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?
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
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.