Parted hair, succulent leaves and pickles: artist Molly Greene draws from the peculiar

Molly Greene, a multi-disciplinary artist based in Los Angeles, creates work that comes riddled with influences. Whether it’s hair or a leaf placed between a braid, each is as charming as the next and seems to draw from the peculiar.

Growing up in rural Vermont, Molly spent her time running around in the woods and making up games with her siblings. “I’ve always loved to draw, but making art was presented to be as a hobby and so I never really pursued it,” she says. After graduate school and working academically in science, technology, gender and philosophy, she turned towards a visual practice in order to “think through a lot of the themes I was grappling with.”

Molly pulls most of her artistic inspiration from her scholarly readings, citing various philosophers and authors of critical acclaim, particularly science fiction and writers such as Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, plus works from James Tiptree Jr.’s collection of short stories and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Other means of inspiration stem from things more physical, like walking and her “new obsession” with going to the spa in Korea Town. Either way, what she consumes and experiences is channelled and materialised into art. But this isn’t always a simple task.

A usual day for the artist begins in the studio, drinking coffee and drawing in her notebook. “My brain seems to function differently as the day progresses, and I find that first thing in the morning is when I can best generate new little germs of paintings,” says Molly. To achieve these “little germs”, she must get her ideas down on paper as soon as possible: “I often get ideas for paintings when I’m walking or riding in a car, and I have to sketch them on a receipt or on my phone in order to preserve them until I get back to my studio. This part of my practice is still a little mysterious, even to me.” Then, she starts by drawing on a small scale and on “crappy” paper, so as not to get “too uptight” with what she produces.

It’s a pretty systematic process from here, that sees these “little palm-sized sketches” blown up to “whatever scale they seem to call for”. She adds: “I used to get anxious and embarrassed about how methodical I am in making paintings – I still have to force myself to loosen up and let the paintings evolve and deviate from the little postage-stamp plan in my head. But I’ve also come to embrace the structures that feel helpful.”

Molly’s recent work sees an abundance of brown hair carefully placed, parted and combed onto the paper. A waved wig-like object is splayed over a pedestal, while succulent leafy greens are poked through wefts of hair in a variety of strange positions. Her theoretical and science fiction references are clear once you realise that you don’t really know what’s going on in these paintings. Molly explains: “I was thinking a lot about how things become intimate or alien to me, and the relationship between intimacy and alienation more broadly, and it occurred to me (while braiding my hair) that brown hair is probably the most familiar material in my life. Most of the people I love are covered in brown hair.”

She continues: “I touch, braid, tie up and take down my own hair many times a day. And so I became interested in the idea of making this deeply familiar material seem alien or strange, and also what would happen to my perception of it or myself during that process of defamiliarisation.” This artistic technique of presenting common things to an audience in an unfamiliar way is rampant throughout science fiction and is central to art itself. In the case of Molly’s work, she has used this device and altered our perceptions of what we thought we knew – i.e. hair – and turned it into something magically bizarre.

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