Sunday, August 2, 2009

Craig Prehn

Cowboy, 16 x 23in, pen on paper
Craig Prehn

from Mobile Homes
Craig Prehn

I've been back in New York City now for nearly three weeks, still trying to settle into my life here and to reinvent things just a little. I turned thirty-six two days before Cancers turn into Leos, and have been contemplating the relentless sensitivity and melancholy that makes us what we are: open-hearted or broken-hearted brooders, for better or worse. I almost believe it since I know one when I see one.

I am also making efforts towards putting a twenty-year addiction to cigarettes behind me, which means I am clutching my coffee cup in the morning, sweating, crying, staring into space trying to focus my thoughts, sucking nicotine lozenges, chewing toothpicks, and furtively bumming/buying smokes from strangers on the street when I can't hang in there all the way. Asking everyone I know who might have some wisdom and experience how anyone does this, and some make it sound too easy and some make it sound too hard, but all advice is welcome.

My old friend from Chicago, Craig Prehn, who has succeeded in this area, was visiting this week from his current base in San Francisco. Our earliest memories together consist of printing in the darkroom at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and cooking bbq and fries in the cramped kitchen of Smoke Daddy's on Division Street in the mid-90s. Our art lives have arrived at many junctures, including a photography exhibition at the Butcher Shop Gallery in the summer of 2000, A Great Midwestern at Heaven Gallery, and Best Midwestern at Jen Bekman Gallery in the summer of 2004, also including work by Peter Haakon Thompson, Alec Soth, Justin Newhall, Deborah Stratman and Susan Boecher. In fact, Craig and Pete took me out for sushi for my thirty-first birthday after we installed that show while I was still living in Minnesota and making trips to New York a half a decade ago.

Craig's "Cowboy" drawing above will be available in Daniel Cooney's next Emerging Artists Auction, and you can find a lot more cool work on his website: Craig Prehn. Besides his recent series of drawings, An American Western, which reference photographic snapshots and depict the sense of independence, severity and stark beauty of the American West; I am also a fan of his Mobile Homes. These simple snapshots of the exteriors of these colorful vehicles bring to mind the everyday Americana that seduced Photo-Realist painters in the 1970s - some of the only artwork I love as much as I love photography.

On that note, there are some fascinating observations about the art-historical context of the Photo-Realists and their influence on photographers in an essay called "Keeping It Real: Photorealism" by Philip Gefter in the recently released collection of his critical writings, Photography After Frank.

It is worth noting that Stephen Shore and William Eggleston, pioneers of color photography in the early 1970s, borrowed, consciously or not, from the Photo-Realists. Their photographic interpretation of the American vernacular - gas stations, diners, parking lots - is foretold in Photo-Realist paintings that preceded their pictures. (page 42)

"Not only do these artists have great technical skill, but they are the great depicters of pure Americana," says Barrett White, a former contemporary specialist at Christie's who is now the director of the New York branch of Haunch of Venison gallery. "This is not a gimmicky art but in fact a very important movement. It is the conclusion of Pop art in the same way that Color-Field painting is the conclusion of Abstract Expressionism." (pages 42-43)

If I were to win the lottery and to become an art collector, besides adding more work by artist friends to what I have traded with them over the years, I could imagine myself living with Photo-Realist paintings and not much else, except maybe some books and sunlight and a sexy hairless sphinx like the one I just cat-sat in Cobble Hill. It's a nice fantasy, in any case.

In the meantime, I am happy to report that I scraped up just enough funds through some much-needed labor last week and can finally take my film from my trip to Texas to the lab for processing tomorrow, so please keep your fingers crossed for me on all fronts.

The Butcher Shop exhibition postcard, 2000: Ian Adams, Aaron Brewer, Liza Queen, David Smith, Craig Prehn, Dara Greenwald, Tema Stauffer, Katherine Syroboyarsky, Sheila Manson, Suzy Poling, Tom Colley, Joeff Davis

Craig Prehn
Brooklyn, NY
August 2009

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