FFWD Weekly reviews Cran's solo exhibition '
Surveying the Damage', a twenty year survey of Cran's work curated by Clint Roenisch.
SURVEYING THE DAMAGE 1977-1997
Runs until June 3
Art Gallery of Calgary
Chris Cran is The Man.
The artist’s self-portrait series tries to define this ideal.
One is reminded of this when looking at the billboard-like shiny enamel
and oil painting, My Face in Your Home (1986), which was featured
in a major solo exhibition at Calgary’s Stride Gallery that helped
catapult him into fame. That was almost 15 years ago.
Now, this young, internationally known ACAD graduate (1979) and
part-time instructor has his own 20-year retrospective curated by Clint
Roenisch of Kelowna Art Gallery (appropriately located in the Okanagan
where Cran was born and raised). The exhibit, Surveying the Damage, has
been travelling across the country since 1998. This "art star" is also
represented by two top galleries in Canada, Calgary’s TrépanierBaer and
Toronto’s Sable-Castelli. And he has his own Web site at
Cran labels his three contrasting painting styles as
self-portraits (1984-89), striped paintings (1989-93) and abstracts,
which started in 1993. Each group of paintings appears to be radically
different from the others, but they are all linked together by his
underlying search for the perception of beauty.
"I try to make a painting as beautiful as possible," Cran says.
Beauty can be defined as a quality present that gives intense
pleasure and deep satisfaction to the senses. Research on this
understanding drives Cran to paint with a passion. Stimulated by
"pictorial illusion," but more by why we are interested in something,
Cran asks: "What holds that gaze? What are the mechanics of that
The earliest self-portraits are probably his most instantly engaging and easily read works. Self-portrait with the Combat Nymphos of Saigon
(1985), a crudely painted war-and-sex scene from a 1963 mass media stag
magazine, crams the artist into the corner as a nicely glossed,
varnished suit-and-hat man holding a wooden gun. Cran’s unusual pairing
of the codes of realism and cartoonism pose an enigma for the viewer.
His nearly photo-realistic technique demonstrates the influence of John
Hall, but the exaggerated, almost comic imagery recalls the pop art of
Cran explains that it’s as if he’s standing on the outside
"watching a film where I am so titillated that I’m holding a gun," thus
putting himself into the picture – but with a toy wooden machine-gun? It
is exactly this conundrum that gives Cran so much pleasure.
The artist’s next series of narrow, brightly coloured striped
paintings are often subdued on blurred images from trivial spheres of
culture, faces from the newspaper or kitschy still-life flower vases. Large Black and White Head #1 (1991)
is a huge nine-foot by six-foot evenly striped painting that pushes the
viewer back in an effort to find the picture within a picture, or to
extract the explicable from the inexplicable. Instead, it exposes an
incredibly banal face.
This early foray into the abstraction of realism furthered his
research into sensory awareness. Challenging the modernist conventions
of what a painting is for, he recycles imagery and pushes the threshold
of the formation of meaning. These out-of-focus, trash-culture
photographic-like images relate to Gerhard Richter’s experiments that
contest the conventions of painting and photography by "blurring" the
details into a question of what is precisely represented. This semiotic
look at our sense of perception starts de-constructing the realism of
popular culture to what we really experience. Are these striped
paintings a travesty, or do they still fulfil Cran’s goal of being
pleasurable? Or both?
In the last set of abstract paintings, it is increasingly
obvious that Cran is more interested in objective retinal stimulation
than the subjectivity of utopian dreams. The intense esthetic
satisfaction of the senses manipulates the viewer into becoming
physically involved as they move back and forth to find the facial image
in Black Portrait (1993). This early painting in Cran’s abstracts references the portraits in his earlier work.
Continuing to delete any reference to his previous realism, the
painter’s abstracts become more attuned to a real-life occurrence.
Cran’s next works define the paint material in monochromatic continuous
swoops that clarify his investigation into perception. Silver Painting #5 (1995) and Clear Painting #4
(1996) don’t make any pretence about being mirrored facsimiles of life.
Instead they get straight to the point and draw the viewer into
something remarkable and astonishing. These pieces are completely
sensual, erasing the emotional or intellectual distractions of his
earlier work. Where does the artist go from here?
The monochromatic Black and White Painting #4 (1995) is
yet another step in Cran’s ongoing investigations to examine our sense
of perception. Challenging the illusionary depth of a flat image, he
theatrically plays with frames of illusionary space.
The up-to-date, latest inquiries into this research will be
exhibited in the fall at TrépanierBaer in Calgary. If you want to know
how this great artist got to here from there, be sure to revel in
Surveying the Damage, now showing at The Art Gallery of Calgary.