The printmaker and artist John Greco is a legend for having established the Josephine Press. This world class print shop in Santa Monica has a track record for working with every ilk of contemporary artists and making their vision tangible. Less well known is the artwork of the man himself. The job of the printmaker is one of service to other artists, hence it is no surprise that Greco’s studio work is primarily print-based, but also the theme of service palpitates everywhere in it.

Greco’s service outside of printmaking is as a shaman. The role of the shaman is to seek connections beyond the material world and return with the information about what is out there for all of humanity to absorb. In his career survey at Riverside Community College’s Quad Gallery, Greco performs the role of the Shaman in a variety of successful ways, exhibiting quality, compelling prints, paintings and drawings while simultaneously filling in the viewer on what he has experienced on behalf of the collective human unconscious during meditative voyages beyond material time and space.

Many of the prints in the show focus on a solitary figure but these are far from self-portraits. Greco is using the human figure as a portal for the viewer to enter the picture, to imagine the shaman’s journey. Not lost in their simplicity is the expert level of craftsmanship that has gone into the details. These are soothing, contemplative prints by a master of the medium. Other framed prints contain ample references to nature, botanical and animal, all with the shamanistic message of looking beyond. Greco’s elaborate artistry has at its core a strange ritual. Right-handed, he begins creative sessions with left-handed ink drawings, a warmup to get him out of the muscle memory that can confine one with too much delicate dexterity to ever make an accidental breakthrough. Curator Leslie Brown has assembled hundreds of these small drawings into what amounts to one large work; we are left wondering if the sum is greater than the parts.

Also included were many of Greco’s paintings.  Following on many of the same themes, these standout pictures introduce a color sensitivity that is somewhat absent, or at least in reserve, in his print work. The paintings come alive here with visionary trances manifest in all of their lucid chroma. Key among these is “Saint Francis Giving Sermon to The Birds”. Glaring reds and viscous blues battle for space when they are not melting into each other. A central face, surrounded by a variety of feathered friends, reminds us that even the rigid religions which have drained almost every ounce of spirituality out of their sunday services – they too have shamans in their lore, powerful and legendary ones who almost balance out the excesses of these fiefdoms of the faith.

As a craftsman, Greco is at the peak of his enviable powers. But it is as a shaman that he walks back from the beyond with art on the walls that reminds us of the power of breaking on thru to the other side.

GRECO: SACRED SPACES, SECRET PLACES – CONJURINGS OF A SHAMAN ran thru November 30th at Quad Gallery, Riverside Community College.

Mat Gleason

Author: Mat Gleason

Founder of the highly controversial Coagula Art Journal (the “National Enquirer of the Art World” as the New York Observer called it), Mat Gleason is an internationally recognized art critic and curator of contemporary art. The New York Times described him as a “famously provocative Los Angeles art critic,” while the L.A. Weekly once referred to him as a “cranky, self-exiled gossipmonger.”

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