You might say that Amy Greenan has arrived.
Though scattered glimpses of work by the Niagara Falls-based painter could be had over the past few years, her paintings have made a big splash this month. Two exhibitions featuring Greenan's work -- a solo show in Allentown's Studio Hart and a shared bill with local artist Elizabeth Leader in the Western New York Book Arts Center -- are now ongoing.
Another show opens Aug. 26 in Corning's Houghton Gallery, with Greenan's first international show slated to open in England in October.
So why all the attention, and why now? In short, because Greenan -- a gifted artist whose body of work ranges from zine-making to collage -- has found her subject. She paints houses that used to be homes.
Greenan's ongoing series of house paintings (and curators' ramped-up interest in Greenan's work) more or less began with her stunning large-scale 2009 piece "6801 Maple Road," which was exhibited in the Castellani Art Museum in 2009 and later acquired by the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
Since then, she's been refining her approach and testing out new mediums in an effort to explore every facet of her fascination with abandoned structures. The results of those efforts are on view in the WNYBAC and Studio Hart shows, each of which merits a look.
Greenan's work fits snugly into the large and growing body of work that deals in some way with the derelict houses that dot Western New York's landscape. As a Niagara Falls resident who spends her share of time in Buffalo and knows quite a bit of the rural terrain that surrounds both cities, Greenan has a multidimensional view of the region's struggles with abandonment and neglect.
But don't misread her work as some sort of activist statement, nor, conversely, as facile ruin porn or mere pretty pictures. It's anything but.
Greenan is clearly a gifted tugger-of-heartstrings, a skill she employs to productive and even mildly unsettling, rather than kitschy, ends. Her houses have an immediate visual allure that has something to do with their unlikely colors, their intentionally unfinished appearance and the fact that many of them seem either to float impossibly in space or to have been placed against backgrounds to which they clearly do not belong.
A few of her latest pieces feature houses that seem to have broken free of their foundations and flown peacefully up into the sky.
"Up," a large work of acrylic paint on yupo paper on view at WNYBAC, depicts just such a house tilted counterclockwise and seeming to rise up against a blue sky while dripping little streaks of black paint. It's an homage to the Pixar film of the same name, in which the main character outfits his house with hundreds of balloons and pilots it to South America -- and which, not unlike Greenan's work, has something to do with the dark side of nostalgia.
But buried not far beneath the surface of that whimsy and those pleasing geometric shapes is a strain of melancholy and a sense of mystery that can often seem more than a little bit disconcerting. But neither are they completely devoid of joy -- and therein lies the real intrigue.
Greenan's approach to the house paintings, she said, "doesn't come from a happy place. It's almost like a purgatory it comes from it's coming from almost a void." She calls her canvases "deceptively cheerful."
That doesn't quite apply to her alluring series of darker, ink-on-paper drawings on view in both spaces, which depict houses through a sort of black scrim, as if she drew them at midnight and forgot to ink in the sky.
Whether in black and white or color, whether earthbound or floating, each of Greenan's houses seems to have a personality -- a life and history all its own that none of us can ever quite know. And that seems right, because houses are the products of human hands, the subjects of human fascination, the containers for human lives.
And in Greenan's hands, they're receptacles for melancholy, a longing for a different time that should perhaps not be longed for and an entrancing mixture of possibility and foreboding that can't help but captivate the imagination.
WHO: Amy Greenan
WHEN: Studio Hart through Aug. 27; Western New York Book Arts Center through Sept. 17
WHERE: Studio Hart, 65 Allen St.; WNYBAC, 468 Washington St.
INFO: Studio Hart, 536-8337 or www.studiohart.com; WNYBAC, 348-1430 or wnybookarts.org