Meg Cranston

In Meg Cranston’s The Swing, 1992, her version of Fragonard’s most famous image, the woman has a bucket dangling from her right foot. The conjunction of bucket and foot is the kind of relationship between things—one of dependence—that continually crops up in Cranston’s drawings. Nothing has a place of its own, it always hangs upon the presence of something else. At other times, as in The Swing, and many of the other drawings, this dependence is illustrated literally through Cranston’s habit of depicting things incorporated into mobiles, little elements strung together with bits of wire maybe, or twine, and left hanging free to move wherever circumstances might dictate. Sometimes, increasingly giving the impression that outside forces are at work, the bars that support these arrangements are crossed like the controls of a hand puppet. Untitled (Maserati), 1992, is just the car’s name, each letter (drawn and painted as though roughly shaped from wood or cardboard) linked vertically one to another to form the word—a signifier of technological finesse transformed, oh so artfully, into artless decorative caprice.

Cranston’s imagery is diverse—tomatoes, George Washington, household cleaner, a three-legged dog. There is no point in appraising it in terms of a mix between banality and erudition, it’s just things and ideas filtered through a sensibility that wants to question its own sense of itself and to investigate how it sees itself represented in the things around it. One of the drawings, Daumier’s Scavenger, 1992, gives a sense of both the subject and title of Cranston’s project. We find her picking at the odds and ends that life and art have to offer, to see if they’ll do, whether they’ll serve some purpose, fulfill a function in an ad hoc sort of way. Cranston’s interest in Daumier is apposite since, like his, her drawings rely less on caricature than on the acerbic simplicity of the political cartoonist. This is also true of her crudely modeled clay sculptures. Art is scavenged, too. Daumier and Fragonard, in their different ways, match her concern for the precarious existence of meaning among the artifacts and symbols of a life characterized by the experience of marginality, underexposure, oppression, and repression.

There is no fixity in Cranston’s language, no certainty of reference. Untitled (Fantastik), 1992, is a bumper bottle of all-purpose cleaner. “Forty-five per cent extra product free,” it says rather ambiguously on the side, implying both that we are getting more product for the same price and more art that’s product-free. But Cranston’s playful denial of certitude invites this sort of interpretation only to hint, in the time-honored manner of the cynic, that perhaps a little too much intellectual weight is being placed on these slight images. Untitled (Pipes), 1992, shows a jar containing four pipes, one sticking up slightly above the other three. René Magritte, of course, because it’s art, but not really, because it’s just a picture of some pipes in a jar. The drawing that really questions representation and that confounds text and image, text and object in the way that Cranston has throughout her career, is the far more mundane and entirely self-explanatory—7 Eleven Sign From Memory, 1989.

Michael Archer