Greg Decker’s childhood in the Congo and training in Europe are evident in his art. Using austere color palates and dynamic figures for a holistic effect, his work expresses a subtle depth of emotion.
Although many artists focus on their subjects’ eyes as the primary means of expressing feeling, most of Decker’s subjects either have indeterminate eyes or lack them altogether. Instead, he uses his subjects’ body language, poses and movement to show their emotional state and relationships.
For instance, rather than relying on the traditional metaphor of nudity, Decker recently portrayed Adam and Eve as partially clothed, revealing their shame through humiliated posture.
“What I’m trying to do with the figure, rather than work really flatly, is to get a sculptural quality,” Decker says. “It really goes back to the Renaissance ideal of expressing emotion through the attitude and the pose of the figure.”
Although figure studies are an important tool for nearly every artist, Decker’s devotion to the concept is deeply rooted. For him, there’s something deeply resonant about the human form.
“I think it’s really innate that people respond physically to the figure,” he says. “It’s like smell or taste. You respond kinesthetically to it. You feel it in your own figure when you look at it.”
There’s something to this logic, and spectators do seem to respond to his work on this intuitive level. But it’s not just the human figure that makes Decker’s work so interesting; it’s also his method of presenting that form. Many of Decker’s recent paintings, for instance, are composed of points, enabling spectators to connect the dots both literally and metaphorically.
“Mostly what I’m doing right now is all these really mosaic-y things,” he says. “I was in Italy this summer and I saw these gorgeous mosaics, especially in Naples.” Decker credits those mosaics, and their textural discrepancies, for his current style.
“It was amazing to me how [the artists] could get these really sculptural qualities of the figures through these little pixilations,” he says. “When I came back, I was really involved with mosaics and really thinking about them.”
Decker paints exclusively in oil, although he also sculpts and draws in graphite. “I’m an active painter,” he says. “I love traditional work and I love work where it’s a portrait of someone sitting there on a couch. That’s great. But in the figures that I’m doing with these paintings — most of the time people are pushing against something or they’re hauling something or they’re struggling for something, toward something, like swimming upstream, which is life.”
Mythological beings and symbolism are typical instruments in Decker’s paintings—something he attributes at least in part to his childhood in the Congo. It is almost as if he is trying to reconcile African prints with classic stories.
“The figures are really allegories,” he says. “In all the paintings that I do there’s a story.”
Decker is also not afraid of fantasy, as is evident in his unicorn portraits. He also often portrays human subjects with shells on their backs. Again, the artist’s love of symbolism is evident, although the symbol itself is surprisingly simple. He says that the shells represent both a portable home, as well as silence and shelter.
Decker holds a B.F.A. from Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art and and M.F.A. from New York Academy of Art. His next show takes place at Blue Spiral 1 with sculptor Debra Fritts. The show opens in late February, and will run for two months.