Several brawls are now in progress as you read this — a biomorphic choreography of human outrage and agitation and the chaos it inspires. It’s the subject of artist Steve DiGiovanni’s paintings presently sharing space with the new work of artist Megan Craig at Audubon Street’s Silk Road Art Gallery.
“Insight,” the exhibit’s title, is also what the two artists shared with a room full of gallery attendees as they explained their inspiration and processes, and the relationship of the two bodies of work that, though visually disparate, have much in common.
DiGiovanni, an instructor at Norwalk Community College and Creative Arts Workshop who describes himself as a figurative painter, noted the pleasure of painting and the cathartic aspects he believes are common experiences of both artists.
Megan Craig, an associate professor of philosophy and art at Stony Brook University, is an international exhibitor with a strong footprint in New Haven, including a series of performances and installations with dancer, choreographer, and teacher Rachel Bernsen.
Craig said she appreciated DiGiovanni’s comments and elaborated on how the works relate. “I think we are both very painterly painters — that is, painters concerned with the materiality of paint, color, composition, rhythm, dynamism,” she said. “Our work looks very different, but in a way, this show explores the terrific breadth of painting and what paint can do.”
Silk Road Gallery director Dan Li also offered comments on the connections between the artists. “Both have strong visions about what they want to communicate with their art and the two are presenting very different ideas,” he said. “I have come to think of them in terms of musical styles they represent; Steven gives us rock ‘n’ roll while Megan gives us jazz. Both are stylish and energetic, but give very different feelings about where they want to take you.”
Many works in DiGiovanni’s painting series do conjure the energy of rock and the more aggressive genres of music that have inspired moshing and slam dancing. In his “Drum Series,” helmeted riot police flail batons; a chaotic fervor emerges amid cymbals and glistening drum sets.
The imagery that inspired his paintings is sourced in the civil unrest of Egypt, Greece, and other nations, but DiGiovanni’s intent is grounded in aesthetic considerations as well. “It may be a bit of an obvious cliche — ‘the drums of war’ — but what really interests me,” he stated, “is the rhythmical dynamics of it all. There’s something about the ovoid forms and organic movement of the figures,” he said.
Perhaps more familiar to the public are the high-profile images of violent outbreaks that have occurred in Ukraine’s Parliament, images a step removed in the collages DiGiovanni fashions from photos as a basis for his paintings. DiGiovanni uses a combination of grid and free-hand drawing in mapping out his dynamic paintings of clenched fists and angry faces, compositions he described as “tidal waves spilling out of the space.”
DiGiovanni said he happened upon the inspirational images after Googling the word brawl when he was feeling down and looking to “incite energy in my soul.” He found the images of devolved statesmanship and rancor humorous, especially from his vantage created by time and distance. Artistic influences in this exhibit series of oils have included “the choreography of Willem De Kooning’s paintings and the politically charged compositions of Honore Daumier and George Grosz,” according to the artist.
Megan Craig’s color-saturated paintings are both fluid and structural, unconcerned with the explicit visual representation of the subjects that inspire her. “I typically pursue painting like a research project, gathering ideas, bits of language, images, and colors that coalesce into an exploration of a specific theme,” she said. “Most of the paintings at Silk Road have to do with thinking I’m doing about ancient shields, the process or activity of trying to protect oneself, and the implications of being a vulnerable, fleshy body.”
Craig’s works include oil paintings, gouache, and acrylic paintings on paper (above) and a small video installation of drawings upon which much of the work is based. Craig said that a trip to Yale University Art Gallery was the catalyst for this series, based on both human and equine armor, shields, and weaponry representing different cultural traditions.
In her studio practice, Craig processes ideas through drawing and painting, allowing the works to develop and lead her in unexpected directions. Craig said she is “concerned with making a painting that can stand up by itself, and often this means abandoning early expectations for what things might look like.”
Craig noted a favorite phrase by the late Philip Guston, a New York school painter and printmaker, that evokes the spirit and challenges of committed studio practice: “At the beginning of a painting everyone is in the studio with you, and then one by one they leave, and then you leave too.”
“Insight” will be on exhibit through July 20. Visit the gallery’s website for hours and additional information.