David Craven

The Sable-Castelli Gallery

In his recent works David Craven attempts to reconcile his ongoing interest in issues of language, authority, and the demarcation of territory with his roots in formalist abstraction. Contrary to those artists who are now investing abstraction with subjective, expressive qualities, Craven is applying the mechanics of formalism to the sculptural and narrative conditions already extant in his works. The echoes of lyrical abstraction that typified his painting of the mid ’70s are still present, but now his objective is larger.

Craven’s paintings function as a conceptual unit, with the canvases held away from the wall by elegantly shaped wooden armatures. Their surfaces lathered with wood stain over acrylic suggest an organic casing in which the form floats. In fact, the slick quality of Craven’s objects teeters on the brink of overkill, and the paintings are only saved by the use of their surfaces as fields of compressed movement.

Resting on the floor below the canvases are reflective metal boxes into which words from an anguished narrative have been cut. Choosing to sidestep high production values, these words are projected by refracted light onto the wall below each canvas. Together they form a closed system, uniting formalist doctrine, narrative, and their surrounding environment.

Narrative has remained an important element for Craven, and within each of these works the artist has placed the audience in the role of voyeur witnessing a conflict between two people. At first, though, these lines of text are experienced as irritation, nagging and complaining with the lament of “problems, problems.” On closer observation, Craven develops this conflict over the period of time that it takes to move through the gallery; time becomes yet another structural device. He captivates his audience when he informs us that there is “A BRief hope” that there will be a resolution, but this is immediately followed by “& More COMPLAINTS,” so much so that “she BECAME relentless.” With no resolution in sight, the artist confesses, “I REMAINED stubborn.” In this melodrama the sincerity of the narrative is called into question, as is the sincerity of formalism, which weighs heavily on these words.

A sense of interdependence permeates these pieces. No longer is there a need for an authority beyond the work. Gone is the distrust of the corporate boss and the weight of cultural history, which cast a long shadow on Craven’s previous work. Instead, a paradigm is established by the juxtaposition of a narrative imbued with contemporary malaise and a formalist vocabulary that acts as the reinforcing structure. With these recent works Craven has validated abstraction as a catalyst for the esthetic union of content and formal concerns.

Linda Genereux