Abstract painter Craig Stockwell knows that his form of communication can seem chilly to some viewers and strives for the human touch to sing out in his work. His show “Love Songs,” which closes Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Gravity Gallery in North Adams, is his effort to take the work out of the intellectual realm and present it more as if he is writing “a caring song.”
Stockwell, who lives in Keene, N.H., has always worked in abstraction, but a recent residency saw him studying and copying abstract masters like Paul Klee and grappling for a new direction.
“I was doing it on the side because my work at the time was much bigger and more gestural,” he said. “That wasn’t really a path I was interested in, but they stuck. I kept going back to them. A lot of it is this formalist abstraction using language like those little dots and dashes and it seems to be so cold. And I was never particularly interested in it. But I love making them.”
A crucial part of these recent paintings is the immediacy he gives them through his process. Stockwell says he doesn’t edit or change them once he’s done, they’re all part of a journey he takes. And he doesn’t use guidance like tape on the canvas, which is standard in most abstract painting. He wants his work to have the human touch.
Central to their presentation is his use of fluorescent acrylics, which he experimented with at the recommendation of an oil painter friend who had started to switch over to that medium. As Stockwell worked with the acrylics, he found a way to use them in unison with his oils to a greater effect.
“I really want us to isolate the intensity of the acrylic, so I purposely backed down all the oil colors into more sort of a grade,” he said. “But again the problem with abstraction of this kind is that it can become very decorative and I mean decoration is obviously part of the problem you’re working on, but it can also become pretty impassive, so you can stick something in that’s a little bit more rude, and I think the acrylic paints a little rude.”
He loves that rudeness that comes from the fluorescent colors that he views as not entirely behaving like the nice oils he lays on the same canvas.”The fluorescent paint is a little distasteful,” Stockwell said, “a little bit by little bit rawer than the kind of nice colors.”
Stockwell creates rounded shapes from the acrylics that feel more contemporary to him, with the rounded corners of an iPhone instead of the older language of abstracts that he had been diving into. These figures become repetitive through the body of work, seeming a little like circuitry at times, or even code of some form. Digital color has an effect on the physical pigments he uses.
“I’m fascinated by how things look on the computer, and the fact that my primary mode of having viewers these days is Instagram and Facebook and the website,” said Stockwell. “I’m very aware of that sort of luminosity that you get on a screen. All the paintings, they start with the very brightest colors and then part of the problem is to keep those bright colors really isolated so that they have a really strong voice and move into the glaze. Not just give this supporting structure, but to really let those initial colors pop.”
Stockwell said that one of the big appeals of abstract painting for him is that it involves craftsmanship but without attempting to replicate something else. It’s got the processes of building, but the result is more of a meditative journey that doesn’t offer him a view of the end. It’s a process where the process itself is as important as the endpoint, but you never know what awaits you until you get there.
“You’re really entering into something unfolding,” Stockwell said. “I’m very aware when I’m working away in the studio that obviously these are difficult times, but I feel like this is my repair work, that this is something that I can not control but I can be involved with and I can do it in a careful, thoughtful way. And that just seems so hard to do right now in the world.”
Originally published at www.berkshireeagle.com.