On a recent cold, messy winter day in New York, W's Julie Belcove sat down with artist Mark Greenwold over burgers and fries at Noho Star to talk about his show of early work, much of which has never before been exhibited, opening March 17 at DC Moore Gallery. Known for populating his paintings with friends and family, including his exes, his children and his best friend of many decades, Chuck Close, Greenwold renders carefully detailed, psychologically fraught scenarios. The newly unveiled old work is explicitly sexual, and among other surprises, the canvases on display may help bust Greenwold, 67, out of what he calls the "small paintings ghetto": They're huge, with one stretching nine feet wide. Within minutes, well before he explained that art was an outlet for "my mishigas," his inner Woody Allen started creeping out. All it took was the waitress neglecting to bring him the Coke he ordered. "Why did you get a Coke and I didn't?" he asked.
I guess she likes me better. So, being married to another artist—is that just a recipe for disaster?
Both my wives were artists. They weren't ideal marriages, they weren't paradigms, but for me they were both important and are still. It's so important to be with somebody who you can talk to about things that interest you. But artists are egomaniacal too, to some degree, don't you think?
In my own sweet, soft, unaggressive [way].
You didn't have your first New York show until you were almost 40. Are you a late bloomer?
I don't think I shaved until I was in my early 40s. But I'm not sure if I am a late bloomer, quite frankly. What I am is fairly f---ed up I think. What I didn't realize was this piece: that not only is it important to make the work and believe in it, but if you're an artist, you need to get it out in the world.
Tell me about your process.
One of the things that's true of this early work that's true now is that they took forever. This four-year painting [Bright Promise (For Simon), 1971-75], just the bedspread took me a year to paint. Millions of chenille balls. Somebody counted them, and there are 1,200 balls. Solidly for a year on those f---ing balls.
And you didn't lose your mind?
Well, you see me. I was a tall blond man at the time. When you see the painting in the flesh, every ball is like a different face. That was pretty harrowing. I think I thought of myself more like a novelist, someone who works incrementally for years and years, chapter by chapter, piecing it together.
What issues are at play?
I think I've been very misunderstood. A lot of this earlier work too was filled with sex and what theorists used to call the male gaze. I can never remember if it's the male gaze or the female gaze. It's all bad. I mean, the political correctness stuff always annoys me. In this early work, it was all about trying to make men and women in highly charged situations. I always thought of them in some degree, because I'm a Midwesterner, a little bit overly moralistic perhaps, as cautionary tales.
What's in your studio now?
I'm working on a painting with Chuck in it. His head is exploding into all this stuff that looks like abstraction. It's really weird. Did Chuck tell you I was an a--hole?
No, but he wanted me to roast you a little.
So perverse. Hasn't my life been hard enough?
For more information on Mark Greenwold, click here.