Excerpt from ARTBEAT, the online edition
'Monkey Business' on display

This article was published November 24, 2013 at 3:27 a.m.

Warren Criswell's monotype "Roadkill" hangs in a room at Cantrell Gallery dedicated to his work


 ... When entering the next room in the gallery, be prepared to confront the dark world of the talented and obsessive Warren Criswell. A leering portrait of the artist emblazoned on a Chinese scroll looms in the foreground, alerting viewers that something very different lies ahead.

Criswell's imagery is always surreal and frequently unsettling. A recent canvas, Eldorado, features Criswell riding a strange ostrich-stork hybrid down a road as his doppelganger gestures toward a massive moon that fills the sky. Broken pieces of a highway overpass lend an apocalyptic feel to the work.

In another work, Criswell follows an elusive nude woman, painted in multiple ghostly outlines that simulate motion. The motif is repeated by Criswell in different mediums; the artist moves between painting, printmaking and sculpture with ease. There are a number of monoprints, including the creepy Taping Jasmine, in which a man records the gyrations of a nightclub stripper on a camcorder. The image is technically superb, similar in style to the 20th-century burlesque show prints of urban realist Reginald Marsh.

In Go Ask Alice, Criswell paints himself standing in front of a gigantic female nude lying by a river. The painting refers to Alice in Wonderland and the '60s rock band Jefferson Airplane's ode to psychedelia, "White Rabbit": "One pill makes you larger/And one pill makes you small/And the ones that mother gives you don't do anything at all/Go ask Alice, when she's 10 feet tall."

One of several landscapes in the room is a darkly beautiful watercolor, Conjunction, in which car headlights illuminate a ribbon of road stretching beneath a starry sky. There are several strong still life paintings here, composed of random objects like toilet paper rolls, stacks of books and wads of paper, and a there are number of sculptural works as well. This ongoing exhibit shows that Criswell is a restless creator, exploring different mediums and constantly looking for new ways to express his dark visions and wicked sense of humor.

 "Bill Lewis - Retrospective - 1932-2012," through Dec. 24; Warren Criswell, ongoing; Cantrell Gallery, 8206 Cantrell Road, Little Rock. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Information: (501) 224-1335, cantrellgallery.com.


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