Karsten Creightney dabbles in multiple mediums to jigsaw an imagined patchwork from scraps.
A University of New Mexico assistant professor of printmaking, the Albuquerque native shows his work at Albuquerque’s Richard Levy Gallery.
Creightney cobbles his compositions using snippets from old paintings and prints, old books, magazines and paper to create imaginary landscapes from shards of chaos.
The artist earned his bachelor’s degree at Ohio’s Antioch College before returning to complete the Tamarind Institute’s professional printer training program. He earned his master’s degree at UNM.
Creightney wanted to be a writer before he discovered the joys of piecing together his quilt-like canvases.
“I was good in English,” he said. “I had gotten a scholarship. I think at Antioch I learned to express myself beyond words. That felt more honest to me. I would just lose time doing artwork, whereas writing was always very cerebral.”
His lush work, often bursting with florals, may look decorative, but it is sometimes political.
It all begins with printmaking.
“I’ve always enjoyed drawing,” Creightney said. “But printmaking has this extra level of process and technology stuff I really love.
“The multiple aspect of printmaking takes the preciousness away from what I’m doing,” he continued. “I can experiment with them, paint one over, cut one up. The process allows me to surrender a little control. I like to respond to the material. That’s also why I like collage; I’m working with things that already exist. I try to make it a collaborative thing even if it’s with myself.”
Smashing bits of paper together speaks to the fragmentation of the digital age, he added.
His studio floor is littered with cut-outs, scraps and abandoned pieces of paper.
“I think our reality is really fragmented,” Creightney explained. “Our attention is very scattered. We have access to all kinds of stuff in a very different way than people used to. So many printmakers have this hoarder mentality.
“Even a tiny little scrap with ink on it; I find it beautiful,” he said. “Even if it’s the remnants I cut from another object. I’m just finding ways to use all this stuff.”
At first glance, “Superpredator,” a 2022 work cobbled from lithography, magazines and paint, appears to be a bucolic landscape.
A closer look reveals a tiny golfer hidden within the greenery.
“Sometimes my work has a political edge to it,” Creightney said. “I was reacting to the notion that even the Democrats had this idea of super predators – usually young Brown or Black men. There was this new brand of criminal tied up with gang violence. I thought, ‘Who are the real predators causing pain?’ It’s these men on the golf course who are making more money in their sleep than we do in a lifetime. What’s really happening is much more insidious.”
“Painting Made from Stolen Imagery” is exactly what the title describes, he said. It began when Creightney took a snapshot of a “No Loitering” sign in Chicago.
“It was interesting that the ‘No Loitering’ sign was in both English and Spanish and in different fonts,” he said.
“I started thinking about the debate over immigration. It’s like we want to pick and choose from parts of our history. You could consider the Pilgrims illegal aliens. It’s very one-sided; it’s very hypocritical and it denies history. There’s this juxtaposition with the skulls representing the history and the flowers are the story we tell ourselves.”
Creightney also begins with collage on canvas, often using the old Time-Life books he remembers from growing up.
“I’ll just print patterns or I’ll find images of flora to create imagery and I’ll collage it onto the canvas in a random way,” he said.
“Crazy Selector,” 2022, represents that technique.
“That has no political idea behind it,” Creightney said. “It’s more about responding to form and using these scraps that are left behind. It’s a challenge for me to use something that’s discarded. It’s abstract, but there are still flowers in there. There’s this catharsis that happens from smashing together all these pieces. This new digital era feels like we are smashing together all these pieces.”