Dil Hildebrand is one brave painter. In his new show “Back to the Drawing Board (Reprise),” he stares down the old adage that no one wants to look at a green painting, let alone buy one. And there’s not just one green painting here—Hildebrand delivers a room of them.
Aversion to green is a modernist phobia that easily tracks back to the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian who, with his primary colour–fuelled red, yellow and blue art, came to hate the colour as out of place with modern art. Green belonged to the natural world, not the brave new world of abstraction. For Hildebrand, however, this is old, outdated and very subjective news. In his artist statement for the show, he offers an updated appreciation of the coolish mid-tone green of his paintings, writing that “the green that appears in these works is meant to evoke the chalkboard, the cutting mat, or the green-screen—surfaces for learning, working out problems, combining ideas and imagining.”
Let’s call it meta-green, then, the green that’s not just a hue, but a calculated helpmate that feeds the imagination, the way that art does. Most of the paintings look like the giant OLFA cutting mats that you see in art schools and design studios. Nothing could be flatter, more utilitarian or more attuned to the aesthetics of flatness that Clement Greenberg once used to police 20th-century painting. Yet Hildebrand is having fun. He signals allegiance to the discourse of flatness only to then pile his paint into what look like prototype drawings for buildings in a Constructivist suburban subdivision.
The paintings glory in materiality, texture, subtle colour balance and poise—all usual hallmarks of Hildebrand’s painting over the years, but what is different now is that instead of basking in the illusory, photographic, trompe l’oeil space of his earlier work, the paintings are chasing a Platonic dream world where painting is less anchored by the contingencies of optics and perception than by the extended time of a conceptual vision that speaks in the language of architectural plans. For Hildebrand, green is the colour that has a role to play in formulating workable shelters for the future.