Courtesy the artist and TrepanierBaer
Chris Cran, "Modernistic" (Sublime Sales Series)
Chris Cran, "Modernistic" (Sublime Sales Series), 2004, oil and acrylic on canvas, 48” x 60
Senior Calgary artist Chris Cran has achieved a remarkable and unique career milestone. If somehow you managed not to know his work before, you most certainly will now. The National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta have come together to organize a 40-year survey of his art for display in Edmonton and Ottawa. Completing the trifecta is the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, which will concurrently mount an exhibition of his new works. Inclusions in commercial gallery and other thematic shows will further flesh out this extraordinary Cran love-fest. These are welcome and most deserving honours for an artist of long-standing achievement, a man organizers describe as “influential” and “one of the country’s most notable painters of the last few decades.”
Observers in Calgary are thoroughly cognizant of Cran’s impact upon the city’s cultural ecology. Born in the remote coastal community of Ocean Falls, B.C., Cran studied at the Kootenay School of the Arts in Nelson, B.C., and graduated in 1979 from the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. He served as a respected teacher at that institution from 1990 to 1993 and again from 1998 to the present. Mentor, impresario, talent scout, ambassador-at-large and arts booster, his insightful guidance and generous encouragement have helped propel the careers of countless emerging artists. Gregarious and affable, Cran is a ubiquitous presence at visual and performing arts events. Since 1989, he has served on the board of Stride, one of the city’s artist-run centres, and has acted as a juror and guest curator. As a consequence, Cran is a go-to guy who has his hand in myriad cultural machinations. One might remark that it’s customary protocol for artists and curators visiting the “Calgary territory” to pay obligatory courtesy calls on this local godfather.
Chris Cran, "One Word New Door"
Chris Cran, "One Word New Door", 2009, oil on canvas, 40” x 30”
Cran’s self-portrait series from the 1980s sported his image as the central character in charming and engagingly playful narratives. Little wonder then that his highly recognizable visage prepared him to portray the role of an arts celebrity narcissist in Loved By Millions, a video collaboration with John Will and Dennis Hrubizna. What emerges is the possibility of a delightful constructed portrait of the artist as an impish prankster, quick to smile and embrace self-deprecating buffoonery. Thank heavens. In our current sanctimonious artistic environment, it’s a blessing someone can offer to laugh, jest and spar. The irrepressible wit, humour and jocular mischievousness of these self-portraits are more than enough to warrant Cran’s inclusion in anyone’s art historical bucket list. The titles alone enchant us: Double Self-portrait Wanting To Know What I’m Doing Home So Late; Self-portrait Accepting A Cheque For The Commission Of This Painting; Self-portrait With The Combat Nymphos Of Saigon.
Courtesy the artist and TrepanierBaer
Chris Cran, "Double Self-portrait Wanting To Know What I’m Doing Home So Late"
Chris Cran, "Double Self-portrait Wanting ToKnow What I’m Doing Home So Late", 1987, oil on canvas, 96.8” x 66.5”
Calgary has been home to a number of phenomenal representational painters. Even within this distinguished company, Cran’s consummate skill stands out. The works are masterfully crafted and exquisitely painted. Could that be a problem? It would seem the artist senses it as a potential liability. For decades, he has invented endless ways to confound, obstruct, interfere and disrupt our admiration and identification with his mimetic mastery and jester persona. He has engaged in a four-decade foray of mixing narration, figuration and abstraction. Visitors to the retrospective will learn about the mesmerizing interplay of wide-ranging interests in his complex and intriguing career, as well as the private, introspective and serious side to this very public personality. Offered as an admiring observation, viewers could be excused for thinking they are attending a group exhibition. Cran has managed to conflate seemingly disparate aesthetic traditions, embracing them all and making of the encounter something totally his own: Henri Fantin-Latour meets Roy Lichtenstein meets Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke. Cran’s stunning and inventive abstract paintings contribute to this long and noble legacy whilst straddling polar opposites of organic free-form gestural brushwork underpinned by hard-edged geometry and strident, radiant colour.
Courtesy of the artist and TrepanierBaer
Chris Cran, "Orange Woman" (Chorus Series 13.5)
Chris Cran, "Orange Woman" (Chorus Series 13.5), 2013, acrylic on board, 16” diameter
Cran is a patriot of art and of painting. Each of his works reaffirms his confidence in the efficacy of engaging with art’s inspiring qualities. We have delighted in each of his twists and turns, particularly in Calgary, where we have witnessed his every musing. This is the classic pathway that leads inexorably towards the pinnacle survey exhibition, a community reflectively celebrating a lifetime of collective engagement with an artist. It is just like Cran; he even turns this expectation on its head. This most commendable enterprise is not the product of his hometown base. Instead, it is the admirable initiative of national and provincial authorities. The project will not be presented in Calgary. True enough, Calgary has had ample exposure to thoroughly witness Cran’s development. Nor is his work a stranger to art aficionados across the country. Nevertheless, it’s notable that this most exhaustive compilation will be hosted in communities generally less familiar with his work. It’s as if the retrospective format is conflated with an expository exhibition, akin to having one’s first belated exposure to the music of the Rolling Stones via a greatest-hits album. Cran’s greatest hits, indeed, will all be there, so we need to offer thanks for this outstanding outcome. Let’s hope it creates a groundswell of committed interest across the country and beyond.
How will Cran contend with all this lavish, exemplary attention? Artists have both loved and hated the survey moment. A painting by renowned California artist Ed Ruscha emphatically exclaimed: “I Don’t Want No Retrospective.” The retrospective signals recognition of lifetime achievement, which, in Cran’s case, is more than amply warranted. However, it’s often assumed to be both a summation and a reflection upon a laudable past. Cran won’t stand for that. He reports that his daily painting routine was disrupted by the exorbitant time needed to gather, repair, prepare and reflect upon his history to support the project. He’s already moving on, pushing forward. His exhibition of new work in Lethbridge emphatically declares that his most comprehensive survey to date is not a retrospective wrap-up, but simply a new beginning.