The Monogamy Project
Drury Gallery at Marlboro College
By Bret Chenkins, April/May 2004
Marriage and painting are often ridiculed for being devoid of zest. Craig Stockwell examines both constructs in this show of paintings and drawings stemming from a group of work aptly titled “The Monogamy Project,” exhibited most recently at Genovese/Sullivan in Boston. In confronting what would normally be considered hindrances to creativity in sex and in art, Stockwell admitted, “It has been my surprise to discover that these limitations have served to liberate inquiry rather than bind it.” In this case, medium, style, and theme are restricted. Conjugal fidelity is exercised through a dogged meditation on a single curious shape, which resembles an arabesque segment. This sinuous musing emerges under various guises in each charcoal drawing and painting as an abstract entity of layered colors and lines, both solid and faint. The danger is that such exploration can be deemed innocuous or pat. Stockwell proves its visual fecundity. By revealing preparatory grids (in pencil) and overlapping form upon form, the process becomes as exciting as the idea of the finished work.
The only officially titled painting, “Is a Woman,” is the most visually forceful. At 6' by 4', it depicts innate female sexuality. Hovering over a low horizon of sea-green wash, a gigantic crimson space flower-shaped like a garlic bulb – swings across a peach surface. Stockwell renders the illusion of motion through a series of charcoal and turquoise tracings, tortuous and repetitious, which cover and constitute the larger red field. The smaller bulbs collectively embody testicles, uteri, buttocks, a phallus, and a vagina. The elongated shape Stockwell incorporates in each piece could just as well be plans for maternal cathedrals or Hindu temples. But they are also just shapes, just lines, basic color interacting at different times, like the animals drawn one over the next in Lascaux for centuries. The tight composition and technique make the smaller paintings more successful. Three medium-size pieces (2 square feet each), lined up in a row, follow a similar pattern in which solid pastel barbells – one each in green, lilac, and blue – communicate with an alter-ego barbell composed of squiggles. That he writes the date in pencil on the canvas and leaves drippings, stains, and sloppy areas while carefully drawing the bulbs on a structured framework of painted vertical or horizontal lines indicates a concerted effort to completely understand the mystery of painting.