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Ann Craven
Night
November 2–December 20, 2023
Opening reception: Thursday, November 2, 6–8 pm

Karma, New York
22 East 2nd Street
New York, New York

Karma presents Night, an exhibition of new paintings by Ann Craven, open from November 2 to December 20 at 22 East 2nd Street, New York. 

The eight nocturnal paintings in Night survey major motifs of Ann Craven’s nearly thirty-year-long practice. For the first time, she has set all of her scenes in the darkness of evening, creating a consistent chromatic background that intensifies her always-vibrant colors. Craven primarily approaches her subjects in one of two ways: painting from observation or from appropriated sources, both her own former compositions and images from books, postcards, movies, posters, and other painters, notably Georgia O’Keeffe. The methods are intimately connected, as she often scales up and repaints her small en plein air paintings in the studio. These oils of moons, trees, birds, flowers, and deer constitute the latest chapter in her systematic catalog of what she terms “revisitations,” each of which is also a reinvention of her subject matter. 

Craven’s methodical revisitations emerge from material and psychic loss. In 1999, a fire decimated her studio, existing work, and personal belongings. Her efforts to recover from the catastrophe led to her first copies, canvases painted from memories of her prior works, and initiated a lifelong project of duplication and reiteration. Lacking a single fixed referent, her paintings multiply serially from the realms of emotion and memory. Each of the artist’s works contains within it the entire history of her practice, forming a link in an index of representations of representations. Marking the mysterious hours between sunset and sunrise, Night acknowledges the centrality of time’s passage in the artist’s oeuvre—the lag between perceiving an object and painting it, the movement from one canvas to the next, the continuous rotation of our earth. 

In Night, Craven’s brushstrokes describe her subjects as feathery, lush, and brimming with vital energy and tender feelings. Fawn in Night Field, 2023 (all works 2023) depicts a sad-eyed doe against a sea of brushy grass shrouded in darkness, and yet elemental daisies in white and girlish pink emit an otherworldly illumination as they leave the ground and float hazily through the night sky. This fawn has been a friend of Craven’s since she first painted it in 1998, when she appropriated the original image from the 1973 dystopian science fiction film Soylent Green. Her choice of animal is also in conversation with Gustave Courbet’s epic Realist work The Death of the Stag (1867)—After the studio fire, a deer painting stored offsite was the sole Craven canvas that remained. As such, and in contrast with Courbet’s fatally wounded stag, her fawn represents courage, perseverance, and hope. 

Portrait of a Blue Bird (Night Song, After Picabia), 2023 shows the titular creature with its beak agape, as if heralding the beauty of the jimsonweed flowers in the background. A mysterious, anatomically incorrect second eye disrupts the scene’s naturalism, bending it toward the surreal and distinguishing it from past iterations of the composition. The white blooms reference O’Keeffe’s own paintings of the flower, while the title’s nod to Picabia acknowledges inspiration Craven found in the French avant-gardist’s Transparencies (1927–33), paintings that layer art-historical references with portraiture and natural imagery—birds, animals, trees—into multivalent compositions. Behind another warbling, chesty Northern bluebird resting atop a blooming branch in Bold as Love, 2023 is a swirling vortex of pastels. This tempest of abstract color evokes the minimalist-yet-riotous Stripe canvases that Craven makes from the mixed oil paint that remains once she finishes a work from her oeuvre. The rarely-exhibited Stripes comprise an indexical archive that the artist, in her words, “naughtily” hides away from the world, preserving them for her own future reference. Bold as Love, 2023 reprises a painting she first exhibited in 2007, ten years after she began rendering specimens from an ornithology book discovered in the basement of her deceased grandmother’s Boston home. 

The bouquet is one of the newest motifs in Night, originating only thirteen years ago. Craven’s marks in Dahlia’s (For the Pink Moon), 2023 feel immediate, as if unmediated transmissions from the artist’s eye to the canvas. Her wet-on-wet technique allows the petals of one flower to flow seamlessly into the next. Here, and across her practice, figuration morphs into kaleidoscopic abstraction and back again, each canvas resisting easy categorization in favor of pure feeling. Craven “is painting,” in the words of poet Ariana Reines, “desire itself.” 

In Purple Beech (Night Sky), 2023, a glowing moon peeks through the dense foliage of the titular deciduous shade tree, while in Moon (Crazy 8 Green Clouds), 2023, the earth’s satellite radiates lavender rings of light as gusts of wind and the artist’s signature infinity-symbol-shaped clouds float by. Craven’s moons have been central to her cosmology since they formed the sole subject matter of her one-person debut exhibition in 1995. These lunar paintings originate in nights spent outdoors, closely observing the celestial body and capturing it on canvas in near-darkness, with only the memory of her palette guiding her brush. The eight monumental works are accompanied by corresponding,  intimately-scaled oil paintings in the gallery’s viewing room, as well as a parallel group of watercolors on view at the Karma Bookstore at 136 East 3rd Street.

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