Conversations with Strange Beauty: Barbara Greene Mann

Tangled’s Communications Coordinator Lindsay Fisher met with Barbara Greene Mann to talk about her show Perfect World at Strange Beauty.

The show that you have at Strange Beauty is called Perfect World. Can you tell us about it?

Well yeah, I think it can even be more perfect but it’s about how times can be tough. We, as people, pull ourselves out of it and then we’re tough again. It’s like a cycle, you know. I have a plan for the Perfect World, I just came up with it last night. Sometimes I am so smart, ha ha. In the Perfect World there is no money. Everybody gets what they want. They do this at work and they get so many points and those points go to vacation time. Like if you work, you get ten days vacation time where you don’t have to work and we send you wherever you want to go because you get everything you want. There’s plenty out there. If you want new clothes, there’s plenty of new clothes, right? And so, everybody has a job, everybody gets rewarded but there’s no money so nobody is rich or poor. How do you say you’re rich if you have ten blouses, ten pairs of shoes? I admit, there’s probably going to be the rich people who aren’t going to buy this. They’re going to want to be in charge of the money, so I think what we’re going to have to do is give them half of the world for the old way but half the world goes to the new way and so you can try it. If you don’t like it, leave. And then, they’ll be having babies over there but after a while, they’ve got to have kids schooled in both worlds so there’s probably going to be a move towards a nicer, gentler world and that’s what I think will happen. Say you want to change the school system – I saw something last night – they’re making kids decide when they’re thirteen, if they want to go to college or if they want to go into an applied work situation. The kids are saying, “well, we’re only thirteen, we don’t know”. How can you ask a thirteen year old to make this decision? So I guess a lot of people don’t like it but we’ll say, “we’re looking into this. If you’re interested, come. We’re having a meeting. Present your point of view and we’ll vote on it, we’ll see if we like it and we’ll just all come together and create something. So there’s no chiefs. There’s no people in charge. We all get to be like equal. But then if there’s some really bad people, you know that want to cheat, kill. We have to tell them, “it’s time-out, you need more education”, because I think people, there’s a good, you know? And so, we probably just need more education. Why is it nice to be good? Why is it nice to be nice to people?

Close up of corner of painting by Barbara Greene MannSo is that what these paintings are about in Perfect World?

No, ha ha. Those paintings are about reality, what’s already happened, it’s about history.
There’s a painting with a politician. He’s standing with his cigar and the blond women is sort of draped over his shoulder and he’s got the person on the little scooter in front. He’s the only one who can afford a battery so the other people just hook up and pull him around so these are the poor old people. And you can see on the left side, there’s somebody at a feeding tube. If you’re getting old and your time is up on your scooter, you just drive it into the garbage truck and you’re gone. These are the options we have in society today. I’m sort of making fun of them. And the old people, if they want to vote, you can see somebody lifting their hand to vote and then they can bring dingo chips which is like bingo. The right hand corner on the painting, you’ll see there’s a horse and pastor putting people out to rest. So then there’s the next group of people in that painting and they are the workers and so on the left hand side the man showing them cars – you get a free car or a free condo. You have to live somewhere, you have to drive to work and then at night they go out to gamble and then the politicians say “it’s time to go home now, you gotta get up to go to work the next day!” And then at the top of the painting on the right, the politicians, they’re all sort of sleeping, you know, carousing with women.

The painting with the waiting game tells a story of how we always seems to be waiting for something in life so the words are for that one are: “I waited for true love, then it came” so we have two tango dancers in the top of the painting. I waited and all I got was a new name cause they got divorced but I still have the same name but I wanted a baby so I had to wait for him too. And then, you know, the baby has to learn to walk, got to learn to talk and then everyone needs toilet training to go out into the world and so then, my son said to me, “mom, I have to live at home, I need a degree”, so there he was, another six years so we’re still waiting for our children to move out and then I got my life back. So in that painting, it says, “I levitate, I meditate, and that’s how I make my living”. A lot of people manifest stuff. I’m going to share a secret. If you don’t want to wait, be late. So that’s what that painting is about. There’s little kids in tuberwear boxes, it keeps them fresh longer. typical scenarios in life, you know.

