“Untitled” is created using complementary color schemes. In this work, a color like orange must touch its complement blue.
“Untitled,” Rod Craig’s oil pastel painting of two pears are not pears; they’re clouds or water in the shape of pears, says Craig.
(Author’s Note: The color matching on these images is not representative of the actual work. The paper had difficulty scanning the transparencies.)
Rod Craig lost interest in painting when he tried to make art his job.
The Durango artist spent five years making a living selling his art. He was a watercolor artist and a hyperrealist back in the 1990s, living the gonzo lifestyle fueled by drugs and alcohol.
“I thought it was part of the creative process,” Craig admits.
When he was engaged in what he calls an “unrealistic lifestyle,” he painted absolute realism. Today, clean and sober for more than 10 years, his lifestyle seems more real while his art has taken a new direction. It is more abstract and more colorful.
“I didn’t understand abstraction. It’s simple, and simplicity is the hardest thing. We are complex. But once your ego is gone, you can bare your soul and reveal yourself,” Craig said in his studio last week. “Before, painting was a self expression. My ego was screaming ‘this is how I am. Orderly and clear.’ I emphasized skill. I used to concentrate on texture.”
His machine series from the late 1990s features a mass of steel and gears and wild, natural color. These large paintings explore the multiple layers of texture found on a rusted piece of metal. They are an interpretation of an exact image. They are real, yet somehow contrived.
However, it was in this series that Craig began to explore the color-opposition painting technique that is prominent in his current work. With this technique, a color has to touch its complement. For example, blue has to touch orange. One can see the foundation in this hyperrealism for what Craig is creating now in his large complementary color field paintings of angles, walls and lush pears some with surrealistically enflamed stems.
“Realism takes the viewer out of the equation,” Craig said. “In real, finite realism, you lose the art. The art disintegrates into technique and skill, and you lose the human expression.”
His current work is all about expression. Craig attempts to avoid making the work real or understandable in the physical world. His pears are clouds or water, not pears. It is an attempt to paint a philosophy. Craig is engaged in an experiment in duality where cold is just as important as hot.
“In America, the ideal resides on one side or the other,” Craig said. “But we do live in a perfect world just the way it is.”
He’s having fun making art, and he’s no longer dependent upon it for his income. A plumber by trade, Craig continues to design plumbing systems for new construction, a very mathematical and left-brain process that seems to free his right brain even more for creativity. And he doesn’t feel as if he is pandering to a marketplace or trying to create a gimmick, something that will sell. Now he gets lost in the color, in creating an anti-shadow where the shadow becomes smoke and disappears, or a loose unidentified edge that throws the light.
“Everything is an experiment. I put little emphasis on selling,” Craig said.
But that doesn’t mean the work isn’t selling. He sold two paintings from the pear collection before they were even framed. And framing is another boon provided by a steady income from his day job. He can afford to frame his art in gorgeous frames. And his day job doesn’t keep him from his creativity. Craig says he paints, draws or takes photographs every day.
“Great art makes money look like trash, life confetti. Great art is far more important than money,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how good you are. It’s very difficult to sell mediocre work that’s generated for the purpose of selling. I’ve never had a hard time selling great art,” Craig said, then humbly added: “Not that mine is great.”
He took the argument even farther and suggested pure art cannot be bought or sold. It’s only temporary.
After our initial interview at his home studio, Craig called me several days later. He’d been philosophizing about art.
“The thing that separates art from everything else is that everything else can be explained mathematically. Art is the exception to the laws of physics and math. It can’t be quantified. It is the exception that proves the rule,” he said.
firstname.lastname@example.orgLeanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the visual arts.