Chris Cran in Canadian Art Magazine

Seriously Funny: Chris Cran at the National Gallery of Canada

Chris Cran, Self-Portrait Practising Signatures, 1989. Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series, with the generous collaboration of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

Chris Cran, Self-Portrait Practising Signatures, 1989. Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series, with the generous collaboration of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

Chris Cran is one of Canada’s most celebrated painters, but he’s rarely written about as just that. The cult of the Calgary-based artist’s personality precedes him. Many reviews of Cran exhibitions reveal that he is down-to-earth, charming, very funny and prefers to wear all black. Known as a godfather of the Calgary art scene, he’s a board member at Stride Gallery, a teacher at the Alberta College of Art and Design and a mentor and magnanimous supporter of up-and-coming artists in his hometown. To six kids, he’s also Dad. Before his National Gallery of Canada survey exhibition, “Sincerely Yours,” which is on view in Ottawa until September 5, Cran was there in spring 2015 to put together “It’s My Vault,” a showcase of works by 15 artists he admires and is influenced by—a wonder wall of sorts. He included one of his own works in that selection, which makes sense, because he has long been one of his own favourite subjects.

Chris Cran, My Face in Your Home, 1986. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Photo © NGC. Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series, with the generous collaboration of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

Chris Cran, My Face in Your Home, 1986. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Photo © NGC. Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series, with the generous collaboration of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

The person responsible for this Cran fandom is Cran himself, of course. In 1984, he began painting The Self-Portrait Series, whose central character is the artist, bedecked in a brown or blue suit and trilby, often playing the self-satisfied salesman. Like a photo-bomber, the main character of the series—Cran’s surrogate, his puppet—wanders in and out of massive realist paintings that depict shop-worn jokes, idioms, tropes and fantasies in flawless oil renderings. There’s a man literally shooting himself in the foot; a wife admonishing a husband (both roles played by Cran) for coming home late; and even a group of gun-toting naked women in wartime Vietnam up to their waists in water, while Cran, in suit and trilby, impotently holding a plywood rifle, enters from stage right. It’s all utterly ridiculous, and it’s meant to be, without equivocation.

Chris Cran, Self-Portrait Accepting a Cheque for the Commission of This Painting, 1988. University of Lethbridge Art Collection. Gift of Peter D. Boyd, 1995. Photo M.N. Hutchinson. Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series, with the generous collaboration of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

Chris Cran, Self-Portrait Accepting a Cheque for the Commission of This Painting, 1988. University of Lethbridge Art Collection. Gift of Peter D. Boyd, 1995. Photo M.N. Hutchinson. Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series, with the generous collaboration of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

The first work he produced in this series was Self-Portrait with Large Audience Trying to Remember What Carmelita Pope Looks Like (1984). Cran remembers being a kid in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, watching television, when a woman came onscreen and introduced herself, saying, “Hi, I’m Carmelita Pope.” Cran, then 10 years old, remembers thinking, “Why does she think I’m supposed to know who she is?” In the painting, he sits in a chair trying to recall this trivial childhood memory, while a large, crudely sketched audience eagerly waits for the fuzzy picture of a woman beginning to form above his head to sharpen into focus. The real joke here is that the woman depicted isn’t Carmelita Pope at all; Cran ripped the image out of an advertisement for a Magic Art Reproducer in one of his old pulp magazines, where he sources much of his material from.

Chris Cran, Large Orange Laughing Woman, 1991. Collection of Wade Felesky and Rebecca Morley. Photo M.N. Hutchinson. Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series, with the generous collaboration of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

Chris Cran, Large Orange Laughing Woman, 1991. Collection of Wade Felesky and Rebecca Morley. Photo M.N. Hutchinson. Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series, with the generous collaboration of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

In other works from this series of self-portraits, we see beginnings of techniques that show up in series to follow. After The Self-Portrait Series, Cran moved away from photo-realism and experimented with Op art, Pop art and abstraction. He likes experimenting, keeping things fresh, but what remains near constant is his Kodachrome palette, suitable for someone whose aesthetic sensibilities were moulded by an early love of 1950s toy and product packaging. In Self-Portrait – Temptation of a Saint (1986), the Cran character temporarily loses his sense of self as he becomes transfixed by an image projected by his cathode-ray television set: a tarantula has crawled onto James Bond’s pillow, and Cran’s crept to the edge of his seat, gripping the armrests. On the surface of the glowing-blue television screen, which is painted with lighter brushstrokes, there are faint traces of horizontal scan lines, the kind that used to appear on television and computer monitors when you tried to capture their screens on another screen.

