folio arts

Always Meta, Always Poetry

Artist Mark Creegan unveils new works

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Mark Creegan is sitting in his studio, carefully covering the top of a Styrofoam cooler with wide masking tape. It’s a slow, semi-hypnotic process as he lines up the edges and gently pats the tape down. This sedate action is accompanied by the stuttered rrrrr-ripping protest sound the tape makes as it is unpeeled. It is an apt metaphor for the artist’s own practice, which is rife with contradictions and incongruity.

Creegan was probably one of the first Jacksonville artists to make provisional paintings: art made from everyday objects like drills, rolled magazines, children’s watercolor sets and sharks’ teeth. The things he made have always been meta, always poetically absurd and almost always brightly colored–unless they’re translucent and attached to the ceiling.

His upcoming show, Mysterium: Synthesis of the Opposites, pairs Creegan with J. Adam McGalliard.

“No curator except Dustin Harewood would put us together,” Creegan told Folio Weekly. The joke there is snugged deeply within the methods and materials of the two men: McGalliard is an atelier-trained realist painter who takes weeks–even months–on projects, while Creegan is the kind of artist who gets distracted and then obsessed by hair nets. Perhaps ‘obsessed’ is too strong a word, but the gist is that these two artists are working at opposite ends of the ideological and material spectrum. (For more about McGalliard, check out our Jan. 9 interview with him.)

That said, they’re not wholly disparate. At first glance, it’s apparent there’s the sympathy between their use of color: vibrating pops of lusciousness that communicate a kind of hopeful, contemporary optimism. Seeing color used like this underscores a commitment to formalism on the part of both artists, even as they approach it from different angles. Then there’s the fact that both artists are brave: They’re working in almost diametrical opposition to contemporary trends.

Creegan has several bodies of work going at once, including his comb paintings, installations and performances, not to mention the series he calls “Dopey Formalism.” It’s this moniker that possibly best describes his thinking, because he’s not interested–at least not in the traditional sense–in the success of a work, even as he engages with its compositional, material and symbolic parts. We talked about his oeuvre in relation to making so-called “unskilled” or “lesser-refined” things but, he noted, “To a large degree, we [artists] do know what we’re doing, but at the same time, we don’t need to lean too heavily into it.”

Conversations with Creegan are about getting close to something without revealing the whole. This skittering, sideways approach is what continues to push his ideas forward. Though he works with a plan, he’s always open to shifting things at the last moment. This is evidenced by a table covered in brightly colored plastic spheres and children’s markers. “The impetus to use children’s markers was me trying to think about how to respond to Adam’s work.”

He continued, explaining, “Here’s the challenge and [McGalliard] is down with it to a certain degree: It’s not going to be a show where here’s Artist A, here’s Artist B, here’s Artist C. I mean, there will be some of that–especially Adam’s new piece–but some of his work will be on top of, and interacting with, my work. My idea was to cover the space in color, and [these spheres] are my solution.”

Originally Creegan planned to divide the space with colored sheets of plastic, but as he worked with it, he began gathering them into balls of color, which he then punctuated with the markers. “I always had this idea of making a sculpture where markers are poking out, and the tops will be off, and therefore potentially ‘dangerous’,” he said with a laugh.

Thinking about the non-objective cant of his projects, and the manner in which they seem to intersect with artists like Mary Heilmann, Creegan said, “I work with everyday materials and people say, ‘You should use ‘that’ material and when you back away, you can see a face’ […] It’s great, other people do it and I am amazed when I see it. But for me, there’s a challenge to make something that I have never seen, that seems silly and absurd but smart, funny and ridiculous, like attaching combs to a painting. I would just rather work in that mode and let things appear.”

Recently, the artist participated in a group show at LABspace in Hillsdale, New York. He also completed a mural during Art Basel, and over the course of 2018, he revisited his own catalogue in public posts on Facebook.

“It helped me to get ahold of what I’m doing by looking at what I’ve done,” he said. But the posts also sparked lively conversation and comments, in effect becoming something of a classroom, albeit one deeply informed by playfulness. Most recently, in January, he released Comb Rainbow, songs by Mark Creegan. Writer Dan Brown noted, “Creegan’s songs, which swing from a kind of mellow joy to full-on sentimentality and somberness finds him akin to Lou Barlow or Jonathan Richman.” Folio Weekly highly recommends the track titled, “I’m a Woo Woo Guy.”

Of his varied successful (and occasionally not-so-successful) gambles, Creegan quietly said, “I am willing to accept the challenge and accept the risk.”

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