The Personal Universal
Squeak Carnwath, Something Else, 2004, oil and alkyd on canvas over panel, courtesy of Kerri Johnson
Oakland artist Squeak Carnwath is a mystery. During her opening reception for her October solo show at the Oakland Art Gallery, she remained camouflaged among the many visitors who were examining, discussing and pointing at her work. To an outsider, the visitors seemed as if they each were an embodiment of one of Carnwath?s many messages: vibrant, heavy in heart, highly skeptical and wildly compassionate. Meanwhile the guestbook rested silently, its pages filled with fan raves from these anonymous visitors. One message became loud and clear: Carnwath has a major cult following.
For those not familiar with her work, internationally known artist Squeak Carnwath presents her, primarily large scale, paintings with a rare mix of uncensored emotion and dead seriousness. Carnwath’s intuitive style spans the reach of Basquiat to Bay Area gem Raymond Saunders; and yet she imbues her work with a unique excitement and sense of intimacy that has garnered much praise. The art on display at the Oakland Art Gallery was a selection of her recent paintings, tapestries and drawings that conveyed the timeless nature that Carnwath has delivered in her art since the late 1970s.
Carnwath plasters and scrawls blatant truisms and bold quotes in an assemblage of text that stands out among the bright color blockade of each painting’s surface. These surfaces take on many different forms: swatches, cubes, circles and lines. Various characters and objects find a place among the chaos of ideas: a limp yet upright rabbit, hands traced with fortune lines, horseshoes, wishbones, LP’s, rows of numbers and airplanes. The aesthetic of her images varies widely, evoking the memory of a teenager’s angst ridden notebook, while the text rings with an intellectual sensibility and ironic tone. Working with text, imagery and color, Carnwath introduces a medley of stimuli creating a complex, rich web of images that is at once dreamlike and gritty.
Not to miss: The Painting’s Story, a set of 21 framed small works on paper acting as a roadmap to Carnwath’s abstract imagery in her larger paintings. Follow the 8×11 drawings as they jump from citing contemporary social issues–"dumb stuff to die from;" "fewer nurses per patient ratio"–to political malfeasants–a la Enron scandals and FBI catastrophes.
Carnwath’s aesthetic is only a part of the picture. With her art, she shares an honesty that many do not express publically. It is a style that bares it–human debauchery, insecurity, complacency and (if necessary), the beauty that makes human existence an eternal examination and renewal process.