Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Drawing inspiration from the Dutch Masters, childhood toys, and a trip to Colombia, Danielle Greenberg ’15 works surrounded by her vibrant oil paintings in her hall lounge-cum-improvised workshop. As an Economics and Psychology major, Greenberg is painting her first collection during her time at Swarthmore. The incredible assembly emphasizes an effusion of color over form, a nostalgic affection for childhood, and her own idiosyncratic flair, as Greenberg has turned a public show into the most personal form of her artistic expression.
This ebullient collection opened this weekend in Hobbs as Greenberg’s pieces will be on display from November 1 through 20. Her show will include nine paintings (seven oil and two watercolors), three silk fans which in ensemble comprise a cherry blossom tree, and potentially other multi-media items. She may also include photos for sale but not on display.
In her “workshop” sits an adorable fawn calf with inquiring black eyes. The background grows fainter into light shapes and colors, framed by bright green grass. The piece instantly becomes my favorite – and hers too, she tells me. Greenberg tells a story of a trip to Colombia she took last spring break to visit her family that inspired some of the paintings. “My mom went to a masseuse with healing power,” she said. “My grandma is a bit mystical.” A friend of her grandmother owned a large flower nursery, where Greenberg snapped a picture of the cow grazing outside.
It’s no surprise that Greenberg found her inspiration at the flower nursery, saying that she had been attracted to the colorfulness of the rural spaces she saw. Another of her paintings, a bright pink flower etched almost like a linotype into about a 3×3” background, is inspired by a visit to the Feria de las Flores in Medellín. In another painting, a pastel rainbow of clothes clings to a miniature clothesline framed by a pale blue sky and grey mountains.
Greenberg has been invested in making art since she was a child. “I sold my first piece for two dollars to a babysitter,” Greenberg said. “It was a bad watercolor – there wasn’t enough color that it looked like what it was supposed to be, a fruit bowl, so I called it a fruit bowl iced over. I ended up losing the two dollars. I guess that’s why I keep working, trying to make back the two dollars.”
This is Greenberg’s first show – in fact, this is her first serious pursuit of anything art-related since coming to Swarthmore. “I took art every year I’ve been in school until Swat,” she said. Preparing for the show in Hobbs has allowed her to focus on the type of art she’s truly passionate about – oil painting. “I hate acrylic, it has this plastic texture. I like watercolor but it’s not as vibrant. Gouache is vibrant but can’t build up texture as well. Oil is sort of a happy medium.” Oil’s expense has kept her away in the past, but she hopes to make up for some of that with dividends from the show.
When she saw the advertisement from Hobbs calling for artists, she told herself, “Hey, I’m an artist!” She realized afterwards, however, that she didn’t have anything to show. “I had no art, so I spent the summer making it,” she said. “I’ve never done oils, had a show, or had art til this week.” Greenberg’s spontaneous decision has allowed her to dive back into something she had left behind for other kinds of exploration at Swarthmore.
It has also allowed her to take some liberties. A certain freedom of expression has crept into this collection for Greenberg, who usually gives her work away rather than keep it. “I don’t like looking at my own art. I see issues with my own work,” she said. “I allowed myself to be more free in this collection.”
Greenberg showed me the piece she was finishing up, a whimsical doll against a vibrantly patterned background. The doll’s curly hair seemed to spring out of the canvas. Greenberg explained that she had wanted to paint her childhood doll to add a more personal element, and that she didn’t feel chained to represent it photographically. When I asked how she knew when a painting is finished, she said, likened the artistic process to writing a paper – “it’s never over,” she said.
Though this is the first collection she will be showing since high school, she says this show is mostly about her and what she likes to make. Greenberg tells a story of gauging public reception to the infamous cow painting by asking her parents. She told them, “it’s the cutest thing you’ll ever see,” and asked them how much they’d pay for it – the response was ten dollars. Unfortunately, the cow is not for sale.
Nor is a painting of Greenberg’s niece – a cooing baby with bright oil pink cheeks. In this way Greenberg’s collection is very personal, with elements like her niece, childhood doll and baby cow. Explaining the juvenile motif and small stature of her pieces, Greenberg said, “The theme changed from baby things to things I like, then it turns out all the things I like are mini baby things.” That may be true, but Greenberg brings a certain maturity of perspective and sureness of hand to her seemingly-youthful subjects.
“Working in a mini scale is actually harder,” she said. “Examining a painting of a coffee cup, I felt that I could blow on the steamed-milk latte art, the texture was so rich. Expressing that kind of thickness was obviously rendered more difficult on a canvas no more than 3×3.”
Preparing for the show has allowed Greenberg to delve into a few aspects of herself as an artist as well. “I’ve never had a set defined style,” she said. “I’m still exploring. It’s more about the quest than the destination.” Perhaps most importantly, she has found a new vehicle to keep making art. “The Hobbs show is a way to force myself to reclaim my artsy-ness. I had this fear that I was becoming less artsy and creative. This was a way to prove that that’s not the case.”
Ultimately it’s about creating something out of nothing – in Greenberg’s case, a particularly vibrant something.
“If paintings were birds, I want mine to be peacocks.”
Images courtesy of Martin Froger Silva ’16/The Daily Gazette.
Correction, 11/4/14: The word “gouache” was initially misspelled.