Flushing Meadows Park, 2020 - 23
John Hundley Greer’s Flushing Meadows Park series (2020-23) of casein paintings on board represents a sustained inquiry into the interplay between representational landscape painting and geometric abstraction. What appear to be a set of compositionally similar works is actually a series of photographs of evolving “states” of singular paintings on board, a natural extension of Greer’s engagement with the process of printmaking.
This body of work began with a series of modest plein-air watercolor sketches Greer made during the long days of the pandemic featuring views of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park near his home in Queens, New York. Designed by the Faustian visionary Robert Moses, the park was built atop wetlands backfilled with ash and refuse, and used for the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, with their high modernist visions of the future. The park drew Greer in with its fresh air, sylvan beauty, and open space. But he has remarked that it can also be an uncanny, ugly place, where trees are forced to stand in rows around close-cropped soccer fields, and crowds motor directly into the park via a freeway overpass, a direct manifestation of Moses’ outmoded vision of a motorized future.
The sketch that forms the initial layer of these highly built-up works serves as the foundation for a process of experimenting with color and form. Far from naturalistic landscapes, they evolve away from recognizable space as they push the boundaries of what colors can peacefully coexist. Each layer is a response to its immediate history, accumulating until Greer reaches for his sanding machine, excavating boreholes through mottled strata down to the masonite bedrock. These paintings aren’t so much completed as they are settled, having come to accept their past. Much like the park itself, they are constructions that emerge from the interplay between the preexisting environment and the grasping and scheming human mind.
Greer refers to these paintings as “unstable,” a term that calls to mind chaos theory. They feel as though they are about to transform into something else. The push and pull of the optical shifts prompted by the saturated geometrical elements on the surface is in tension with the painterly depictions of space that endure from the source landscape imagery. Whether they depict branching foliage, meandering highways, urban marshlands, bridge pylons, undulating waves, or fantastically hued, industrial-strength sunsets, the prominently underpainted surface both reveals and obscures the history of the creation of the painting – and of Flushing Meadows Park itself.