Seager Gray Gallery presents Tim Craighead: New Paintings, an exhibition of new works by the highly respected Bay Area artist. Born in Los Angeles, Craighead received his undergraduate degree from University of California at Santa Cruz and then transferred to New York where he received his Masters and was a post graduate fellow at Columbia University.
It has been said that some paintings are a conversation and some are an argument. “And some,” says artist Tim Craighead, “are an all out war.” He was referring to his mammoth painting “Orchard Series, Drift”, a 60” x 108” oil on canvas diptych. He had thought himself finished with it, but something in it just didn’t ring true. “I try to paint what I believe in, eliminating any marks or images which feel disingenuous, listening to what the painting is telling me to do rather than imposing my will on the work.” His interplay between vaguely representational symbols and pure abstraction allows him to get beyond what we see and into a more mystical realm that doesn’t seek to define itself literally. It is a slippery edge to navigate and Craighead has spent a lifetime examining its possibilities.
Craighead’s process is rigorous. He is plagued by demanding demons – a kind of honesty police. He is skilled, both as a painter and a printmaker and could easily produce pleasing works, but it is that something just beyond reach that compels him. Constructing paintings which operate on the borders of cognition provides an open field upon which a multitude of memories and meanings might be triggered. These paintings contain personal narratives, but in their abstraction he hopes to create enough room that others might be provoked to enter them with their own memories.
The Orchard Series was inspired by a small pocket orchard of 30 fruit trees and a beehive just outside his studio door. The seasonal changes, from winter dormancy to the bearing of fruit and the myriad of colors and textures presented throughout this cycle have influenced the works. The second body of work was inspired by time spent in Venice, Italy in the spring of 2016. This group of paintings is an attempt to capture the sights and sounds of that historic city-state. Throughout all the paintings is a love of paint and its inexhaustible ability to express the inexpressible. His efforts are not to describe but to conjure up the magic in the experience.
The Venice Series works often have motifs of ornamental ironwork patterns, reminiscent of Matisse’s window series from Collioure where the structured patterns miraculously convey the velvety passage of Mediterranean air. In Craighead’s work it is the humid and ancient atmosphere of the city of canals. In the painting “Venice Venus,” a single rose, taken from those depicted in Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” drifts down, a shout out to Italian painting and the Renaissance.
Finally, there are the paintings “Box” and “Brood Box” in which simple lines create a deconstructed floating box. The lines and shape of the box have an effect much like the ironwork motifs in the Venice paintings – they create a structure that enhances the more atmospheric quality of the paintings. They operate like a portal allowing the viewer to experience the sensational qualities of the paint and the richness of pure pigment.
Five of the thirteen paintings in the exhibition are large – 5 feet tall or taller. They invite you to suspend disbelief for a moment and enter the world of the painting with the artist as your guide. There is something lost in reducing them to a computer screen or catalog page. The hope is that you will visit the exhibition and see them in person to get the full effect of this extraordinary body of work.
In Craighead’s own words, “My paintings operate somewhere between abstraction and the cognitive world, between the unknown and the known. The works often begin with a general idea. I might be reflecting on spiritual or corporal concerns, memory or whatever occupies my thoughts at the moment. Once the first marks are initiated all bets are off about the outcome. In this way, it is my hope that the paintings aren’t driven self-consciously. The goal is that they emerge from a more enigmatic, less familiar place. In the process of painting, initiation, manipulation and removal of marks becomes one of action and reaction. The paintings emerge slowly, one on top of the other, until they tell me I am done.”