CRAIG CULLYArtist and Educator
Collaborative work with my wife.
Patriarchs by Proxy
In February 2016 my father passed away due to complications form heart surgery. Although I had made numerous attempts in the past, I was saddened by the fact that I was never successful in painting a portrait of my father. He was always elusive to me, yet his presence is seemingly unremitting.
The loss of one of my parents left me feeling unmoored. There was one less person that had expectations of me, one fewer parent whose innate concern for my conduct was now gone. I was untethered from my anchor of irreproachability.
Around the time of his death I was invited to hang a solo show at the Wee Gallery in Tucson. It was then that I decided to produce a series of intimate portraits of men in my life who have exemplified an ideal to which I strive. They are patriarchs by proxy.
The Slaughter Series paintings involve an esthetics of death. These esthetics are simultaneously a pretense of engagement and a delusion of detachment. Like the intrinsic conflict between the butcher and the pig or the surgeon and the patient, my works oscillate between autonomy and involvement, absence and presence, death and life, through the integration of representation and abstraction. The way in which images are nurtured into existence from the substance of paint and the motion of the brush only to be dispatched by the very same is a parallel to the slaughter and a simile to surgery. I view the suspended, flaccid bodies of these massive creatures as analogies for the act of painting and a means of assimilating my father’s recent, sudden death due to complications from heart surgery. In both instances the relatively discrete identities of individual subjects are reduced to silent still-lives slowly broken down by the same hands that once sustained them. At moments the images in this work barely hold together as passages of paint slip away from the form—beings on the verge of disappearing, reduced to abstractions of their former self.
Discourse of the Chase
In a line from his play, A Woman of No Importance, Oscar Wilde described foxhunting as "The unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable". The implications of this statement form the central question of my current research—what are the reasons for our persistent need to chase that which we know has no apparent utility and what does this say about our capacity for empathy despite the apparent futility of such pursuits.
The study of this centuries-old sport has informed my current studio practice in which I have cast foxhunting as the central character in a series of allegorical paintings portraying the ambivalent, and even at times contentious, relationship between humans and animals as well as the interdependence and alliances that these two species have attempted to forge and in which they appear find value in the pursuit alone—shaping the discourse of the chase.
Vanitas (for Kelly)
As I traverse the Southwestern landscape on my weekly commutes from Las Cruces, New Mexico to Tucson, I witness an abundance of carcasses and roadkill along the sides of the highway. I am made aware of my own vulnerability while simultaneously being reminded of the iconic painted skulls of Georgia O’Keefe. I find this cocktail of decomposition and romance to be a perfect metaphor for the allure of repulsion.
The use of euphemisms when speaking about tragedy, pain, and death is a way of offsetting the severity of such realities. It makes them more palatable. This current body of work uses the types of clichés frequently associated with these afflictions, as visual euphemisms to moderate the suffering of our own mortality.
Success of Failure
This body of work operates as a rehearsal for and revisitation of (my) success at failure as I look both backwards and forwards at my life through the lens of middle age. Each painting, through both image and form, strives to realize a kind of telos which will bring about an absolute resolution between the disparate formal elements and the individual egos of the protagonists—each having their own intentions, needs and desires. While the heterogeneous appearance of these paintings speaks of an incongruous approach to rectifying personal conflicts, their ability to harmonize disparate forces expresses the possibility of achieving balance, even if complex and tentative.
Portraits of Perversion
These paintings explore the intrinsic perversion of human interpersonal relationships. The characters are caught in a crisis between social ideals of identity and personal insecurities brought on by their own conflicting wants and needs. Although the combination of surface quality, color and paint handling emphasize the paintings’ seriousness, it is undercut by what is represented. For what more are we to do but laugh when we find our relationships never truly realize the ideals we set up for them, yet we learn to love the form they have taken—flaws and all.
If these paintings leave viewers feeling slightly disturbed it is the result of their own acknowledgement that something about the uncomfortable relationships depicted within bear an uncanny familiarity to their own. The superficial seduction of the work’s initial scopic pleasure gives way to a more inclusive, albeit unsettling, understanding of the perverse nature of these relationships through an empathic dynamic between viewer and painting.
My approach to painting derives from a great appreciation for the sensuous nature of the medium and an understanding of the communicative possibilities inherent in its many manifestations. As a representational painter it is my intention to manifest an underlying content that resonates with my audience rather than an exact mimesis of my subject. My portrait paintings allude a psychological resonance derived from a process of familiarization.
Slip Mickey Slip
These works attempt to objectify mental depression by envisioning it as an alienated protagonist inhabiting a grisaille world. The protagonist is seen interacting with colorful, iconic objects that signify feelings of loss and anxiety. This night-vision world is indicative of the frightening spaces that manifest themselves in the troubling fissures of cognitive ambiguity. Metaphorically, these figures embody a sense of psychological dread whose deformities render them monstrous. Their features allude to a self-consciousness which separates them from the natural order and is responsible for the feelings of isolation and seclusion so often associated with despair.
Pushing at the boundaries of realism through the hyper-articulation of surface detail and an intensified saturation of color results in a series of ecstatic slippages where abstraction finds form through these seemingly mundane subjects. The specificity of surface detail and saturation of color in this work reinforce the easy gratification of life’s simplest joys, yet the mirrored surfaces with thier fractured color and sharp reflections escape any comforting stability.
This series of paintings examines the material minutiae of life.
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We now live in a world where our relationship to nature has been manufactured in an attempt to create a fictionalized reality. In these tiny landscape paintings I reverse the roles of macro and micro, taking the grandeur of Romanticism and reducing it to miniscule mirages that present precious images of the liminal spaces we might consider
My still life paintings examine color, surface and light through a variety
of subjects, instilling each one with a nuanced sesitivity.
The Archive: 1990–2003
This work is a sampling of older pieces ranging in size, media