Baum Gallery of Fine Art
University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas
January 20 - March 3, 2005
Curated by Barbara Satterfield, Director of the Baum Gallery

The Phantom, 2004, oil on canvas,
48 x 36 inches

 I was a little worried about the premise of this show, idea to image, because for me it usually works the other way around--image to idea. I'm continually ambushed by images that do not come with explanatory notes attached. I usually begin to interpret an image right away--it's human nature to try to figure things out--but it has sometimes been years after the completion of a painting that I finally get the idea. There are times when I have an idea first and try to generate an image from it, but that usually doesn't work for me.

However, it's impossible to completely separate these two terms, idea and image. I'm using them in the modern sense of image as something seen and idea as something thought. But idea comes from the Greek verb idein, to see. And even now we all know that a light bulb over the head represents an idea. We say, "I see!" when we understand something. So this whole image-idea dichotomy may be largely semantic. Especially since the "images" that I say I'm ambushed by are sometimes imaginary, appearing in my head while listening to music or reading. Are those images or ideas?

Ordinarily, though, the images that capture me are things seen at moments when I am not looking for something to paint. It's usually some quite ordinary arrangement of objects or people, something seen while driving, or even, most recently, the cluttered desk right under my nose! Since there's nothing rare and exotic about a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom or a box on the kitchen counter, and since I've seen these things countless times already without being inspired by them--it must be the subject, I, and not the objects that have changed! Maybe I'm not quite the same person I was the last time I looked at them. Maybe art is the attempt, however futile, to snatch these rare bits of oneself out of the rush of time. Previously I was familiar with the image but not conscious of it. Is it in that moment of the ambush that an image becomes an idea?

These moments are fleeting and unstable for me. If I don't do a sketch immediately, it's gone. There has to be something tangible to pin it down. So is the image capturing me or am I capturing it? Maybe both. In his book, Stealing the Mona Lisa, Darien Leader considers two statements: "An image is a human-capturing device," and "A human being is an image-capturing device." He debates which statement is correct, but to me they are two sides of the same coin. In art as in love, we want to capture that which captured us. But just as the one we fall in love with is never whom we think, so the work of art is never that image that first grabbed us. Instead we create something quite different. The work of art is that passionate failure to capture a momentary image. It's literally an attempt to stop time. So the goal is always an illusive phantom, obscured by flights of birds, vanished into the sea. The art object is the never the attainment of the goal but a substitute for it, a mute witness to the struggle.

You should have realized by now that I haven't told you anything about the paintings in this show. I've avoided the issue because I think it's better for artists to keep their mouths shut about their own stuff, mainly because we don't know any more about it than you do. If we mouth off about what we do know, or think we know, it can mess up whatever personal associations to the work you might have discovered on your own. If the creative process is mostly unconscious--image first, idea later--why shouldn't it be the same with you, the viewer? It's always you, not the artist, who are the final authority on the work.

Warren Criswell

White Noise, 2004, oil on canvas,
48 x 42 inches

Washed Up, oil on linen,
47 x 34 inches

Olive Oil, 2004, acrylic & oil on linen, 24 x 32 inches
Warren & Tizzy in the Studio

The exhibition also includes works by George Chambers, Nancy Dunaway, Cathi Siri Nugent, Dominique Simmons, AJ Smith and Michael Warrick.

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