Deeper Wells

Creighton Michael, Motif 1710, acrylic on oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches, 2010

Motif: Creighton Michael

Schaffner Room Gallery, Pound Ridge, NY

Opportunities for artists come in many different forms, especially in exhibition spaces. Once you understand your station on the outside, looking in towards the big billion-dollar businesses at the top, it becomes like a chess game where countless artists vie for a variety of venues ranging from the more regional, community-minded spaces to the secondary level of high-end galleries in major cities throughout the world. The higher you aim, the more you need to be well-connected; otherwise, it's best to have your fleet of collectors do your talking. But who has that? After all, the market is in constant flux; what's in, who has the back story, where's the new vision; it's all subjective, controlled from the top down, often sociopolitical and rather unregulated.

With the increased overhead, especially when economic downturns are caused by natural or manufactured disasters, a noticeable percentage of mid and lower-level institutions close, and opportunities decrease. I've often thought of hybrid spaces, places where two businesses share a common space or building in places like Iceland, where a commercial gallery could lessen the strain of a fixed overhead when the level of needed population is not there. You see this in colleges and universities here, where not-for-profit galleries and museums are placed on campuses where it is a bit easier to keep the lights on and where a very dedicated staff works tirelessly to keep their programs relevant and inspiring.

Libraries, commonly thought of as locations for amateur artists, are increasingly exhibiting seasoned professional artists with substantial careers, which in turn broadens the reach of both the institution and the artist. When I wrote for The New York Times from 1998-2005, I recall reviewing excellent exhibitions at the Chappaqua Library Gallery and the Manhattanville College Library Gallery. The Katonah Museum is a product of the Katonah Gallery, housed in the Katonah Village Library.

Works on Paper: Serdar Arat (installation view), 2023

What first piqued my attention to the Schaffner Room Gallery adjacent to the Pound Ridge Library was a recommendation from a friend that Serdar Arat was exhibiting there, and I should take a look. Arat, also a long-time friend, an excellent artist, and a brilliant lecturer with titles like "Creative Flows: Islamic and Western Art" to "The Harlem Renaissance and Modernism," creates alluring painted reliefs, room-sized sculptural installations, and refined prismatic prints that address several topics such as architectural fluidity, the spiritual effects of color, and the depths of visual rhythms. His show at the Schaffner Gallery focused on his well-known prints.

That same friend who told me about Arat's past exhibition, Creighton Michael, has the current show at the Schaffner Room Gallery, which features seven key paintings from his Motif series. As an attendee of the opening, I was immediately impressed by an audience of mainly accomplished artists engrossed in the paintings at hand, which prompted stimulating conversation. The artist mentions in his statement, "...the Motif series is the product of two unique marking strategies both using a motion capture process but deviate in their use of time and color."

Creighton Michael, Motif 1810, oil on acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches, 2010

Michael's approach is first to lay down what he refers to as his "deferred" ground of vibrant color. Here, we see leaf-like applications of transferred veneers of dry brush strokes that modulate slightly in intensity and opacity, all looking like flattened fall leaves or flower petals, only much more intense in color. Over this layer of acrylic "skins,' the artist applies the "direct" half of his process: oil paint in a mesmerizing matrix of thin lines in a color complement. This powerful element further triggers the underlying hues, creating a push/pull of optical sensations.

The Motif series is a tour de force of optical effects, as visual stimulation entices thoughts of things experienced. Like Hans Hofmann's paintings of the 1950s and '60s, when he was advancing as a teacher with his "push and pull" theory, or "expanding and contracting forces" thesis, there was that same sort of non-representational dance in space we see in Michael's paintings. However, unlike Hofmann, Michael's work has a more organic feel, suggesting ripples in a stream or a cluster of twigs atop fallen leaves. On the other hand, it is hard not to think of back-lighted stained-glass windows when viewing Michael's paintings, as the background colors always penetrate the foreground, or what would be the lead lines of the window, even when the foreground is a "fast" color like orange or red.

Ultimately, the Motif series is about the artist's deep understanding and distinctive use of color within the non-representational realm. Michael plays with our preconceptions of color and how it manages space and time, what we may have experienced peripherally, that curious something that disappeared when we turned to look. That is what gets in our subconscious. That is why these works have a lasting effect, something all artists hope to achieve.

Motf: Creighton Michael runs through May 4th, 2024. For more information, please visit

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