Review Me: Craig Wortman: Cogitative and Whimsical
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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Craig Wortman: Cogitative and Whimsical

Interviewer: Review Me

Craig, many thanks for accepting our invitation to talk about your art and artistic views. Now, tell us about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist?

Art has never been a decision for me. It’s simply a way of looking at and questioning everything. When I was young, I think I was fortunate enough to have had my creativity nurtured. This coincided with some natural artistic ability, and the attention and positive reinforcement that came with it. My artwork at that time was almost exclusively representational and heavy toward the development of the technical aspects of art. Adolescence was very much about the ‘what’, and the ‘how’. Then, as a young adult, I found ways to protect it. By college the work and query had shifted heavily into the ‘why’, ‘when’, and ‘where’. The search was for meaning. I knew I had talent, but I was trying to figure out the point. I had tons of naivete, but no patience. So ‘when and where’ were never attainable. I’ve shed all that, and the outright question of ‘who’ is now the only one worth asking for me. And that question delves into everything.

You were always trying to find answers to multiple Wh’s at different times, and perhaps that’s why you now believe that painting is a multidimensional endeavor. Was there ever a moment of doubt to question your art career entirely?

I have questioned life plenty, but I have never questioned ceasing to make art. Being an artist is not a choice, it’s a perspective that’s rooted in leaving your mark. There is a necessity to influence the environment around me. Art is a way, whether there is a career attached to it or not.

In fact, art is to represent the inward significance of things. What is your daily routine when working in your studio?

I practice art. In other words, I paint as it’s unfolding. Whether it’s going good or bad, I’m going with it. What I bring into the studio and what I take out of it form a path. The stained impression in the middle is the painting. There is no distinguishing between daily life and artistic life, other than that the former is continually offering thoughts and experiences as entry points for the latter. From there ideas simply become action. I don’t mean to sound cryptic. I just believe in it wholeheartedly as a gestural search for understanding of processes. Every work is an attempt. Every attempt is an experience. Every experience is an offering. The ‘when’ of a routine is less important to me than just remaining present whenever you are at it.

That’s true. In the art journey, it doesn’t matter when we set off and when we arrive. What matters is the journey itself and when we feel we have to go, and when we realize that it should be over. Now, take us through your process of making your artworks.

Currently, my work has become very much a sculptural process. I’m adding and subtracting on multiple layers of a painting. While giving each of those layers their own depth and dimensions, I’m at the same time allowing each layer to break their individual planes and affect each other simultaneously. I prefer not to work with prefabricated ideas. The most deliberate things that I’m bringing into the space are notions, and I go from there. Your world outside of the studio naturally drafts in as well.

Do all your artworks have some shared meaning and characteristics? I mean, Is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?

My intention is to treat the act of painting in an elemental way. It has a range of properties and I treat it as matter in and of itself, much like sculpture tends to, rather than narrowly as a proponent for an image only. It’s very much paint for paints’ sake in that it’s just as much about the movement and behavior of the materials conceptually as it is about the imagery. Every piece stands alone as a testament to itself. Although, they all spring perpetually from set forth events, prior works, and my unremovable presence.

Craig, most of your artworks are untitled. Would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?

I believe in the adage, “If your work speaks for itself - let it”. Why get in the way of anyone’s take or perception? And if every work of art truly is autobiographical, wouldn’t it stand to reason that every interpretation is autobiographical as well? I’m more than okay with that.

Artists have the power to illuminate the viewer’s mind and soul by transferring their inspirations and motivations. How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?

I’m a voracious book reader, image hunter, and strong advocator of happenstance. There is no shortage of things that interest me. As an artist, I don’t find any benefit to “staying in your lane”. I believe that all fields help to shape one another and there are far too many intriguing subjects and subsets out there to not find stimulation everywhere, both visually and intellectually.

So, like your artworks, you try to think about the various dimensions of life in your mind and are interested in exploring and experiencing different aspects, spaces. and perceptions. How do you select your artworks subjects?

I’m in love with art and impassioned by the act of creation. It’s a distinguisher of our species. I don’t select the artworks’ subject. The artwork is the subject based on the parameters I set each time, just like the movement of a river is the river and based on the terrain, water volume, climate, and other factors.

Some artists aspire to have their artwork, style, and name recognized after years of working. Is there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for?

I find my favorite pieces to be the ones that are visually apparent successes, however, they seem to be impossible to pinpoint an exact reason why. It’s like formations in nature. You never question the look of naturally occurring processes in the universe. It all looks placed exactly right, “flaws” and all. Usually, it’s only when you interject with the influence of mankind that it starts to appear like something is out of sync, at least until nature takes it back over. In the same way, you can so often tell a man-made representation of nature because something inevitably seems off. The irony there being that we ourselves are natural so we will spot the defect. If there were something that I wanted to be remembered for it would have to be any and all success I have at creating a completely natural aesthetic. My influence will be apparent, but without any out-of-place sense.

Great attitude! Now let's ask the artist whose works have attracted a lot of attention from our readers, what other works he has for them in the future. Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?

I have some new materials that I’m starting to use and I’m also playing around with different size pieces that I’m really excited about. I also have a solo exhibition coming up soon.

So we look forward to, Craig. What are your art influences?

There is no shortage of painting gurus in my eyes. Currently, I remain captivated by the works of Takesada Matsutani, Jack Whitten, Steven Parrino, El Anatsui, and Simon Hantai. Every one of them contributed to the reconception and expansion of what painting is. Takesada exposes definitively the elements of time, space, and form in his work. Jack Whitten is a painter’s painter, if you ask me. Parrino gives you an in-your-face jolting reminder that a painting doesn’t just stop at the edges. El Anatsui is considered a sculptor because of his use of bottle tops as a medium, and yet he is still more of a painter than most. Simon Hantai fantastically brings forth the ground from beneath his paintings and I cannot help but see an association between his processes and my own. I have long had a strong admiration for abstract expressionists and action painters. Since discovering them, I have had a preoccupation with the Gutai group in Japan as well. It’s worth mentioning too that the artist who first turned the idea of being an artist on its head for me was Andy Goldsworthy. When I saw his work and his processes, I was obliged to shed the romantic, stereotypical notions of what an artist is and does. Like so many young artists, I had concocted a giant notion of what an artist should be and I think it would have been completely stifling to remain behind it. In my eyes, Goldsworthy’s treatment of art had annihilated any restrictions in terms of the possibility for me.

Let's take a walk and meet the artists of the past era! If you could meet one of your ideal artists from the past, who would it be and what will you ask about?

Ideally, I would want to meet Miles Davis, if only to see him play; or most any of the jazz greats for that matter. To talk to another painter, you’re already talking to somebody you know is in your arena, speaking the same speech and trying the same trials. Talking with a jazz legend to seek out if that improvisational, free-form spirit is synonymous with what I’m attempting as a painter; to embody matter and mobilize it.

As you know, the outbreak of Covid 19 affected many artistic activities, and artists experienced, perceived, and responded to this changing situation differently. How have you been affected by the current lockdown, social distancing and all limitations and cancellations in artistic world?

Prior to the pandemic, I was dividing my time between my art, my family, and a highly respectable gig as a scenic artist. The lockdown took the last thing off the table and it really allowed my art practice to benefit and progress. It wasn’t just the additional time made available to commit to painting. It was also the dismissal of the other creative outlet that normally took the first chair. Creativity, whether it be in fine art or scenic fabrication, still taps the same source. When you flush a lot out of your system for a job, then you’re not allotting the rightful amount of artistic application for your art as opposed to their art. Ever since the world went wonky it has afforded me the opportunity to centralize my creating solely into my practice.

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