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Perfectly Useless

Rewards are immediate in art for art’s sake


By Cate McQuaid, August 23, 2005

Craig Stockwell has finally embraced the uselessness of art. In his previous two shows at Genovese/Sullivan Gallery, the artist used his paintings to explore bigger themes, such as the death of his father and the roles of relationship and monogamy in a man’s life. He calls his latest exhibit “Perfectly Useless,” which is to say there are no ulterior themes, plots, or examinations at work. The painter has surrendered his intellectual bells and whistles to make art for art’s sake. His work, always lovely, has never been more immediate. 

Abandoning meaning, Stockwell takes us on a free-fall into color and form. He’s an abstract painter, building every work on a skeleton of circles drawn in careful order up and down the canvas. He heavily outlines shapes formed by clusters of circles, and these bump, overlap, and glide along the surface of his paintings and drawings. He shades them, colors them, gives them volume, or leaves them flat. They’re like atoms randomly colliding, sometimes grouping into molecules. 

“What Is Enough? No. 3” takes this simple formula to virtuosic levels. A heavy, undulating black line traces curves along the surface, seeming to trap sweet tones within its bounds. Yet on this canvas, neither color nor form is what you expect it to be. An “S” curve might sneak from one shape into another; a veil of violet or peach that at first appears contained seeps beyond the edges. Beneath pale washes of color, other circles march, some quietly joined by narrow lines. The painting is active, constantly moving and subverting the viewer’s eye, playing tricks of figure and ground. 

Other paintings, not so multilayered, come across more as jigsaw puzzles or games of Chinese checkers. But even working purely on the surface, Stockwell’s paintings convey the vitality of chance, and how great, intricate worlds can unfold from one unexpected joining.