Chris Cran, Red Man Black/Cartoon, 1990. Collection of the artist. Photo M.N. Hutchinson. Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series, with the generous collaboration of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

Chris Cran, Red Man Black/Cartoon, 1990. Collection of the artist. Photo M.N. Hutchinson. Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series, with the generous collaboration of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

We naturally know how to look past such visual obstructions and isolate the images contained behind the lines. Cran’s Stripe Paintings (1989–) and Halftone Paintings (1990–93) play with this human propensity to find and make meaning. He distorts still lifes, portraits and landscapes by adding screens of stripes (also nodding to Modernist painting conventions) or by enlarging images until they nearly dissolve into abstraction entirely, becoming collections of dots that only coalesce into discernible shapes when you squint or step backwards. Nowadays, of course, you get the same effect when you view the paintings through a smartphone, whose screen does the work for you—or takes the fun out of it, depending on how you look at such things. These distortions are cheeky misdirections that hold the viewer captive for a little bit longer than they ordinarily might linger in front of a painting. “It’s a cheap trick,” Cran tells interviewer William Wood in the exhibition’s award-winning catalogue, “but it works.”

Chris Cran, Mirror, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Wilding Cran Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo David Miller and Petra Malá Miller. Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series, with the generous collaboration of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

Chris Cran, Mirror, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Wilding Cran Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo David Miller and Petra Malá Miller. Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series, with the generous collaboration of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

Audience engagement is paramount to Cran. We see it in his Abstract Paintings series (1995–2009), where he creates optical illusions that reward the viewer who takes time to move around and consider the picture plane from various angles, and notably in his Chorus series (2012–15), which positions tondi of blown-up, close-cropped faces, ripped from 1950s and ’60s ads, displaying ranges of emotion, around works from other series, such as Framing Device Paintings (1996–2001). Just as the Cran character in The Self-Portrait Series is a stand-in for the artist, the anonymous faces that make up Chorus—how quick we are to try to see if we can recognize any of the faces, to ascribe meaning to them—are stand-ins for the audience, like the chorus in Ancient Greek theatre. They smirk, gasp, look apprehensive, quietly observe, or ooh and aah like rock ’n’ roll groupies, creating different dialogues depending on how they are arranged and around what other works. They set the tone. As anyone who’s bad at telling jokes knows, it’s not what you say that counts, but how you deliver it. At the end of the National Gallery’s exhibition, there are works from Chorus installed in the staircase, surrounding you, in effect making you the artwork.

Cran has called art “a mute apparatus”—it’s not complete until a viewer applies thoughts, words and meanings to it. It can only speak when spoken to. The words “Sincerely Yours” necessarily preclude “Dear —.” They’re an invitation in, addressed to fans, long-time and first-time alike. When Cran came up with the title, he was thinking of signed photographs of movie stars that were mass-produced in the 1950s (so not really “sincerely” anyone’s, in fact).

Cran’s autograph appears in the last work in The Self-Portrait Series: Self-Portrait Practising Signatures (1989). In it, Cran’s writes various versions of his name, in curlicued cursive, block capitals and simplified minimalist construction of loops and lines. But the painting isn’t a self-portrait at all. Cran took the image he based it on from in a British publication made in the 1950s. He found it and thought, well, “Close enough.”

“Sincerely Yours” is also a signing off, signifying the end, but the prolific Cran isn’t nearly finished yet. After this exhibition wraps, he’s showing a suite of new paintings at Toronto’s Clint Roenisch Gallery, in a show cleverly called “Anon Anon”—the perfect punchline to end a retrospective with.

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ETAF & Wilding Cran Gallery collaborate...