So then we have another painting – the flapper and the lady in the middle – she says “brush yourself off and start all over again”. So many times we fail, you know, so what can we do? Lament? No, brush yourself off and start all over again. The flappers, those girls had so much fun, little costumes, dancing, getting drunk, sounds like college. Then they had prohibition. So these paintings all talk about the history. Prohibition where they couldn’t drink anymore but then the gangsters came, they said “oh no, we’ll make new liquor” and then we had Babe Ruth, you know, the baseball player. Everybody loved him, he was so fresh – “our boy Babe”, and then we had the banks. so each painting has a story and I wrote them out. One of them, the one where the boats are being pulled into the harbour by the swimmers and it says “Imagine” and that’s because John Lennon and his song “imagine, all the people living in one world”. so that’s my idea – they get out of the boat and we have orang-utans as nannies so instead of monkeys of extinction – they now become nannies of distinction. So then, I figure, if every city had a banquet every night, people would all come and we could all eat together, we get to know each other. The city would pay for it of course. So in the painting, we have that guy Shrek’s wife, she’s seating people, telling them what to do and then I have the sandwich tree. I invented that – you eat one sandwich and two grow back so I sort of stopped world hunger. Then we have the gas station made out of hemp oil, very cheap. so everybody’s got hemp oil and they’re all naked cause I guess it’s like bingo faster, less friction. And then there’s the bed bug zoo. If you miss your bed bugs, we put them in the zoo so that you can go visit them. They have to stay in the zoo. They all have little bedrooms.

Then if you go around the corner in the painting, there’s a triangle factory and I didn’t know about this but it’s a factory in New York where they were making clothing, you know, like textiles and they caught on fire and there were about 200 girls in there and they couldn’t get out because the doors were chained shut and so the elevator went up, down one time and they were trapped. So instead of burning to death, they put their arms around each other and made circles and jumped so when people came in the morning all these girls were dead in the street. We never want that to happen again so that they could jump into the pool.

Can you tell us when you decided you wanted to be an artist?

It really makes me mad because I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to save poor people. I wanted to help the common man but my mother turned me in for suspicion of marijuana, it the 60’s. Everybody was under suspicion. So my mother drove me to the FBI and then these narcs came to my house and I said, “we don’t tell on our friends”. I saw a sign in a bathroom at university that said “Getting married, must sell ticket cheap”, it was 200 dollars so I bought the ticket. I worked selling ice cream in Howard Johnson’s to get tips so I went to Europe and I went with my roommate. She had lots of money and I didn’t have any money so we were always fighting about where we should stay and we ended up splitting up so I had to get the porter to go home. So the last day I’m going home, I thought I’m going to go in this little museum, Jeu de Paume – it’s behind the Louvre. So I went into the little tiny museum and on the wall was a Van Gogh and that painting, the paint, it just leapt off the canvas and I thought, “that’s what I want to do!” I never drew pictures in my life. So it was like, “Ok!” and I wrote a poem about it and I said “Van Gogh, if it had been anybody else, I would have said screw you”. What can I say it was Van Gogh. So I had to do it. I drew these pictures of anything that was under my bed. I lay on the floor to draw so that’s how I got to art school and that’s how I became an artist.

Barbara Greene Mann graduated from Wayne State University (1973) with a Masters degree in Fine Arts, majoring in printmaking. She worked as an independent artist for over 14 years exhibiting her art throughout the Detroit area and across the U.S.A, including the Detroit Artists Market, the Willis Gallery, Alpena Art Museum, solo exhibit and Watercolour USA, prize winner.

Barbara Greene Mann will be giving an artist talk Friday April 17th at 3pm in the Roastery Coffee House, 401 Richmond Street

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