Colin Greenly, 1928-2014

For over 60 years, Colin Greenly explored the energies of nature and personal existence, interpreting them via various conventional and unconventional art materials.

Colin was born in 1928 in London, England. His father, who died when he was 5 years old, was the founder of A. J. Greenly's, one of the first advertising agencies in the United Kingdom. After his father's death, his mother relocated to California. Colin remained in boarding school in England, visiting his mother via ocean liner. Between the age of 7 and 11, Colin made multiple crossings, by himself, including one on the SS Normandie. Throughout his life, Colin had a strong admiration for ocean liners and the power of the sea.

After receiving an undergraduate degree at Harvard, Colin began a career in advertising while living and working in New York City. After two or three years he began questioning the value of that field and made an appointment to talk to the chairman of the Columbia University School of Painting and Sculpture. In their meeting, the artist and professor Pepppino Mangravite was friendly, but somewhat blunt. He said “Colin, you are not qualified for our graduate program since all your training has been directed to your mind and our approach is to develop the whole person including their senses. What we can offer you here at Columbia is an undergraduate course in ‘Seeing’ which is fundamental to studying art as well as to many other aspects of living.”

At this point Mangravite went on to explain how most young children loose a percentage of their powers of seeing (observation) because their minds substitute other forms of learning. For example, once children see that a door handle allows them to open the door, they no longer “see” the whole door or it’s visual qualities. Opening it becomes more mindfully important.

Such emphasis on “seeing” was logical and persuasive: Colin signed up. Little did he know the lasting/lifetime benefit he would gain from the experiments within that course Magravite masterminded. Both seeing and imagination were required, as well as command of tool,s and language of art. Colin went on to take advantage of other painting and sculpture courses offered by practicing artists at Columbia.

After Columbia, Colin was able to survive enthusiastically through teaching and developing his own creative work. Starting in 1953, his woodcuts were exhibited in Washington, DC galleries and at the 'Museum of Modern Art' in New York. Large painterly abstract drawings followed at the Jefferson Place Gallery.

A search for the most common form in nature led to sculptural reliefs embodying changing shapes and reflective light as well as to related white embossed drawings. Eventually a refinement of those shapes led to a holistic image generated by extending the perimeter of a square out to becoming a circle, which would happen only at infinity. Colin’s goal was to find and creatively use a single image that most strongly combined the qualities of both a circle and a square. The discovery of his “Primary Transitional Symbol” led to drawings, paintings, and sculpture in acrylic plastic and polystyrene that were widely exhibited.

Time, change and ambiguity became a philosophical and visual inspiration within his work, especially in later works in glass, some on a monumental scale. The related cost and scale meant that some were never built.

If tangible works were unattainable, Colin’s solution was to create an intangible image that had a minimal self-energy and could be inserted within a natural environment to enhance that environment’s visual energy. That effort brought him to a closer appreciation of the whole of nature resulting in his multi-image assemblies reflecting the entire spirit of nature.

Seven years after his death in 2014, Colin's ashes were scattered in the North Atlantic, ironically, an environment where he often felt most alive.

Throughout the years, his work has been displayed in numerous major museums and galleries across the country including The Museum of Modern Art, The Smithsonian America Art Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The Corcoran Gallery of Art. He won a national competition for playground sculpture, has received large-scale commissions, and both state and national grants including a National Endowment Grant. Publication reviews include Time Magazine, Art in America, Art Forum, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Most recently his work was represented in the book “Growing by Design 1900-2000, Century of the Child”, by Juliet Kinchin and Aidan O’Connor which accompanied the Museum of Modern Art Exhibition.

Please visit the rest of this site for more specific information about all of Colin's artistic activities with supporting images.