Balcomb Greene


Balcomb Greene Biography

Balcomb Greene (1904-1990) was an American painter, writer, teacher and political activist. Best known as an Non-Objective artist and a founding member, along with his wife, Gertrude, of American Abstract Artists, a group which included Josef Albers, Ilya Bolotowsky, Mercedes Matter and many other prominent artists.

Greene began his career as a professor of English literature, lectured and wrote novels.  By 1932 Greene realized that his true passion was painting. His wife and travels to Europe had a tremendous influence on his work. Balcomb and Gertrude Greene, embodied an era of great experimentation and invention.   

Greene was employed by the Works Project Administration during the 1930s and through the program designed a mural in the Federal Hall of Medicine at the World’s Fair in 1939, a mural for the Williamsburg Housing Project and a stained-glass window for the Bronx School of Arts and Science.

In 1935 Greene became the first president of the Artists Union, a crucial platform supporting artists during the Great Depression. Greene wrote the charter for them as well as for other newly formed artist organizations including the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors.  Both groups were aligned with a common purpose and provided assistance to struggling abstract artists. In 1937 Greene co-founded the American Abstract Artists, an alliance that provided a forum for discussion and exhibition opportunities at a time when abstract art was met with intense critical resistance.  He was elected the first Chairman, wrote its charter, edited its magazine and organized protests against museums who ignored American abstract artists.

By the early 1940s Greene's art and ideas evolved to a more figurative style and in 1942 he resigned from the AAA and other groups he helped to establish. Greene continued to paint while he earned his master’s degree in art history from New York University in 1943. For 17 years Greene taught at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh while pursuing a career as an artist.

In 1961 Greene had a retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The same year numerous museums presented solo shows including Everhard Museum in Pennsylvania; Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, New York.   In 1966 the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona presented a solo exhibition. 

In 1972 Greene was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member and in 1976 he was elected as a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters; the same year he received the Altman First Prize in Figure Painting.

In 1977 Balcomb Greene had his first solo exhibition at ACA Galleries in New York City and the gallery continued to represent his estate until 2000.