When it works, art cuts through the noise of our lives to orchestrate a sense of wonder.
Albuquerque native Karsten Creightney mines that magic in “Paper Visions,” a solo show of work combining paper, printmaking, photographs, collage and painting at 516 Arts.
Creightney dabbles in multiple mediums to jigsaw imagery from scraps – snippets from old paintings and prints, books, magazines and paper. Eventually, imagined landscapes emerge from sliced shards of chaos.
Born and raised here, the artist earned his bachelor’s degree at Ohio’s Antioch College, then returned to complete Tamarind Institute’s professional printer training program. He earned his master’s degree in painting at the University of New Mexico.
Creightney says he originally wanted to become a writer before he discovered the joys of piecing together his quilt-like canvasses.
“I just fell in love with the process,” he said. “I fell in love with the materials I use. I disappear into that space.”
Constantly scavenging for materials, he hunts down books and magazines to slice and paste into hybrids of painting, photography and collage.
516 Executive Director Suzanne Sbarge has known the artist for 20 years.
“I see him as somebody who’s underrecognized,” she said. “He’s very accomplished and a very deep and varied artist.”
To see Creightney work is to confront layers – both literally and figuratively, she said.
“There’s a layered process of collage and painting,” Sbarge said. “The meanings are also very layered. They may look decorative, but they’re also about politics, they’re also about art history.”
Printmaking is his launchpad.
“It starts with me pasting paper on different surfaces,” he said. “I’m never satisfied with one thing. For me, the joy is smashing these opposing traditions together to see how they might mix. It’s like a puzzle for me. Eventually, it sort of congeals.”
“Roadside Gambler” is a linocut that germinated when Creightney was teaching printmaking at Santa Fe’s Institute for American Indian Arts. The three-color print of a man throwing dice along a stretch of road emerged from a rough sketch.
“People ask me, is that a self-portrait?” Creightney said. “I think of it as a state of being and not so much me. I tend to depict figures who are doing something. We’re all risk-takers. There’s these moments in life where we have to make a choice. I’m interested in moments where the future is uncertain. You’re rolling the dice and seeing where it lands.”
“December Flower” celebrates the beauty of the environment. A central blossom blooms before a collaged background.
“I think of that like a still life,” Creightney said. ” It’s almost like the flower is a figure on the stage with a backdrop.”
The artist finishes the resulting dream-like tableaus with a thin coating of wax.
“I like to unify the surface,” he said. “I don’t want it to be like you can pick it up with your fingernail and pull it off. You can see the Frankenstein stitches, but you can’t feel them.”
In “Fourth of July Picnic,” Creightney delves into political protest, a rare subject for him. While the picnic table setting appears bucolic, the background reveals a more disturbing theme in photographs of the 2015 Charleston, S.C., police shooting of the unarmed African-American Walter Scott. A passer-by took video of a police officer shooting Scott in the back. The officer was indicted for murder, and the case ended in a mistrial.
“I just had to do it,” Creightney said. “The nature of that killing was so infuriating. I’m just processing it all. It was the idea of linking that event to the celebration of our history. I’m not the person who’s going to be out in the street with a sign.”