Creighton’s Mark Making

Arts Beat July/August, 2004 Ver. 17.2
By Colina Maxwell

Beautiful and unsettling, graceful and awkward, fecund and whimsical, are all words that describe Robert Creighton’s latest etchings, which will be on display at transit gallery in Hamilton this July. Creighton’s style is reminiscent of the ancient mark makers – the hunter-artists that engraved and painted on Lascaux cave walls and the Egyptians tomb painters. His observations, like the hunter-artist, are presented in earthy tones and are selective – recording only those essential marks needed to capture the character and essence of a fleeting pose and a grounded figure. His subjects share the flatness, floating quality and dignity of ancient Egyptian images. While his etchings share stylistic qualities with the works of times past, Creighton also draws us into a darker psychological context, one that challenges our constructs of human nature and social convention. Putting the viewer in the role of the voyeur, Creighton tests our comfort zones around sexuality and propriety. At the same time, he takes a humorous approach to post-modern angst and self-absorption. In “Olympia (#2 after Manet)”, Creighton’s Olympia does not stare directly at the viewer; rather she shields her eyes from our gaze with a forearm of humility. The artist’s self–portrait appears in the foreground with a comical smirk that forces us to juxtapose present day mores with those that created a Parisian scandal following the release of Manet’s original work. Does the artist in the scene wish to provide commentary or is this a peep into his fantasy world? In “les jumelles” or “the twins”, the male archetype has been reduced to sperm that blindly swim towards two young girls. Analyzing the figures’ body language we are not sure if they wish to avoid or welcome their sexual counterparts.

Through etching, distressing the plate, chine colle and his palette of red and ocher, Creighton achieves the affect of ancient works on paper energized with modern psychology. Working on zinc plates first covered with an acid-resistant ground, he created his marks with an etching needle. The metal thus exposed is “eaten” in an acid bath, creating depressed lines that are later inked and printed. To achieve the illusion of natural marks, the artist used the dry point technique to aggressively distress his plates, an intaglio method in which a sharp needle scratches the plate and creates a burr that yields a characteristically soft and velvety line in the final print. The effect is one of control and unpredicted marks. Chine colle (Chinese collage) is the technique of printing on to a separate lightweight paper that is superimposed on to a heavier weight printing paper. This technique with Creighton’s style of printing compliments the content and the form.

Creighton is one of those best-kept secrets – this incredible printmaker quietly lives in a small town outside of Hamilton. He has been printing for the last forty years. Currently he is the head of Visual Arts in Brantford with the Grand Erie District School Board, and on the side he teaches Printmaking at the Dundas Valley School of Art. Over the years he has participated in a number of solo and group shows. His works are featured in various private and public collections regionally, nationally and internationally. Creighton has been instrumental in helping the newly incorporated Hamilton Printmakers Arts Association. The Association is working to raise capital to create an environmentally safe print studio in downtown Hamilton that will be accessible to both new and established printmakers.