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Stop making sense

Winnipeg painter shares his fascinating, messy thoughts in rare exhibition

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/9/2015 (719 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I like how artists think. I like watching them do it, and few artists lay out their unique thought processes as completely and enthusiastically as Craig Love. Opening Friday, Sept. 4, at 6 p.m. at Library in the Exchange, O Cuckoo is an all-too-rare exhibition of Love's paintings, curated by fellow Winnipegger Wanda Koop.

In the past, Love has referred to his paintings "brains." Conceived of as both containers for and engines of mental activity, they do more (and less) than simply illustrate ideas. By layering paint and arranging canvases, he tries to mirror the complex and often messy biological processes that somehow, improbably give rise to conscious thought.

Which isn't to say I have the slightest idea what Love was thinking when he made any of these paintings. If pressed, he might not either, and that's part of their improbable appeal.

All of Love's work flickers cheerfully at the border between sense and nonsense. His last show took place in the back of a rented U-Haul at Assiniboine Park, where visitors were invited to read lines from Hamlet in Pig Latin. For years, he's used rubber stamps to craft puzzle-like squares of interlocking words, concrete poetry whose rigid structure implies meaning without meaning anything concrete. (Datumerrata, a 2012 collaboration with photographer Bill Eakin, features these "magic squares." Selections from that series went on long-term display outside UW's Gallery 1C03 this week.)

Final selections for O Cuckoo hadn't been made when I visited the gallery Monday, but dozens of candidates, culled from hundreds in the studio, were leaning against the walls and packed into milk crates. Many will be on display opening night, hanging normally or lining shelves, while others will cycle through over the run of the exhibition.

They might not be what you'd call "conventionally attractive," but they're bewitching just the same. Love lingers in the dusky, dirty and Day-Glo corners of the spectrum. He layers disparate colours and textures in combinations that are neither expected nor uniformly pleasant, but his approach is fearless and fun to watch.

The paintings are primarily abstract, but imagery and fragments of text regularly come into focus -- at times with startling suddenness -- or disappear behind various washes, whorls and patches of ragged texture. The dimly familiar faces, figures, animals, etc. provide points of entry, but, like any passing thought, none is meant to hold our attention too long.

Love jokingly refers to the smallish canvases as "easel paintings," though he might have any number of in-progress works laid out on tables on any given day. Mixing a colour in an old coffee mug, he'll scan the studio for places to put it. Paintings develop incrementally and in dialogue with one another, with half-formed ideas and distinctive flourishes spreading like bacteria or yawning from one painted surface to the next.

Somehow the abundance is more inviting than overwhelming, and if the paintings are "cryptic," they're never condescending. Many left me with a sense of having realized something -- I have no idea what. I felt tears well up looking at several, which was weird, but I won't overthink it. They're not there to be "understood," but you still get the picture.


Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

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