Ann Craven: Twelve Moons
On ViewSCAD Museum Of Art
February 28–August 21, 2023
Ann Craven’s exhibition Twelve Moons, a cycle of lunar paintings created over its phases in 2022, is packed with a chromatic punch. Quickly and decisively painted, each picture is an expedient vignette of the night sky. Craven is driven less to capture a descriptive observation than to record the sensation and feeling of the night sky that evokes its memory. Deftly organized by SCAD Museum of Art’s newly appointed chief curator Daniel Palmer, who recently made his way to Savannah from his former post at NYC’s Public Art Fund, the chronological installation of 77 paintings (all made in 2022) strikes a delicate balance between a feeling of overcrowding and an interdependent collection. Nonetheless, like a jigsaw puzzle, removing even one work would make the whole somehow feel incomplete and lacking.
There are several interesting contradictions within Craven’s process, use of materials, and conceptual choices. While quickly painted, the works demand slow, thoughtful, and patient contemplation. Her compositions vacuum everything into their view—trees and autumn leaves serve as framing devices that direct one’s gaze around and through to the moon, such as in Moon (Midnight February Crescent, NYC) 2022. Their repetitious variation over scale, format, and composition expresses this demand, such as the quartet titled Strawberry Moon (Glamorous Tree, Glowing Water, Cushing), 2022. A careful look at these canvases reveals that the same tree, a repoussoir device leading one’s eye to the moon, is in fact not depicted the same way in any of Craven’s variations.
Working en plein air under moonlight, sometimes with a backpacker’s headlamp, Craven paints less by sight than feel. For this reason, she arranges her palette with a familiar progression of hues like piano keys. The chromatic inventions of cadmium greens in Big Moon (Green Haze Full, Cushing), 2022 give a viewer the sensation rather than description of lunar lowlight. Similarly, in Sturgeon Moon (Crazy 8 Red Clouds, Cushing), 2022 the crimson calligraphic loops surrounding the moon animatedly express the motion of a quickly changing sky. Her desire to capture a sensation recalls Pierre Bonnard’s arbitrary approach to color.
Although installed in a maximalist hanging, Craven’s compositions within each canvas are sparsely arranged, emphasizing their lush and juicy alla prima surfaces. Craven has remarked that the brushstroke, not the moon, is her true subject matter, which is supported by her inclusion of the painting Diptych (Stripes, 12 Moons) whose diagonal narrow bands of color do not seem to follow the exhibition’s theme and point to the conceptual nature of her project. It also suggests the degree to which the remainder of these paintings, each representing a moon phase, can be viewed as abstractions. With a sparkling high gloss sheen, the canvases appear as if they were freshly painted. Her graphic descriptions are at odds with their surface in a way that recalls Alex Katz, for whom Craven once worked, but her lush application of paint and a quicker speed distinguishes her work from Katz’s and more accurately recalls the expressive strokes and descriptions of nature in the work of Lois Dodd.
The moon is Craven’s Mont Sainte-Victoire. (Sometimes, as in Moon (Midnight February Crescent, NYC), 2022 its form advances in front of the branches that frame it, in what could be a homage to Cezanne’s own dismantling of pictorial space). The moon as a grand project also serves as a plein-air diary, an obsessive love affair, and a place for revisitation, return, and recalibration. She has said that she feels guilty when she sees the moon on a night walk and is not painting it. As Roland Barthes describes the Eiffel Tower, Craven cannot escape the moon. It is a constant. Yet for Craven, it also serves as a mirror and a self-portrait. The moon also is a transitional object and container holding the memory of loved ones who have passed.
The exhibition’s title Twelve Moons was inspired by the eponymous collection of poems by Mary Oliver, a poet of the natural world. It is also crucial to clarify that the title refers to twelve cycles of a singular moon, not twelve different moons. However, in her interest in the return, they recall just as much Czech author Milan Kundera who in the novel Ignorance characterizes nostalgia as “the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.” Like Giorgio Morandi’s lifelong project of painting still lifes of bottles, Craven’s canvases of moons evoke a similar desire but ultimate inability to fully grasp an object. In this almost-but-not-quite unattained effort, she lays bare her desire for the unrequited return.