Artist Normon Greene celebrates that people come in all colors and sizes, with more similarities than differences, in, “Colored Folk: We Come in Every Shade,” an exhibition on view through July 28 at the Sandy Spring Museum.
Greene considers white and black “power colors” that do not accurately describe people. “It’s all about the shades,” he said. “We’re all the same color, just different shades. We got bamboozled with the terms white and black. That stuff just messed us up.”
The museum accepted Greene’s proposal for the show because of his take on the issue of race, according to the museum’s Executive Director Allison Weiss. “You cannot tell where one race begins and another ends because race is a social construct,” she explained.
Greene, 69, described his brightly colored paintings as abstract art, where less is more. His figures are round shapes, without facial features. The only exception is a piece called “Protest,” where the figures have expressive mouths and their fingers are holding blank white placards.
In his paintings and sculptures, Greene uses the relation of each body to the next to express what he is trying to say about their relationships and environments. “I’m creating the simplest thing to represent the piece in the least amount of drawing,” he said.
His style is influenced by Picasso and other early abstract and cubist artists. “They were concentrating on feeling and movement,” Greene said. “The details were less important than how it felt. That’s what I focus on.”
Greene uses a mixture of grits in gesso and silicone to create thick, stucco-like textures on his paintings. “For years, I have wanted to paint on a canvas that looked like a wall,” he said. “I hope to do these paintings on walls some day.”
The artist’s love of art began while growing up in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he followed his mother’s example in copying the cartoon panels that appeared in Sunday newspapers. When his mother brought home some clay, he was taken with the ability to create three-dimensional figures. Greene said he alternates between painting and sculpting.
After a stint in the Navy, Greene moved to Maryland in 1974, connected with artists in Takoma Park and enrolled at the University of Maryland, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in sociology, with a minor in art.
For more than 20 years, he supported his family by working as a youth counselor, primarily with disadvantaged youth, and in team building. He has studied and practiced tai chi, and often uses it in mediation and skill building.
Still, Greene never stopped working on his art. For many years, he lived and worked in Takoma Park. He helped found the Takoma Artist’s Guild, which he chaired until 2000. About 10 years ago, Greene moved to Brentwood, where he lives and works in a warehouse-like space, large enough to accommodate his large sculptures and murals.
Some of those larger sculptures are on display in Montgomery County. Two can be found in Takoma Park: “Roscoe the Rooster” stands in the center of the city and “Chief Powhatan” is in Spring Park. The chief was his first outdoor piece, commissioned in the early 1980s, Greene said. Historians say that Chief Powhatan was the first to discover the value of Takoma Park’s springs.
Two more of Greene’s sculptures are installed in front of the Bette Carol Thompson Scotland Recreation Center in Potomac. They depict two women who were important to the community and the old cars they helped remove from the community. The pieces were commissioned by the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County.
Greene’s show is paired with “Our Life in Art,” work by kindergarten through eighth-grade students at St. John’s Episcopal School in Olney. Their paintings focus on the students, their families and their communities.
“The reason we combined the two exhibits was mostly due to serendipitous timing,” Weiss said. “Both exhibits depicted community through the arts.”
The students began preparing for the show in September. Collaborative projects from each class as well as individual works by 20 students are featured. The group projects focus on different aspects of their lives and experiences.
Greene spent a day with the second-graders, and they were inspired to create a large poster of their families in Greene’s style, their art teacher Maggie Lewis said. He worked with a group of older students after school one day on individual portraits in his style.
The students’ individual paintings and drawings depict favorite vacation spots, the Olney community and introspective self-portraits. “Students really enjoyed having their art in a professional space,” Lewis said.
“Colored Folk: We Come in Every Shape” is on view through July 28 at the Sandy Spring Museum, 17091 Bentley Road, Sandy Spring. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays as well as from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the first Saturday of the month. Call 301-774-0022 or visit www.sandyspringmuseum.org.