Chris Cran, RCA, king!, 2012. Courtesy TrépanierBaer Gallery and Clint Roenisch.

Chris Cran, RCA, king!, 2012. Courtesy TrépanierBaer Gallery and Clint Roenisch.

Questionnaire: Chris Cran by Canadian Art

Calgary-based artist Chris Cran, a longtime mentor to emerging artists in Alberta, takes our questionnaire. Cran’s work can be found in the National Gallery of Canada and the Glenbow Museum, among others, and he selected works for the current exhibition at the McMaster Museum of Art, “It’s My Vault.”

What work of art have you seen recently that you can’t get out of your head?

Rita McKeough’s installation, The Lion’s Share, at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at ACAD.

What images live in your studio?

Paintings by Ron Moppett, John Will, Gladys Johnston, Ryan Sluggett, a Vikky Alexander collage piece, an Evan Penny photo, woodcuts by Herald Nix, a number of my own works going back to 1978 and a painted illustration on canvas of a behatted man looking ecstatically at a bottle of beer in his outstretched hand. It was for a beer ad, I believe, and I purchased it in an antique store in St. Louis in the eighties for 25 bucks.

Where would you like to show your work and why?

The Prado, so I could get an all-expense-paid trip to Madrid.

What’s the best exhibition you have ever seen?

A toss-up between an Agnes Martin exhibition I saw in the 1980s at the Glenbow Museum that produced in me an inexplicable emotional response, and the big Roy Lichtenstein show at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012 that knocked my socks off, which I have not found to this day.

Can you name a work of art that changed your life?

A small Cézanne painting in a collections gallery at the Guggenheim in NYC. Don’t know the name nor have I come across it again. The painting was of a meadow on a hot summer day. I stood in front of it for a few minutes and suddenly I could feel the heat. I felt like I was 10 years old and in a field close to my home in the middle of summer. I knew how he did it. He got the light right by getting the colour right and my nervous system knew through zillions of experiences what the temperature of that light was. I stood there for several minutes, said, “Wow! Cézanne! Pretty good!” And then I decided to leave. My body turned but my head didn’t and I wrenched my neck painfully because I hadn’t extracted my gaze from the space of the painting.

Do you collect anything?


What do you like to read?

William S. Burroughs, Cormac McCarthy and a recently acquired set of books called The Colophon: A Book Collectors’ Quarterly, with many printed pages including a David Milne drypoint.

Who is your favourite Canadian artist?

Agnes Martin.

What does the Canadian art world need?

It doesn’t need anything. The rest of the world, however, could benefit from more exposure to what Canada has to offer.

What do you wish you thought of first?

Where I put my keys.


Calgary-based painter concerns himself with illusion in his works

Kari Pedersen
Arts Editor
Walk through the second floor of the O wing to see the works of Chris Cran on display. The Calgary based painter has been reviewed by many, including the New York Times. Photo: Albina Khouzina
Walk through the second floor of the O wing to see the works of Chris Cran on display. The Calgary based painter has been reviewed by many, including the New York Times.
Chris Cran, a Calgary based painter who has had his work reviewed by many around North America including the New York Times, focuses his work on perceptions and illusion. But as a sectional instructor at ACAD, he wants people to see art as a journey of self-discovery. An opportunity for people to think and feel in their own ways.
The Reflector: Your pieces often have interesting visual tricks or components to them. What is it about this concept that you feel catches the eye of a viewer?

Chris Cran: I remember, in my young days as an artist, someone saying that the mind cannot entertain two things at the same time. My response to this was to present two, or several things which cause the mind to travel and which, in the apprehension of those particular “things”, enjoys the travelling. Examples of two things — an image and the particular way it is made — the juxtaposition of two elements — an image and a title — an image and a framing device. Any number of possibilities.
TR: There are some similarities of your work to pop art. What artists have inspired your work, and if not who, then what has inspired your work?

CC: When I was 15 or 16 I heard “Highway 61” by Bob Dylan and it was a revelation. The surreal, casual, sassy language seemed so familiar. I began painting when I was 19 and I was most fascinated by Picasso, Matisse, Beckmann, David Milne, Vermeer. Later, artists like Warhol, Richter, Agnes Martin. My interest in some artists faded and others rose to the surface. Some have potently stayed with me such as Roy Lichtenstein, Matisse, Philip Guston, Raoul Dufy, Fernand Leger, Juan Gris, Cezanne and locally Ron Moppett and John Will. I am absolutely interested in individual works of art that surprise me when I happen upon them, whether I know of the artist or not. I saw a Walter Sickert painting from the mid 1930’s in the Beaverbrook Art Gallery selection at the Glenbow Museum last year that prefigured pop painting by twenty years. Several days ago, at the Hamilton Art Gallery, I saw a Charles Comfort painting from 1929 that did the same thing. Roaul Dufy was misregistering colour and line forty years before Warhol.
TR: You have said in the past that you like to leave room for interpretation in your work, not a definite message. How do you think that changes the way viewers look at your pieces?

CC: Something I learned specifically from Cezanne — do half the work. Let the viewer finish the work. In the case of Cezanne, he gave brushstrokes, some form, and precise colour, which translate into light and temperature. The viewer follows those few suggestions and supplies the space in the work.
TR: What upcoming art and culture projects in Calgary are you most excited for?

CC: Contemporary Calgary, National Music Centre and C-Space
TR: Why do you think the art and culture scene is so important for university students to be a part of?

CC: Art is about pleasure, feeling, thinking, discovery, self-discovery, sometimes all in a moment. It is useful to help increase attention spans. If it is not, then it is not. The art scene is a community and there is plenty of exchange there.
TR: What is your advice for university students?

CC: Learning is not about what one is taught, it is about what one learns. Who is responsible for that learning? The learner. Get excited. If you cannot get excited, there might be a job waiting for you at 7/11.


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.