Les Green does more with less. Sparks of color deftly arranged in colored pencil or oil define his Impressionistic miniatures. Pastoral scenes with a figure, human or canine are favorites of the Meridian-born artist. Just as his paintings are compact and concise packages, Green himself takes up little space, yet seems larger than life, sporting a big white beard and his signature red shirt. Glenn Sanford, owner of Southern Breeze Gallery in Highland Village where Green's work hangs, calls him a "skinny Santa Claus."
"I knew I wanted to paint before I went to school," said Green. A fire screen in his childhood home with an autumnal scene by the American painter George Innis inspired Green from an early age: "How did I know it was a painting and not a photograph at that age?"
Green studied art in a Works Progress Administration art class in 1935 and never looked back. His artist's statement says, "Since the mid-1930s, painting for me has been a never-ending story, always renewing itself."
After the class, Green owned a photo studio in Meridian where he specialized in portraits of children and advertisements, then worked for a road construction company for 37 years. During that time, Green painted at the Dixie Art Colony in Alabama with Karl and Mildred Wolfe and worked with "The Painter's Group" in Meridian that was instrumental in the creation of the local art museum there. In Jackson, Ruth White exhibited Green's work in her exclusive gallery, The Little White House, in the late 1930s and early 1940s alongside the work of William Hollingsworth.
Green discovered miniature painting later in his career in 1978. He contacted Bede Zel Angle at the Miniature, Painters, Sculptors, Engravers Society of Washington, D.C., for information and was later elected to the society. Green is also a member of miniature societies in five other states. Miniatures fit with Green's philosophy of art; he says the "essence of the subject is most important."
Spots of color evoke soft forms from the canvas, leaving the viewer to form his own vision of Green's little paintings. Just as the French Impressionists (think Monet and Renoir) and neo-Impressionists (Seurat) arranged color on large canvases with oil, Green uses the same technique on smaller canvases with colored pencil or oils. If Les is an apt name for such a painter, then Green is also perfection as verdant hues are his self-claimed "signature color."
While economy of space is important to Green, his range of colors defies imagination. So many shades of greens and blues placed next to one another capture the light in his scenes. Green says inspiration "just comes." He adds: "Sometimes when you don't try too hard to do something it's best. It grows itself. I start something with a few lines, and it begins to take shape; it develops into a theme."
At 86, Green doesn't go outside to paint much anymore but relies on his imagination, and he enjoys revisiting favorite subjects. As we spoke he had been working on a figure of a young girl by a table with a huge bouquet of flowers. Green sends pictures to Southern Breeze Gallery on a weekly basis in basic business envelopes wrapped in a letter on notebook paper.
If artists paint their vision of the world, then that is literally the case for Green: an eye disorder causes him to see everything in soft focus—exactly what we see in his paintings. "Sunday in the Park with George," Stephen Sondheim's musical about George Seurat, the French neo-Impressionist (1859-91), captures in its own concise style Green's essence: "There's only color and light. … What the eye arranges/Is what is beautiful."
Les Green will be at Highland Village in person for "Art in the Courtyard" on May 3 from 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.