Examining the Burdens of Grief, Boundaries of Identity
Craig Stockwell: New Paintings and Drawings
By Cate McQuaid, June 28, 2002
Craig Stockwell heard that his father was terminally ill, and rapidly dying, last September 11. There’s no real structure built in the human psyche to immediately bear the weight of the grief and confusion that dropped on Stockwell, and all Americans, on that day. So the painter turned to a structure of his own devising and poured his feelings into that, via paint, charcoal, and wax.
The structure was simple: a grid made up of circles. He did not pin them to the corners but let them float unanchored, diagonally across the picture plane. Stockwell’s show at the Genovese/Sullivan Gallery includes four bodies of work stemming from the news of September 11. There’s a suite of drawings made on that day; drawings and a painting titled “Father/Son”; works made at the time of his father’s death, “December, 2001”; and a series entitled “My Father’s Body.”
Grief is an odd thing: dour, stubborn, dark, but occasionally touched with joy. There’s no lack of the last in these works. Stockwell starts each work with his grid, then smears wax or washes oil paint over it. He tops it off by outlining some of the circles’ edges to create forms that look like puffy clouds. The paintings impress. With his washes of color, Stockwell creates an atmosphere that feels as if it’s both surface and background, setting the viewer in a pleasant tension between the two. He crisscrosses the paintings about his father with bars of color; in “Father/Son” they create a sense of lemony sunlight pouring through railings and reflecting on water.
The cloudlike forms hover over that interplay of dark and light; a smeared green one must represent his father, and a crisp blue one suggests the son. Many of the works feature two such forms, seeming here to dance, there to struggle with each other. But in “My Father’s Body” we see just one figure, boldly outlined in gold, taking on the shape of a snow angel. The ground here, a piquant blue, gives way to a luminous, pearly light within the gold lines. In one moment, Stockwell gives form to and sets free who his father was to him.
Works made since “My Father’s Body” feel buoyant. Stockwell rids himself of the crossbars; the skeletal outlines of his grid vanish under coats of thicker paint; he fills in some of his forms with flat color. All of his works address issues of abstraction: the figure’s relationship to the ground, the tension between depth and surface. Even without knowing the story behind their expression, it’s clear these paintings do their work. If you know the story, however, they do even more work: They help bear the burden of grief and help clear the way past it.