Words on: Craig Pleasants’ work
An article in the Burg on the 2013 exhibition at Sweet Briar College
Amherst artist Craig Pleasants shows work at Sweet Briar
Why you should know him: Craig has worked at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts since 1989 and serves as its artistic director. His latest piece, a site-specific installation, will debut in Sweet Briar College’s Babcock Gallery, with an opening reception at 5 p.m. Thursday.
The North Carolina native first became interested in art in high school.
“The father of a good friend of mine was a painter,” he says. “I was at his house one time [in high school], and he just handed me pen and paper.”
After graduating, Craig enrolled at Wake Forest University to study politics, but switched majors — and colleges — after an art history class “completely blew me away,” he says.
“I decided, at that point, I was going to be an artist.”
So he transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in sculpture. He also studied at L’Institut d’Arts Visuels in Orleans France, and Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C., where he completed a master’s degree in humanities and education.
Craig graduated from Converse College in 1983 and has been involved in the art world ever since.
In 1978, he co founded The Upstairs Artspace, an avant-guard exhibition space in Tryon, N.C., and served as its curator until 1984. He went on to work as co director and exhibition designer of two New York University exhibit spaces from 1985 to 1989, and was a founding member of the National Association of Artists Organizations.
He has shown his work all over the world, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, The Alternative Museum in New York and Musee d’Art Contemporain in France, and his artist’s book, “The Three Little Pigs: as it was originally passed into English folklore in 1620,” is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
His Sweet Briar College installation, titled “A Room (for your soul),” is a room-within-a-room that he will alter over time. Right now, the bright red structure — made using the Babcock Gallery’s moveable walls — is surrounded by 2,000 used data CDs that Craig collected from artists’ submissions to VCCA over the years. He says it is an homage to the artists who apply “just seeking a quiet place to concentrate on their work.”
He hopes the experience of entering the room-within-the-room will “slow people down enough that they are able to hear themselves think for a minute.”
How did you come up with the idea for the structure?
“I have been looking at exhibitions in Babcock Gallery for many years and have often thought about how the moveable walls make the gallery feel somewhat provisional. I wanted to do an installation that made the room feel like itself again. … [The gallery space] is kind of a pass-through. So I wanted to challenge that assumption also. That’s why, when you first walk in the door, you’re confronted with a big, red wall.
“A lot of my work has been architectural. In a way, it makes sense with my other work.”
How will it evolve over the course of the exhibit?
“I’m not sure. Once every five or six weeks, it will change.”
Have you always been interested in structures?
“Yeah, I have. Even when I was a little kid, I would try to build stuff.”
You have worked with so many different mediums — sculpture, drawing, and even performance art. How do you tie it all together?
“I don’t do any performance art anymore. I do, once in awhile, make a film. I’m also doing 2-D work these days. I call it drawing, but I’m using a brush.”
In the past, you’ve used a lot of unconventional materials, like shoe boxes and boot inserts, in your installations. Why is that?
“I like to use things that I find, kind of in quantity. A lot of those pieces came about because I was involved with Riverviews when they were creating the space. … The top floors were filled with these rickety … old shelves, and there were cardboard [shoe] boxes stapled to them. There were like 1,000 of them, and I just came and got them. In a way, I was green before the term green. I have been re-using and repurposing things for 30 years.”
Contact Casey Gillis at (434) 385-5525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
An essay accompanying the 2010 exhibition at Chroma Projects
Shelter has been a primary symbolic focus and social concern for most of Craig Pleasants’ career as a sculptor. His pursuit of the cultural manifestations of housing has long been inspired by primitive building- approaches, particularly those utilizing the simplest and most convenient materials at hand. Pleasants extrapolates from these traditions to turn his reductive sculpture interpretations into works of art.
The idea of home remains at their core. Every home contains something akin to the dream and the drive for sanctuary, an enclosure for privacy, protection from elements and predators, a womb in which to shelter a family. It is certainly the most essential of all human creative acts even as the idea of “home” has evolved in tandem with the evolution of personal wealth and technical know-how.
Craig Pleasants looks deeply into the heart of that evolution. He has interpreted vernacular building worldwide, conceived of shelter for the homeless, experimented with salvaged and ecologically friendly materials, constructed ceremonial gathering places, , designed and created his own family’s home (the first Octagonal Living Unit), and subsequently devised plans for a kit house that can be used in multiple ways.
Dodecahedron was one of a series of remarkable structures constructed from charred strips of lumber. Borrowing a technique used by ancient builders to set the precise placement of each board, Pleasants erects the walls of these works by tying a string to his wrist that had been attached to a fixed point, thus determining an exact hemisphere. Chicahominy, an even earlier work was constructed from cattails in that particular Virginia Indian tribe’s building tradition. Terra Cotta is inspired by hay bale construction of the American prairie, while Apiary has its roots in African Nomadic woven stick and wrap construction.
The Metaphorical House (OLU2.0) featured in Homing Devices at Chroma Projects follows the tradition of the Barn Raising, but in a contemporary and global milieu. This crossover sculptural/architectural construction is fully functional, designed to be as useful as a work of art sitting out in the field or garden as a tea house or art studio. However the modern version of raising the barn is to invest in an OLU2.0 and in doing so to also invest in additional units of replacement housing for Haitian families.
As our world has become more aware of and involved in our shared human situation, Pleasants’ artistic viewpoint has reached a maturation point, exceeding his previous role as interpreter and commentator, to encompass one of conscientious social activism.
To this end we invite you to journey with the artist along this catalog’s tour to its present culmination in the benevolent act of shared creativity .
Deborah McLeod, Owner/Director, Chroma Projects Art Laboratory