With influences ranging from astronomy to particle physics you just know that artist Derek Cracco's work is going to encapsulate celestial characteristics. Its repetitive nature along with the seamless transition from micro to macro has the power to captivate you for hours. Through his work Derek touches on subjects such as Catholic guilt, relationships and also talks about the impact that renowned French post-impressionist painter Georges Pierre-Seurat had on him.
Could you tell us a bit about your series from 2004 titled “Heartlands”?
“Heartlands” is a reaction to two circumstances that happened at one time. The first is all the commotion about sexual deviance within the Catholic Church. The other is a demonstration I witnessed in New Orleans at a festival called Southern Decadence, an annual gay pride festival. While there, I witnessed a series of protests by a very agitated group of Christians just behind the St. Louis Cathedral. During this openly angry demonstration against gay culture, two lesbians began hugging in front of the protesters. This scene made me question myself? Why are these protesters so angry? What was it about their mythology that caused such an aggressive reaction? I believe it’s the flaws in Catholic Iconography that create this aggression. If Jesus is supposed to be the symbol for all men and Mary, the symbol for all women, then they are incomplete icons. Neither fully expresses what it is to be human. Both iconic symbols within Catholic iconography ignore human sexuality. And out of the two, Mary is the most incomplete, because you can’t be a mother and still be a virgin. Because of these imperfections, a split occurs, and a new archetype is created. Jesus being all light and pure, he casts a shadow, and it is the antichrist, and for the Virgin Mary, it is the whore. This split signifies the polarised view of women that is promoted by Catholicism. My works “Madonna Whore” highlights this contemporary example. The work appropriates an image of Marilyn Chambers and a box of Ivory Snow. Miss Chambers became well known as a star of the adult film industry with her role in “Behind the Green Door” and, in fact, she was also the model for the mother on the Ivory Snow box. That image of a popular brand of soap helped to boost ticket sales to over $50 million, making her the poster child for the Madonna/whore complex.
Georges Pierre-Seurat is a source of inspiration for many artists that we have come across through CreativPaper. What elements of his work resonate with you as an artist?
That is easy; it’s his use of colour. I have never been interested in the subject matter of Impressionism. Nevertheless, when I walk into a gallery of impressionist works, I’ve always been blown away by his use of colour and, because of this, I can spend hours staring at his paintings. I’m fascinated by the way he pared down his brushstrokes and mark making to a single dot. It is this simplification of the mark that allows the viewer to focuses on what is most important, colour.
What in your opinion is the hardest thing about being a modern artist?
The promotion of my artwork is the most challenging part. In a perfect world, I would just sit back in my studio and do what I do best, create work. Then these works would magically find places to hang. Sadly, that is not the case. I still have to take time out of my studio practice to promote my work.
One cannot help but see the parallels between some of your pieces and astronomy, especially in your “Love Songs” body of work. How important is astronomy not just from a scientific but an interpersonal aspect?
As a child, I was always interested in astronomy. I remember waiting anxiously with my father for Cosmos to come on PBS. Also, I remember lying on the ground at night with a pair of binoculars, staring at the moon. The understanding of the size and scale of the universe made me feel so small and insignificant I had to stare in wonder at the limitless potential for exploration. This childhood obsession went as far as me obsessively re-creating the Milky Way with phosphorescent stickers on my bedroom ceiling. I’ve carried this interest of space and space exploration into my artwork today. My star clusters and celestial skyscapes are abstracted to represent the macro view of how society expects relationships to be, while abstractions of particles or atoms represent a more micro or personal perspective. Thus, creating constellations that act as metaphors for the forces that attract or repel couples.
What are you trying to communicate through your work?
My work is a reaction to images. Since 2003 I’ve been creating work based on the dictionary definition of the word ‘love’. For such a small word, it has a myriad of connotations. I love my mother. I love my child. I love my dog, and I love hamburgers. One of the most interesting definitions is the love of God for man and the adoration of man for God. I’ve been slowly and methodically working through the meaning, creating bodies of works that I feel define and highlight those connotations. As you mentioned in the previous question, in 2004, I began working on Heartlands, which focused on religion and sexuality specifically. From that body of work, I began to think more broadly about what was defined as love, and in 2005 Hurricane Katrina happened. Being born and raised in New Orleans, this had a direct effect on my family. Driving to New Orleans one morning to begin the process of clean-up and reconstruction, I heard on Christian radio that Hurricane Katrina was punishment for New Orleans’ Sodom and Gomorrah sins. The first thought that popped into my head was that if God was punishing anyone, he punished the poor, the extremely young, and the extremely old. The statistics prove this. That event sparked several works which were critical of the idea of the vengeful God. Currently, I’m working on large-paneled acrylic abstract paintings of scientific and astronomical discoveries. The working title for the upcoming exhibition is “The Light The Truth,” which is going to be a subtle critique of the flat earth movement in the U.S.
In your 2012 body of work “Love Songs” you talk about society’s portrayal of stereotypes of men and women. Is this something that is changing in your opinion or are we putting people in boxes more than ever?
That’s a really compelling question. Women, now more than ever before, have opportunities. Doors are opening, and women are holding a position in government, science, and business, and the wage gap is slowly closing. However, because of reality TV, the entertainment industry, and people like Kim Kardashian and Ariana Grande, to name a few, young girls are told that first and foremost they must be pretty and vapid. There is still a problem with the objectification of women that is promoted by the entertainment industry, and until that changes, it will always be an uphill battle.
What attracted you to making art in the first place?
I have dyslexia, and because of this, school was always a challenge for me. I spent most of my time doodling and sketching in my notebooks during class. The images I was creating in my journals began to get a lot of attention. My classmates would often toss me their notebooks in class so that I could decorate the covers. It was this positive affirmation that made me realise that I might have a shot at being an artist. I honestly think that if I didn’t have dyslexia, I probably would not be an artist. Art was my sanctuary. I would sit and draw and just get lost in the process. Because of this passion for drawing, being an artist was one of the only career avenues I could see for myself. If there had been an escape route, I probably would have taken it. Now, I could not see myself doing anything else. I guess you could say my life revolves around art—and I would not have it any other way.
What does Derek Cracco have in store for 2017?
In 2017, I will also have works included in group exhibitions at the Zuckerman Museum of Art, SCAD Atlanta, and Georgia State University. In my studio, I’m working on a new series based off a previous body of works, for my next exhibition at Beta Pictoris Gallery. The working title is “The Light The Truth”. These works will focus on detailed, pointillist-style paintings that explore fields of flashes, stars and light. My influences range from astronomy to particle physics. The ideas that I’m interested in now are images that are evidence of the expansion of our knowledge: think galactic clusters, supernovas, deep field astronomical photographs, and other scientific discoveries. On an aesthetic level, the works shift and oscillate between the macro and the micro, between the illusions of light in the works and the visual disruptions the images produce when viewed at close range.
This interview is also featured in the current issue of CreativPaper Magazine.