Jonah Criswell


I started these drawings in late March of 2020 during a city-wide shelter-in-place order. For the past 5 months, days ran together in a vibrant malaise. I had to limit my materials when I started working in my apartment. I wanted to try something different from my previous studio practice. Grief, confusion, delirium, joy, playfulness and worry influence my thinking a lot, especially now.

Anthony Baab, a friend and artist, was going through a similar feeling of grief and we gave each other a few “rules” as a challenge. I was told to avoid neutrals and work with simple shapes. I know I felt that if I did not make work to respond to what I was feeling during the pandemic I would have failed in some nameless but important way.
My tiny life is filled with horror/sci-fi movies, cats, food and my wife. I will turn forty this year but, in many ways, feel like I live an immature life. Perhaps I just have a manic kind of joy or a joyful kind of mania. I feel that it is important for me to work from my everyday life even though it might not have the weight or import that other topics. I want there to be a frenetic, sudden, energy despite the playful titles and imagery. I want the images to feel like hallucinations or dreams, as Clive Barker put it, We never lie to ourselves when we dream.

In my drawings and paintings, bewildering states of fear and awe reflect my experience of the world as nightmarish and regal. Through mystery and awe, my works operate like dreams; improvisational, intimate and honest. As an artist, I think about living at the end of the world, that we will be judged harshly by future generations, that we should be talking about how anxious everyone is, that my privilege should not be squandered. That is why I make drawings of my paintings, to reflect these concerns.

My work tends to be modestly sized because I want anyone to be able to live with it. In my drawings, I am fussy whereas my paintings are looser. The crispness of photorealist drawing and expressive painting is a means to result in a suddenness that I share with my viewers. Recently, I have been making plaster niches in order to make objects of my romanticism and at times immaturity. (I love that they remind me of my sketchbooks when I was a teenager.) It is difficult to restrain my enthusiasm for living and I know that I am fortunate, but I feel responsible for making art that reflects an emotional experience of living as a fragile creature that knows it will die.