Contributed by Natasha Sweeten / As children, we learn that nighttime is for hushed voices, unlit rooms, and the chance to briefly disappear into our dreams. In her latest show “Night” at Karma, Ann Craven fully embraces the enchantment of the wee hours. Her paintings, swathed in darkness, capture quiet moments, and the imagery could easily have been conjured from bedtime stories. Yet they’re not all warm and fuzzy.
Eight large canvases, 84 x 72 inches each, greet me in the front gallery and initially present a docile, inviting world. A timid fawn pauses in a lush field of grass and daisies. Two doves clinging to separate branches share an intimate moment. Next, a brash, white burst of moonlight burrows through a tangle of treetops, pushing a single tree into silhouette. These are calming motifs. But the longer I linger, the greater the gap between what I first assumed I was seeing and what I increasingly sense.
The deer in Fawn in Night Field seems lost amid the flora. Try as they might, the quartet of pink roses hovering nearby cannot tempt the creature as she gazes forlornly beyond her surroundings. The doves in Night Wave, Again are frozen in a state of unresolve, one bird patiently awaiting a response from the other, who appears oblivious to this attention. The flowering, horizontal bands on which they perch divide the painting and emphasize the distance between them. The moon in Purple Beech (Night Sky) meets the canopy with brute force, tempered only by feathered, staccato brushstrokes spilling into the air around it and a soft cascade of moonlight below.
There’s a directness and efficiency here – no dallying! – as if the artist urgently chose the shortest path from impulse to gesture. As a result, each decision, each glob of paint, holds forth with immediacy and purpose. Her brushstroke, starting wet-on-wet but segueing to wet-on-dry, acknowledges the vast expanse of surface, highlighting key moments with vivid color.
In the back gallery, the compositions are repeated in a group of eight gentler, smaller paintings, each 24 x 18 inches. These feel dreamier, like distant memories dislodged from the past and stitched back together with conviction. At Karma Bookstore a couple of blocks away, Craven has translated the compositions into eight watercolors whose bright, translucent paint yields a lightheartedness absent in the oils.
A 1999 fire destroyed Craven’s studio and much of her work. Perhaps there is no greater fear for an artist. Weighing that, her adherence to these eight compositions reads as a resistance to being forgotten. “Night” invites us to contemplate parallel conceptions of Craven’s reclamation of her story, which is too compelling and haunting to forget anytime soon.
“Ann Craven: Night,” Karma, 22 E. 2nd Street, New York, NY, and Karma Bookstore, 136 E. 3rd Street, New York, NY. Through December 20, 2023.
About the author: Natasha Sweeten is a New York-based artist.
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