK with a hand.
One Buddhist symbol took his work by surprise. After incorporating many abstract wheels into his paintings, Greenblat learned about its significance. “As I’ve been studying Buddhism lately I’ve realized it’s one of the earliest ways Buddha was expressed—as an eight-spoked wheel,” says Greenblat. He’s found ways to paint
his version of a traditional eight-spoked wheel into several pieces.
Moon Wheel, a 12-spoked clocklike form, typical of Greenblat’s recent works features shapes that mimic the phases of the moon in the slices of the wheel instead of the usual colored, circular forms. The background shows patches of light blue contrasting bespeckled darker blue like the day and night sky. “This piece is very
much about time passing, and time not passing,” says Greenblat. He describes it as natural but also machine like.
Known for his artistic optimism and sense of humor, Greenblat sees the importance of darker political work but takes his own approach to waking up the masses. “I really want to send out a positive message with my artwork,” says Greenblat. “I think it’s important to see the lighter side of things and to open your mind to color and kindness.”
This Ghent resident has developed a weekender lifestyle that is quite the opposite of most New Yorkers. Greenblat and his wife spend Monday through Firday in the Hudson Valley, where he works regular daytime studio hours. For the weekend, they head to New York City.
Rodney Alan Greenblat’s solo exhibition, “FREE WHEEL” opens December 1 and runs through January 19, 2008 at BCB Art, 116 Warren Street, Hudson. Opening reception Saturday, December 1, 6 to 8pm. Portfolio at www.whimsyload.com. (518) 828-4539; www.bcbart.com.