Painter and teacher David Criner’s show of new large abstractions sees the artist revisiting themes from his days as a student, when you can imagine it was easier to look at the world eyes agog, reveling in the vastness laid before us. Decades later, Criner continues to revel, to celebrate the lean likelihood that is the existence of life in our known universe, the oddity that is consciousness amidst stardust and rubble.
Influenced largely by Motherwell and abstract expressionists, what is consistent throughout Criner’s work is the sense of celebratory optimism and physical energy. There is a buoyant motion in the paintings that feels almost like dance, undoubtedly like music, bold blots of color, washes in which those colors blend harmoniously, drips and splatters of pigment, and occasional repeating symbols mingling playfully with small collaged elements, a jazz quintet teasing melody out of the air. Very few discernible objects are portrayed in the paintings. Small individual flowers are rendered intermittently, and near them are almost mirrored collaged elements, a vintage magazine photograph or illustration of a flower next to a painted flower from a slightly different angle, both so similar that our perception of what is “real” momentarily becomes the focus of some of these paintings.
In “Icarus Revisited,” Criner goes back to his earlier symbolism in which white diamond shapes rise out of a sea of hues, literal apexes pointing upward toward perfection or completion, perhaps the myths of Icarus and the Phoenix merged, that from a great fall something new is reborn. Or that simply, with experience, the eye continues to appreciate higher existential ground.
At a distance, a small, sliced-open lime with a dark comet tail seems to be painted over clouds of undulating bright colors in “For a little while,” but looking closer you realize that the lime isn’t of the artist’s hand. Most of the collaged elements are partly painted over to more fully integrate them within the work. This tiny lime displaces the viewer, calling into question the space between temporal and physical existence. It almost reads like a punch line: in all that we know and see, what the hell do we know about what we see? If these paintings are a celebration of the rarity of human consciousness in existence, Criner’s studio is a party for the cerebral. (Damien James)
David Criner shows through March 20 at A+C Architects, 4840 Main Street, Skokie.