Prima MATERIA

May 3, 2017
by
6 mins read

Mixed-media artists are offered a wide path of opportunities in material, texture and proportion—even performance. While roughly the last 15 years have witnessed the ongoing dominance of the “re”’s—reappropriating, repurposing and recycling—at its base level, mixed-media art (and its offspring, multimedia art) encourages artists to use materials both complimentary and incongruent. If the artist is on point (or maybe just lucky), they may create a new hybrid, chimerical form. Others stumble, making art that dilutes their original vision through a miasma of treacly, spangled gimmicks in line with the “Emperor’s New Clothes” school of art. If you don’t understand it, it must be good. So we then have a gallery of sudden fools circling shit art, inspiring more dilettantes to hawk bafflement over substance. Mixed-media is routinely the weapon of choice, as its very egalitarian nature is an open door for creation.

Counter to that hustle is the presence of inventive and strong polymedia ideas. Does the actual paint-splattered easel hold as many possibilities as the canvas it supports? Can paint-and-turpentine-soaked rags be stretched on wooden frames and qualify as art? Is a pyramid of ink cartridges the rival of the colored sheets it helped create? If there is a possible equation of effective—and new—mixed-media art, it is arguably the sum total of mercurial, if not restless, exploration of materials combined with an-almost innate and humble ability to self-edit.

Locally, Mark Creegan is a longtime practitioner of wide-open and strong mixed-media art. Creegan’s work is deceptively direct. With Creegan, there is no conceptual artifice. His ideas, transmitted through a finite set of materials, have been “repurposed” to the point of a now-personalized and recognizable visual-arts language.

But what you see isn’t always what you get. This isn’t due to any chicanery by Creegan, but rather in the sense that he boasts well-honed skills at using, at times, his actual art-based materials, to break down our ideas of visual art, rearranging the building blocks and creating new forms, without toppling his initial purpose or ideas.

“Years ago, when I was in grad school, the artist Carolee Schneemann visited my studio. I was just beginning to use the types of materials and strategies I use today. She said my work was ‘contrarian,’” says Creegan, in describing his artwork. “She meant it in a good way and I see that being part of it but I also shoot for a generous energy, sort of ‘come out and play with me’ attitude and ‘be dazzled with surprise and joy at my wit and brio.’”

A series of Watercolor Sets (2005-’12) are simple yet explanatory of what Creegan can do with minimal, basic media and that same sense of playfulness. The piece Watershed (2005), using tape and used watercolor pans to create a hive-like form, is an example of Creegan’s skill at utilizing art-making materials in lieu of what they are expected to create. The piece somehow implies a painting through the very absence of a painting. Like much of Creegan’s work, Watershed is both playful and thought-provoking, an example of where conceptual art can seem both apparent and subjective. But with Creegan’s work, we’re allowed to not “know.” If we simply see material taped on a wall, we’re not banned from the gallery. The work is engaging, provocative and insightful, a kind of visual art hat trick.

Equally radical are his ’Aintings (’05-’12) series, which use only paint-can drips and labels and tape to create forceful works that explode with color and movement. Like the Watercolor Sets, these pieces ask us to step away from our old ideas of what 2D/3D art truly is, using the very source materials to point us in the direction of what art can be.

Yet locally Creegan is surely best known for his installation pieces. In either solo or group shows, these works run the gamut from the static and mundane—like 2010’s Toothpaste Wallpaper, featuring lines of toothpaste on a bathroom wall—to the implied motion of Download Smurfette, a spire of cassette tapes and Fun-Tak putty on a wood stand and pedestal that seem ready to blast upward.

Locals can check out Creegan’s latest installation at the show opening this week, Altered Objects, at the Main Library’s Makerspace Gallery. The show also features works by Matthew Abercrombie, Crystal Floyd, Mark Krancer, Roosevelt Watson III and Elaine Wheeler. According to show organizer Shawana Brooks, Altered Objects “explores the relationship between artists and nature. How is art specific to those living and creating in Northeast Florida and what affects does it have on those creators?” Creegan offers his appreciation and respect for Brooks and the library’s Makerspace gallery she oversees. “She is doing some really innovative and substantial work there and I feel it’s the closest Jacksonville has gotten to having a real contemporary arts center—which is a different thing than a museum,” says Creegan. “It is the real deal.”

Along with the shared theme of the artists/nature relationship, the pieces use the shared forms of found object art and photography. Creegan’s submission for the show is a kind of culmination of his forays into stand-alone and installation art.

“This new installation is called Retroskeptive and it will be the first time I am using all of my materials in one piece. Usually I make disparate, minimal arrangements in separate series but now I’m ready for them to assemble and interact,” Creegan explains. “So for this show, you’ll see used watercolor sets, used paint rollers, drawings from my Hooks VS CHKS series, sharks’ teeth, ice pops, cassette tape cases, dry-erase boards, bungee cords, rubber bands and maybe [even] cheese balls.”

Many installations are almost anti-legacy, as they’re based on a finite space in a finite time frame, a kind of fixed lifespan. This temporality compels Creegan to explore that form. “This relationship to the transitory nature of my work is what I am exploring with the new installation and hinted at in the title,” says Creegan. “It reminds me of those flowers that bloom only once every 50 years.” Creegan compares looking at images of his work on his site (markcreegan.com) as akin to looking at his high school yearbook. “My identity as an artist is mostly dependent on memories rather than physical objects and that creates a certain anxiety, because that is contrary to what is usually expected in my field.”

Creegan holds both a BA and MFA in studio art, from Jacksonville University and FSU, respectively. Among his myriad accomplishments, he’s been featured in more than two dozen group and solo shows and is the recipient of several awards. Including his time as adjunct teacher, Creegan has been an arts instructor at FSCJ Kent Campus for the past 12 years, teaching courses in drawing, design and art history and, along with fellow artist-instructor Dustin Harewood, for the past five years Creegan has been co-curating crucial art exhibits at the school’s campus gallery. In his current art-making practice, Creegan cites Clark Lunberry and Barbara Colaciello for helping him explore “improvisation” in creating visual art.

While Creegan has already created a formidable body of work, rich with imagery and recurring materials/signifiers, any “meaning” or storyline in his work is seemingly imprinted by the viewer, rather than somehow emblazoned in his fractalized galaxy of paint drips, found papers, hairnets and used paint rollers.

“I often will hear others talk about my work as being a commentary on recycling or the environment because I’m reusing manmade materials. That’s fine, but that’s not in my mind at all nor is any overarching concept,” says Creegan. “If concepts or narratives arise, it happens organically, because all I am doing is playing with things that seem funny or interesting to me. But narratives do happen because the forms and objects interact with each other and create multiple possible interpretations, perceived either by me or others.”

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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