The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) is collaborating with Wilding Cran Gallery for this benefit auction to celebrate Elizabeth Taylor’s life and her fight against HIV/AIDS. Established in 1991, ETAF's mission is to raise funds and to provide assistance for those living with the virus. Online bidding ends February 27 at 6 PM EST. Bids will be transferred to a live auction at the physical event that evening at 11:30 PM EST.

To view online auction and bid please visit  www.paddle8.com/auctions/ETAF  

Chris Cran in group show at the Glenbow Museum

Made in Calgary: The 1980s

September 7, 2013 - January 5, 2014

 

Chris Cran,  Self-Portrait Watching a Man about to Shoot Himself in the Foot , 1985, Collection of Glenbow Museum

Chris Cran, Self-Portrait Watching a Man about to Shoot Himself in the Foot, 1985, Collection of Glenbow Museum

Made in Calgary is a five-part exhibition series that explores the character of Calgary's artistic community from 1960 to 2010. Each exhibition will reflect the contributions of individual artists in the context of the social and cultural factors that influenced their work.

As Calgary soared to economic power in the 1980s, a maverick new energy in the visual arts also arose in the city. "Calgary became truer to itself in the 80s – artists created things moulded in the Calgary spirit," says Jeffrey Spalding, curator of Made in Calgary: The 1980s.

In discovering that spirit, Calgary artists found themselves reevaluating their conceptions of art, and, in many cases, reinventing their entire approach to the creative process.

A survey of just some of the individuals whose work is featured in the exhibition reveals how pervasive was this climate of change and exploration. In ceramics, for instance, important sculptors such as Mary Shannon Will and Gisele Amantea abruptly reversed course, with the former leaving behind the organic tradition that had defined her work for a more geometric approach, while Amantea took a 180 degree turn from representational work and produced pieces that were an onslaught of colour, pattern and stimuli.

Meanwhile, Chris Cran began to embrace what Spalding describes as "zany narratives" – as evidenced by his 

Self Portrait Watching a Man About to Shoot Himself in the Foot

. John Will, the definitive master printmaker, stopped making prints in 1980 to allow himself the freedom to explore other avenues of art making.

Spalding says that one must look at both regional and international developments in the art world in the preceding decades tounderstand the significance of the upheaval that marked the 1980s. In the 60s and 70s, the local art scene followed a steady evolution based on a kind of master-apprentice model with key instructors in the city imparting their vision to the next generation.

Meanwhile, a more rigid hierarchy was at play on the international stage with leaders of the modernist-reductivist school setting the criteria for what art should be – formal, austere and minimalist.

By the late 70s, though, artists began to question, and actively reject, the paradigms governing what was considered high art and began defining criteria for themselves. "People start to embrace all kinds of different ideas about art that have seemingly nothing to do with what the main storyline is and they just break with it," says Spalding. "It's not a small jailbreak … it's massive."

The results, whether in ceramics, painting, sculpture and so on, were adventurous, expressive and singularly Calgarian. "Calgary went from being a place that was very peripheral to a place that said 'we might as well be leaders – we might as well do something new,'" says Spalding.

 

An art collection that pays homage to artists connected to the Canadian West

Peter Boyd

Peter Boyd

Marsha Lederman profiles our friend Peter Boyd in the Globe and Mail:

As soon as he left the University of Western Ontario and landed a job, Peter Boyd bought a car, some furniture and his first work of art.
He has since spent “hundreds of thousands” of dollars on his art habit, running out of wall space at home and keeping much of his collection in storage (necessitated, in part, by the 2009 sale of his oil-field seismic-services company Arcis Corp., and the subsequent disappearance of office walls on which to hang the work).
Influenced by childhood trips to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ont., he began his collection with historical work by artists such as David Milne, but has sold or gifted most of it and now exclusively collects contemporary art. His collection of about 100 works (it peaked at about 200) is populated with artists connected to the Canadian West, including Chris Cran, Douglas Coupland, Attila Richard Lukacs and Geoffrey James, but he also owns work by Robert Mapplethorpe and Eric Fischl. “You’re always falling in love with art if you love art,” he says.
His latest entrepreneurial venture is Genius Wines; its first release a pricey Sonoma County cabernet sauvignon he calls Creo. “It comes from the Latin word for creativity,” he says. “It’s my tribute to artists who are geniuses.”