Kenwyn Crichlow's latest exhibition, Rapture: Optimism and Transformation, opens tomorrow at 7 pm at Y Art and Framing Gallery. Crichlow is a senior lecturer in visual arts at UWI, whose work has been displayed both regionally and internationally. For the artist, his new works represent a praise song to feelings of joy and hope.
"Rapture is really a promise," Crichlow says. "It is something we aspire towards. This body of work is aspirational. Our society is so cynical and there is so much mistrust. I thought I needed to focus on something hopeful." Crichlow's paintings are also the result of a personal, psychological process in which he poses a number of questions to himself–questions which demand that he journey across time to consider humankind's early and still persistent impulses to create images.
"The business about making art is that every time you make a painting you start from scratch and you have to go back to the earliest paintings– from the time people started making images. Once you create anything you have to go back to that zero moment. You go back to reasons why people make art and you ask: Why am I doing this thing, with this material, in this way?" In his interaction with a blank canvas, he experiences a kind of rapture, which can be understood as a type of transport as his thoughts travel to the many moments in time when artworks have been made; when various image-makers have taken empty surfaces and transfigured them. Crichlow asks himself: What am I to make of the blank canvas? He responds by approaching the canvas with hope, with expectancy and optimism, and attempts to transform nothing into something.
Crichlow's new "somethings" are based heavily on his attention to the language of colour and the capacity of colour to communicate ideas of hope and opportunity. He continues a line of thinking from his 2008 show, Hope, but he aims to be more direct with this exhibition."In 2008, the paintings were touching on several different things. This exhibition focuses more clearly, I hope, on a body of ideas through my restricted use of colours."The paintings in this exhibition have all been created with blue as a foundation colour. Crichlow then moves from blue to address colour contrasts and harmonies to give different canvas spaces of possibility, spaces he invites us to enter. "Blue for us means hope. When we see blue skies we say today is a day to do something.
"The other side of blue is black. Outer space appears black. The blue is the space we inhabit."I start the paintings with variations of blue as a base like in music. Blue becomes a chord. From blue I can go to the contrasting colour of orange, then I can increase the vibrations with red."In music it would be like soaring through to a crescendo. From blue I might go to green and then take the intensity of green up by moving to yellow. The process is built very much on extemporising–making up, without making do," he says."A square canvas is one of the most difficult formats to compose," he explains.
Crichlow attempts to transform the square canvas such that the space opens up and the vision does not feel boxed in."Paintings like At the Edge of a Third Dimension give a sense of deep space. We feel like we must push past hanging fronds of blue to get to glows of orange in the distance."In Quiet Storm, Crichlow plays with the margins of the canvas. He teases our visual perception with a centrifugal force established by way of strategically positioned curvilinear gestures of a whirlwind or spiral so that the square space is transformed into a more circular one.With this art-making process characterised by both improvisation and deliberate efforts, Crichlow's signature use of dots of paint remains evident. His flecks of colour give vitality to the concept of hope, as clusters of dots seem to vibrate on the canvas. Each dot is different, has a unique personality, and the artist is always in search of the dot that will be the concluding mark that resolves his painted compositions."With each dot you feel that is the touch that will breathe the life into the work. As I work I am always considering which dot is going to bring the piece to life; which one is going to say: not another mark," says Crichlow.
His paintings may be seen as nonrepresentational or abstract renderings of concepts such as hope and optimism, which are themselves abstract.Yet Crichlow insists, "The work is not abstract. It is based on real experiences that I have had, experiences that I hope we all have had. We all wake up and experience the sun coming out of clouds. The work asks us to reflect on our own experiences."