Elliott Green

April 8, 2023   -   May 14, 2023

The Mapmaker
by Chris Rush

I hear someone ask Elliott Green, “What’s your favorite color?”

When Elliott says, “Blue,” I’m touched by his boyish reply. He smiles, as if he understands his luck, to be a landscape painter living on a lush blue planet.


In Western culture, landscape painting is a modern art form, just a few hundred years old. It began, some say, as a search for paradise. Paradise was once a well-watered place in the sun, a place we might actually live, if only we had the right map or could attain a certain purity of soul.

Now, in much contemporary landscape painting, there seems to be a kind of nostalgia for what has been lost. Depictions of the natural world have turned misty and sentimental, touched by sadness.

In Elliott Green’s paintings, I feel none of this. His landscapes live in the present, and at times seem to be coming to life right before our eyes. Newborn worlds are thrust into existence. Tumultuous, ecstatic, glittering with delight.


Before I understood anything about art, I was transfixed by landscape.

At seventeen, I escaped my mad family and ran away to live in the wild. For two years, I camped on a high peak above the Arizona desert, calling myself a backpacker (my code word for homeless). Surviving on granola and LSD, I climbed cliffs, dove into deep canyons raging with water. Alone at night, lying on my back, the sky was alive, pulsing with meaning.

I thought I could see the mind of God.

When I left the mountain to begin my adult existence in an awful city, I’d remember the rocks, the peaks, as if they were my true home. After a while, my memories of that wild place began to drift. I dreamed of imaginary mountains, holy places that existed only in my heart.

When I saw Elliott Green’s paintings for the first time, we were both artists in residence at Yaddo. Walking into his studio, I tried to contain my shock and confusion. Elliott, it seemed, had seen the magic mountains I’d been dreaming about my whole life.


Escaping the pull of nostalgia, of history—even the pull of gravity—Elliott portrays a floating world, still in flux. Skies fall, mountains rise. Rocks become rivers, oceans become clouds. These are landscapes of the mind, of the eternal present.

While his paintings possess the grandeur and romantic sweep of the great landscape painters from centuries past, they push the form further. In Elliott’s vision, nothing is truly solid, nothing is finished. Great forces sweep his canvases, in a ceaseless game of chaos and release.

He offers us an alternate Earth—and a glorious challenge to the idea of reality.

Here, terrains shatter like stained glass. In a hail of color, topographies shimmer and erupt. Elliott’s brushstrokes are impossibly sly, as if in creating new worlds he had to find a new way to paint.

The artist, however, is disarmingly modest when speaking of his work. He shows me his oil paints, pointing to his many shades of blue. But when I ask him about his process, he smiles and claims not to remember painting any of it.

“Do you channel these images?”

He shakes his head no, then tells me about a play by Strindberg, in which there are undiscovered rooms in a house—some empty, some on fire. As Elliott speaks, I sense that his work is a kind of journey to the underworld, a journey inside himself, though vapor and crystal, a hunt for secret geographies.

I picture him with a head lamp, searching the darkness.


At one point, I ask him about the old landscapes, the old painters. He admires them, and admits that his own paintings are theatrical, even romantic. He tells me he used to struggle to understand what they meant.

“I don’t worry about that anymore,” he says.

The paintings exist as they are, making their own rules. In the dramas they enact, there is both splendor and danger. Elliott seems to offer us a map of an unfinished realm, beautifully rendered but uncertain. The horizon lines wobble and fail. Oceans turn to smoke, icebergs crowd the skies. When blue curtains part on a mountain, it is an unmade bed, throbbing with lava.

Having barely survived my first mountain, I understand these imagined worlds. I can see myself again: a youth hanging by one hand from a hoodoo—above him, a cataclysmic sunrise. Likewise, Elliott’s magic mountains are stunning and fierce. The viewer is offered passage, but little refuge. The laws of nature have been paused. There is no gravity, no trees, no shade. Not a soul in sight. The sky is tornado green, but in the clouds there is a doorway.

Go through it.

Elliott’s landscapes do not ask: What have you lost?

But rather: What do you desire?


Elliott Green was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1960. He moved to New York City in 1981 and lived there for twenty-four years. In 2005 he moved to Athens, New York, a small town situated between the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River, where he continues to work and live. He has received a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, two Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grants, the Rome Prize, and three prizes and awards from the Academy of Arts and Letters, along with numerous residency grants. 


Chris Rush is an artist and designer, whose work is held in numerous museum collections. He is author of The Light Years, a memoir, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Elliott Green: Ascension PDF