Craig Love, "O Cuckoo", 2015
Craig Love, "O Cuckoo", 2015, installation view at Library Gallery, Winnipeg
It’s strange to see Craig Love’s paintings in a gallery. To my mind, they belong in his studio in Winnipeg’s Exchange District. They live there. His space is like a hovel. Hundreds of in-progress paintings line every surface. Most are weirdly viscous and contain unexpected combinations of texture and imagery – encrusted lava, hotdog skins, brickwork, paisley bouquets, garbled text.
Spending time there is like losing oneself on the Internet. There’s just so much dissonant information: philosophical writings by David Hume, etymology, and dogs with itchy butts. Whether or not you like Love’s work will depend on your tolerance for anarchic incongruity. In his studio, it’s easy to feel enmeshed in the spongy matter of his overcrowded brain.
It’s no wonder Love refers to his paintings as “thinking machines.” In an interview with senior Winnipeg artists Cliff Eyland, Diane Whitehouse and Wanda Koop, Love describes his formative experiences: “For me, oil paint was not about flesh, as de Kooning once suggested, but, instead, about guts, and not just the organs, but a segue to intellect – or innards – something inside.”
Craig Love, "Group Chat", 2013
Craig Love, "Group Chat", 2013, oil and acrylic on canvas, 8" x 10"
If Love’s studio is a brain, the gallery is a lab in which to analyze specimens. Koop, who curated the show, selected works with what Love calls “friendly ruthlessness.” When placed on a white wall, the chosen few seem sterile without the studio’s messy fecundity. But it’s much easier to appreciate each painting’s construction. In Group Chat, for example, there’s a washy beach, a huddle of shapes and an impudent red tongue. Lazily Laid Pink Grout is built with gobs of grit.
Craig Love, 'Lazily Laid Pink Grout"
Craig Love, 'Lazily Laid Pink Grout", 2011, oil and acrylic on canvas, 8" x 10"
Love works on many paintings at once, making marks he says he must “kick against.” They are acts of sabotage, some small and some sizeable, with few steps taken to aestheticize the resulting conundrum. The paintings are not conventionally attractive. Some are muddy, even ugly. Herein lies their success.
Hugo Ball, author of the Dada Manifesto, asked of abstract art: “Will it produce more than a revival of ornament?” That question, posed in 1917, could be posed today. A favourite new term of disgruntled critics is Zombie Formalism. It describes the crass way recent MFA grads are appropriating historical abstraction to satisfy the market’s demand for chic, hyper-contemporary interior design.
Love, who completed his Master’s a decade or so ago at New York’s Parsons School of Design, paints in a way atypical of his generation. His work is, quite frankly, a relief from all the meta-critical eye candy showing in the hippest galleries. He describes the brain’s glutted pathways, fuzzed-out impressions and sporadic sprays of lucid sparks. The coherent self, after all, is an illusion. O Cuckoo is a profound accumulation of mental detritus, unity and cohesiveness be damned.