A few questions with Craig Drennen

Muriel Vega talks with Craig Drennen about curating a new exhibition at SALTWORKS


  • Image courtesy of the Artist and SALTWORKS
  • “Lawn Chair” by Eleanor Aldrich

On April 26, Saltworks Gallery will open a group exhibition in the Westside’s White Provisions Building. Curated by Craig Drennen, Staring at the Sun brings together four emerging artists, Jane Fox Hipple, Eleanor Aldrich, Lauren Silva and Bonnie Maygarden and their different views on abstraction - all showing in Atlanta for the first time. Currently teaching at the Welch School of Art & Design at Georgia State University, Drennen has shown his work around the country and abroad. His work has found homes in permanent collections, including the High Museum of Atlanta. Coming on the heels of his own solo exhibition at Saltworks, Drennen talks to CL about visiting artists’ studios, curating this exhibition and staring at the sun.

Tell me about your experience curating this show and the inspiration behind the TV on The Radio song, Staring at the Sun.
Craig Drennen: I’m an artist first, so I don’t constantly curate. But when I do, it stems from ideas that come out of the studio. I curated an exhibition called Canon Fodder at the University of North Dakota last fall. And a few years back I curated an exhibition called Semiconductors at a gallery in Los Angeles. For this exhibition I’d been looking at a lot of young abstract painters and thinking about how abstract painting was under the care of a new generation of artists. I’d been talking about this casually with Brian and Christina, the directors at Saltworks, and they thought it would be useful to organize these ideas into an exhibition. The song title was just a pleasant coincidence that fit in with the exhibition title.

? ? ?
There seems to be an overall abstract theme around the show. How did you balance your own artistic style with all four artists featured in Staring at the Sun?
CD: This show is all about the four participating artists: Jane Fox Hipple, Eleanor Aldrich, Lauren Silva, and Bonnie Maygarden. I’m very interested in abstraction, and how each of these artists situate their practice into that tradition. I was very interested in how these four painters’ work would play off each other, and activate the gallery space. Three of the artists live in the south, which also seemed relevant. Jane lives in Alabama, Eleanor lives in Tennessee, while Bonnie is in New Orleans. Lauren is the oddball by sticking it out in New York City.


  • Image courtesy of the Artist and SALTWORKS
  • “Gleam” by Lauren Silva

They all seem have a different take on abstraction, through different materials. How does this relate back to the overall theme of the show?
CD: I approached the exhibition in a very direct way. Self-conscious abstraction is a peculiar tradition. Even in the early days of the 20th-century abstract artists were aggressively reducing their work down to fewer and fewer components. And if you take that reductive mindset you can quickly imagine reducing an artwork down to nothing, and plenty of artists have done that. So abstraction always seemed to have this built in conveyor belt pulling artists toward nothingness. Then - and stay with me now - when people look up at the sun, they can feel warmth and see great visual spectacles at least twice a day during sunrise and sunset. But that very same sun will one day expand to the point where it destroys the earth and all memory of the earth. So I was making an analogy between these two conditions. When you look at the sun do you feel the creative power of energy and warmth, or do you see the thing that is going to erase you? When artists work within abstraction, do they feel the generative possibilities of the discipline or simply feel the pull toward disappearance. That’s what I like about these four artists, they’ve all found ways to be newly creative within the language of abstraction - without letting the ideological conveyor belt take them completely toward immateriality.

Tell me about working with the artists and the creative process over choosing the pieces.
CD: Well I visit a lot of artists’ studios. In fact it’s very important to me to visit other artists’ studios and I’m glad to see a studio visit culture growing here in Atlanta. I frequently do visiting artist trips to university art programs and I take part in artist residencies when I can. One of the greatest jobs of my life was when I was dean at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, where I got to meet hundreds of artists. And make trips to other cities to see as much work as I can. So as I’m visiting studios and exhibitions in all of these situations, an artist’s work will stick with me. Then I’ll start to mentally organize the artists into categories, and so on. From that, an exhibition idea will emerge. I first saw Jane Fox Hipple’s first two solo shows at Dodge Gallery in NYC. I saw Eleanor Aldrich and Lauren Silva when they were participants at Skowhegan and we’ve stayed in touch since then. In fact, I included Eleanor in the “Canon Fodder” exhibition last fall as well. I met Bonnie Maygarden when I was a visiting artist at Tulane last year, where she was finishing school.

You currently also have an exhibition at Stanley Beaman & Sears gallery, Characters as well.
CD: Oh Muriel, the life of the artist means always working on multiple projects simultaneously. I have a solo exhibition that just opened at Florida Mining in Jacksonville, FL then worked with SBS to get that show up and installed while also prepping for Staring At The Sun. And I have a solo show opening at Samsøn gallery in Boston in October that I’m working toward as well. That’s just the normal art life.

Curated by Craig Drennen, Staring at The Sun, a group exhibition featuring Jane Fox Hipple, Eleanor Aldrich, Lauren Silva, and Bonnie Maygarden, runs from April 26-June 14 at SALTWORKS gallery. More details at the gallery.