Santa Cruz Artist Travels Between The Abstract, Non-objective and Symbolic By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero


Espina, 2009, Oil and casein on canvas, by Tim Craighead

Somewhere between the great unknowable mysteries and small discoveries that suggest our universe is comprehensible, Tim Craighead’s art is involved in a journey of discovery. The Santa Cruz artist whose current exhibition is at Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, talks about abstraction, mark making, the objective and the non-objective in discussing the formal aspects of his work. Craighead likes to pull unknown and as-yet undiscovered truths from an abstract framework and orchestrate the “symbolic potential” of certain objective references that emerge. If the process sounds cool and logical, there is a lot of magic that transcends the paint and ink in his paintings, and prints in this show.


Craighead’s August, 2007, Oil and alkyd resin on linen

Craighead creates painterly fields that might allude to the vast expanses of the universe, horizon lines, the depths of the ocean or the view through a microscope. They are cropped views and shapes that, incomplete, appear abstract, and smaller forms that coalesce into symbolic events and figures varying in their intelligibility. A line may exist for its own sake or be a fragment of DNA or become a knot or a boat. The boat may function as an example of revelation of the interior structure of any form and, at the same time, speak to the adventure of sailing forth at the mercy of the elements with no guaranteed destination. From one work to the next, a particular form — it is pine-cone-like — becomes a seed pod, a diagrammatic radar signal rising vertically up the center line of an oval, or an egg-shaped cluster of glittering facets like a chunk of fool’s gold. Sometimes, as in the case of the Espina, an object is a man made interpretation of such forms, executed in wrought iron, perhaps representing an intellectual recognition of its fundamental importance and relationship to physics or biology or architecture. Many of these small icons that populate Craighead’s fields become emblems of personal significance. Having grown out of his discovery of the interior forces that both literally and symbolically support a particular structure, Craighead takes ownership of that form and it generates the ongoing variations of his visual vocabulary.


Craighead’s Spring, 2009


Hedra, 2009, by Tim Craighead

Exploring structural forms that support life forces in nature has led Craighead to the architecture of Frei Otto and Buckminster Fuller. The crisp linearity of a tensegrity diagram appropriated from Fuller or bits of an architectural structure from Otto function as a counterpoint to the brush marks, painterly abstraction and looser depictions of the organic forms in an image. The references to mathematics and engineering precision suggest an optimism that over time progress is made, there is indeed an explanation of how things work, and it is possible to know.

This is a very even show. Still, the impact of certain works is on the formal level of those marks and the color, the texture and simply the charm of certain shapes and drawn elements. Some touch the viewer on the basis of allusions to sensations and experiences in real time and space. And others suggest the long voyage of the curious mind on uncharted seas.


Trace 34, 2008, Crayon , ink, casein and transfer on Larroque w/c paper, by Tim Craighead

In Trace 34, a mixed media work on watercolor paper, Craighead creates a lavish background texture of blues, blue greys and streaks of white in paint and crayon. A scramble of medium blue crayon lines in the upper right quadrant has a dialog with a frantic and sharp black and grey line in the lower left. Also embedded in the deep space is an energetic black and blue knot of marks that vibrate in the upper left corner. Emerging from both sides, one higher and one lower are partial views of The Circle of Life and Death, a bit of hieroglyphic magic appropriated from a publication by the German Jesuit of the 1600s, Athanasius Kircher. Craighead says, “The wheel, the cycle, our cycle of life and death and how we operate within the temporal nature of our lives are mainstays in the motive beneath my work.” Moving forward in space, a vertical boat-like shape is depicted by its structural outlines. Another of the Craighead repeat characters, a broad line of black and red paint contorts into a loose knot at bottom center, and a white shape that looks like the profile of a striped Venus of Willendorf floats above it. It is a luscious primordial soup with landmarks of evolution and personal revelations illuminated in surprising moments. Even the irregular edges of the handmade paper contribute to a sense of delving into the prehistoric.


Trace 42, Casein and ink on Larroque w/c paper, 2009, by Tim Craighead

Trace 42, again on Larroque watercolor paper, features a vertical black ladder of undulating radar pulses over a brushy wash of transparent turquoise. A crude red curly line plays off a precise diagram of one polyhedron surrounding another. Other small actors are embedded in the pale washes of the background. The strength of this work may be more in the formal relationships of textures, colors, shapes and interplay of line quality, yet we sense there is probably an embedded secret code and the cognoscenti recognize the signs and significance immediately.


Craighead’s Drift, 2009, Oil on canvas

The overlapping blue field over the brown and the boat form in the painting Drift create more pictorial deep space than is common in most of Craighead’s work. The structural outlines of the boat, leaning on the edges of the painting, create a dynamic tension. Stock characters – the tensegrity figure, the “Venus of Willendorf” (the artist may be outraged to have me so-name this figure), the small Asian knot and a rocky construct in the upper left corner – all make an appearance. Intriguing, this work comes close to encouraging the viewer to imply a narrative.

Tim Craighead gets unlimited mileage out of his vocabulary of marks and figures. Each drawing, painting or print works toward a certain yet unrevealed meaning of its own. They are beautifully constructed in terms of space, marks that focus and move our eye forward and out of the field, interrelationships, surfaces and colors. The most endearing elements are the collection of actors that appear, each in its own costume, with ever-evolving personas in many scenarios in his images. A rich and fascinating viewing experience!

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