Thursday, December 01, 2016


Realism is a funny thing these days. Most anyone can appreciate an artist that has the rendering chops to produce something photorealistic. However, even though an artist can reach a technical height of making a lifelike image, it doesn’t necessarily mean the work is any good. Technique and skill in realism are just not enough for contemporary art. There have to be strong conceptual ideas that play with past approaches. If an artist just repeats the past without giving the work a new voice, then that voice has little relevance. Realism has a long tradition which artists can mine for ideas or basically copy the past tropes. However, reorganizing the past is David Crismon’s game, and that is his angle on the past works.

Now I am not trashing realism, there are plenty of artists that play in this genre who speak the language of what is going on now. I am railing against people that think nothing after the Impressionists is worth mentioning. Crismon doesn’t fall into the trap of making pure copies of the paintings of past masters, but rather he uses the old images and updates them with the contemporary approach of collage with a hint of cubist style. Crismon’s work reminds me of the photographic series that David Hockney made using several photos compiled together to make a complete image. These images of Crismon could not have existed without the benefit of the whole of art history; all the way to the present.

Breaking an image apart into sections and repeating areas is very much a modern technique, while his rendering reflects something out the the Renaissance, Rococo, Baroque, and through to 19th century painting. Technology also informs Crismon’s work. The way we experience art online, in chunks of information, sometimes half scrolling to see a particular image on a web page. Degrade of a digital file can leave an image partly loaded. The original paintings Crismon draws from have been copied through print media, digital images, and even in paint. His paintings copy these past images and then reflect our broken experiences with them. But does Crismon’s approach to revisiting the past help breathe new life into art historical paintings?

Crismon’s paintings capture your attention and make you pause to examine them more closely. An art historian might get a kick out of seeing works that they have studied. A general audience might need a little context to the work, but I think most museum goers and art collectors would understand that Crismon is resurrecting these works. If you don’t have much knowledge about art history, Crismon does give you clues to find out for yourself through his titles. For example, the work titled Nicolaes Pickenoy 36 is a reference to the painter Nicolaes Pickenoy from the Late 15 to mid 16 hundreds. Many will recognize the ruff around the neck of the man in the painting. It is an old style of clothing only found as contemporary clothes at the Church of Denmark. So, with the extra clues Crismon leaves the viewer, someone can at least look up his titles and get further acquainted with his subjects. And after all, getting people to educate themselves about the past would help to breathe life back into the old work and also connect that work to the present.

David Crismon will have his Dislocated History paintings on display through November 15th at Craighead Green Gallery on Dragon Street in the Dallas Design District.

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