Bad boy artist Craig Drennen takes on Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens”

Bad boy artist Craig Drennen takes on Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens”

The writing in the painting is a variety of scribbles and graffiti with trompe l’oeil squiggles and abstracted impasto. The “O” in Timon is a particularly lovely element composed of a double ring of ovals painted in light pinks. This painting, like many of the works in the exhibition, does not restrict itself to the square format. It is joined as a diptych with a smaller rectangular canvas, a treat for the eye that repeats many of the same hues and forms.

As we move around the gallery visually from left to right, we are guided by two-inch black latex lines the artist painted directly on the wall. These act as a framing device that draws attention to the entire wall and installation.

“First Mistress” and “Second Mistress,” both from 2008, are two small and beautifully painted works in oil on canvas; each depicts an anus. Drennen’s boyish provocation is offset by the seriousness of his delicate painting and palate of pinks, lavenders, roses, greys and umbers. The works are beautiful and call up orifices reminiscent of those in the paintings of Doubting Thomas who, in his disbelief, poked Christ’s wounds.

There are two more text paintings in the space, “Timon of Athens 1″ and “Timon of Athens 2,” both from 2009. They are linked by a dashed black line on the wall. These works also use painted writing as a geometric element and have small additions that sit on top of the main canvas, expanding the composition beyond the normal rectangular format.

CaptionThe clocks in “Chorus T” (left) are set to Stratford-upon-Avon time. On the right is “Timon of Athens 8”.

Credit: Courtesy of Atlanta Contemporary

Credit: Courtesy of Atlanta Contemporary

CaptionThe clocks in “Chorus T” (left) are set to Stratford-upon-Avon time. On the right is “Timon of Athens 8”.

Credit: Courtesy of Atlanta Contemporary

Credit: Courtesy of Atlanta Contemporary

These works are extremely well painted; Drennen’s pictorial language is a symphony of mark making, color and viscosity. They lead to the newest work in the exhibition, “Chorus T,” 2022, composed of clocks and latex paint on the wall in a composition that is 14 feet high by 10 feet wide. This work includes painted circles the same size as the actual clocks that are set to the current time in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, arranged in a big “T” formation in black, red and fluorescent orange.

There are often big Ts on the wall in Drennen’s exhibitions, but this one has a new resonance due to its invocation of time. “Chorus T” has multiple references: it can be read as everything from a crucifix to a citation of Damien Hirst’s dot paintings, or just as a T for Timon. The clocks suggest a connection to Félix González-Torres’s “Untitled (Perfect Lovers),” 1987-1990 in a kind homage.

Drennen taunts the viewer again with his “Four-part Chimney Hole,” 2022, composed from the perspective of looking down into a chimney. Three of the parts are painted directly on the wall in latex paint and the fourth is a sculptural element in acrylic on wood and latex paint and acrylic on the wall, 30 by 30 by 11.25 inches. [The works are placed high on the wall so you cannot get too close.]

Caption“Four-part Chimney Hole” is seen on the right wall in the center of the frame. “Old Athenian & “Double Painter 3” is a combined work (on the floor, and right).

Credit: Courtesy of Atlanta Contemporary

Bad boy artist Craig Drennen takes on Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens”

Credit: Courtesy of Atlanta Contemporary

Caption“Four-part Chimney Hole” is seen on the right wall in the center of the frame. “Old Athenian & “Double Painter 3” is a combined work (on the floor, and right).

Credit: Courtesy of Atlanta Contemporary

Credit: Courtesy of Atlanta Contemporary

The illusion is very playful and directs the spectator directly down to the final chapter of the installation, “Old Athenian,” 2010-22, in ink jet on canvas, placed on the floor besides a large black latex rectangle painted directly on the wall. The top right corner of “Old Athenian” touches this rectangle’s bottom left corner, creating an interesting compositional tension. These works constitute a kind of triptych with “Double Painter 3,” 2013, the only work on paper in the exhibition, framed and hung on the black rectangle. “Double Painter 3″ is composed of a double image of layers of dots and squares superimposed on a large X.

This wonderful exhibition presents visual hoops for the viewer to leap through — games and taunts all tied together by Drennen’s decade-long engagement with Shakespeare’s difficult text. The relationships of form and illusion compel one to keep looking and keep finding more connections both inside and outside the work.

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Craig Drennen: “First Acts”

Through May 15. Drennen will give an artist talk at 6 p.m. March 24. 535 Means St. NW, Atlanta. 404-688-1970, atlantacontemporary.org.


CaptionArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

CaptionArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

MEET OUR PARTNER

ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

If you have any questions about this partnership or others, please contact Senior Manager of Partnerships Nicole Williams at nicole.williams@ajc.com.