"First Acts, Scene 2"
June 18, 2021
Atlanta-based artist Craig Drennen is best known for his ongoing Timon of Athens project, for which he has produced paintings, drawings, prints, videos, performances, and sculptures. Drennen’s work shows technical agility across a wide range of influences that span abstraction, representation, and conceptual practices.
Drennen’s exhibition features paintings, mixed-media installations, and a video from Drennen’s ongoing series based on William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens.
Since 2008 Drennen has organized his practice around Timon of Athens. Unproduced in Shakespeare’s lifetime, it is regarded as the bard’s weakest play. The play has become Drennen’s more than 14-year slow walk to self-portraiture. Drennen has said this project began as an intuitive response to find a largely unknown subject, deep in the Western canon. Working from the minor to major characters, each character serves as an opportunity for satire for his artist’s personae and as a survey of the history of painting.
Drennan finds inspiration by drawing from his Appalachian childhood to bring new perspectives to forgotten characters and to challenge the viewer. Drennan’s artworks combine 2D and 3D elements, as well as video, to break the boundaries of the canvas and explore the self, using art historical references.
Since 2008 I have occupied a discarded subject, Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. Shakespeare’s fame promises reverent proximity to culture’s intellectual center, yet this play’s weak status places it—and me—in an unpoliced zone at the edge of the canon. The best is adhered to the worst, and strength is inseparable from weakness.
I produce a distinct body of work for each character in the play based on intuitive associations. I trust intuition because intuition is the primary survival mechanism for children and marginalized people. Any character can be an entry point into the entire project, yet no single character can give the project’s full scope. I have introduced 11 characters so far, and I have worked on the Merchant character since the pandemic began. Merchant includes circular compositions based on early illustrations of the COVID-19 virus, with depictions of vinyl records and money included. The records are songs I remember from a jukebox in my hometown laundromat that I visited with my mother in the 1970s. The memories of a single Appalachian child are allowed inside the Shakespeare property. The marginalized and forgotten are willfully overlaid onto the Western world’s most remembered creator.
I have worked on this project for 14 years, and I will continue it until I address the entire cast of the play. I have come to recognize that I’ve initiated a slow-moving intervention directly into the Western canon. In the end, the asymmetry between Shakespeare’s reputation and my own will likely remain intact. Yet there will come a time when Timon of Athens will be known as mine instead of his.
Craig Drennen (b. 1966) was born in Elyria, Ohio, and raised in central West Virginia. Drennen lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. A painter and a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow, Drennen has exhibited in Nashville, Birmingham, and Atlanta, as well as in New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles. He has been an artist in residence at Yaddo, MacDowell, the Triangle Arts Foundation, and Skowhegan. His work has been reviewed in Art in America, Artforum, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe. Drennen served as dean at Skowhegan, teaches at Georgia State University, and manages THE END Project Space.
Timon of Athens 3, 2009
Oil on canvas
72 x 108 inches
Courtesy of the artist