THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Walking into Jordan Ann Craig’s exhibition on a cold, wet London evening was like entering a sunlit landscape in the American west. There were bright colors interspersed with empty space, the horizontal intersected by the vertical and the elemental designs of a people deeply rooted in that land.
Ms. Craig is a member of the Northern Cheyenne nation, and her work is based on the Cheyenne patterns seen in beadwork, weaving and other art, as well as in Navajo weaving and pueblo pottery. But she is not replicating existing work. Hers is distinctly her own. Her use of vibrant color is playful and original. Her titles are simultaneously intriguing and opaque. Her paintings clearly come directly from her own experience; while referencing her communal and cultural heritage.
Her paintings are incredibly precise. They are the product of disciplined design, layout and brushwork. Most of the paintings are large, requiring both minute attention to detail and hard physical work. They are not confining, but inspire a feeling of openness. I was reminded of the Dalai Lama’s comment on the freedom resulting from discipline that is visible in Irish dancing. These paintings have a similar wildness, which results from the passionate focus of energy. Craig is a skilled craftsperson and uses her skill to express an individual vision.
Her use of vertical and horizontal lines and white space are at times reflective of Mondrian. But even though she occasionally uses a similar visual vocabulary, her work is not imitative. It’s just that both Mondrian and Craig seem to be in touch with a deeper, more elemental reality; Mondrian’s based on his immersion in the teachings of Theosophy and Rudolph Steiner’s Anthroposophy, Craig’s on the symbols, the cosmology and comprehension of the peoples of the Western plains and mountains. And that is what makes this exhibit exuberantly American.
The paintings capture the sunrise over the prairies, the dun colours of distant mountains at midday and the deep blues and blacks of the vast sky. At least these are the images that come to me, which is another delightful element of these paintings. They invite everyone to find a part of themselves within them. While not narrative in a traditional way, they trigger the storyteller in each of us.
Craig’s work shows that native Americans are not museum pieces, anthropological outliers. Her work shows us that they are vibrant, energetic participants in a continuum that was at times interrupted but never broken. She is young and already shows a breadth and control that allows her to produce works of depth while allowing her vitality and sense of humor to come through. Watch her… I expect she will continue to develop her skill and take us with her as she translates the personal into the universal. As she told me, “I want my work to be interesting for a long time.”
Go to this exhibit if you want to escape the grey London weather. And you can say, “I saw her first London solo show.” Chances are, it won’t be her last.