By: Lindsay Covington, Seraphin Gallery Intern
With a minimalist grey, windowed storefront, Kraft Studio occupies an unassuming spot in DC’s rapidly developing neighborhood of Anacostia. Look up, however, and you will see the artist’s signature glowing sign, identifying the headquarters of one of the nation’s leading neon artists. The space extends much farther than expected, with Kraft’s pieces hung on the exposed red brick walls all the way to his workspace in the back. The studio is airy rather than cluttered, with light flooding in from the front windows; though given the nature of his works, Kraft hardly needs any additional light! The neon of his pieces illuminates the space, casting a spectrum of warm hues across the room.
Neons from Unintentional Drawings and Ground Zero series
Kraft explains the history behind his pieces, citing “unintentional drawings” as the influence behind his current neon collection. He began his artistic career working with sculpture rather than neon, but progressed to the up-and-coming art form in 1983 when he moved to Minneapolis. From there, he has found inspiration in a variety of sources, focusing on shapes and manmade marks -- created intentionally or otherwise. The second source of inspiration in his series was an article by the New York Times about a blues club in Mississippi called Ground Zero. Kraft spoke about the interest he had in the graffiti on the walls of the club. A unique type of art, these names and messages littering the walls fabricated a web of communication among the club’s patrons who came from all walks of life and from cities across the country. Like a method actor immersing himself in a role, Kraft traveled to the blues club to take his own pictures of these marks. He returned with the photos to his studio, where he superimposed neon on top of certain sections and painted over the tubing to give the light a tempered feel, much like the atmosphere of the club’s bathrooms.
Throughout the following years, Kraft continued to be drawn to symbols, deciding to take his travels across the world rather than across the country. He made his way to the caves of northern Spain, then most recently to Sulawesi, Indonesia. The artist described his arduous trek into the caves, documenting the strenuous hike spanning several days in the images on his storyboard pictured below. Kraft returned wanting to recreate the markings made by the earliest humans, who used only the flickering light from makeshift lanterns to create their drawings. Describing Dots, a new piece from his cave series, Kraft spoke about the effect he produced by placing neon behind cast paper, on which he drew with pencil and covered with acrylic and water. This layering of different media allowed Kraft to reproduce the rugged effect of the time-weathered cave walls. Kraft’s Spikey Haired Woman, shown below, also illustrates his commitment to accurately depicting what he observed. Before fixing the neon to the piece, Kraft added and scratched off acrylic to mimic the lichen which had slowly encroached upon the cave drawings over thousands of years.
Spikey Haired Woman, Kraft and his pictures from Indonesia, Kraft and Dots
Visiting Kraft Studio and meeting the artist behind Seraphin Gallery’s pieces was an enlightening experience. Learning about his influences over the years and his artistic process brought Kraft’s works to life. To see them firsthand gave the impression that the artist’s in-depth research and connection to marks -- in Indonesia or Mississippi, made 50,000 years ago or thirty -- is reflected in every brushstroke or fold of neon tubing. Seraphin Gallery currently has Column Interrupted, pictured below, on view.
Column Interrupted, 2010, Aluminum, neon, transformer, Ed. 4/9 (5 available), 58 1/4" x 1 3/4" x 3 1/2"
Kraft’s neon work has certainly taken the country by storm, much as Dan Flavin’s did in the 1960s. Though Flavin and color field-artists such as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko were originally inspired by the chaos of abstract expressionism, they took the idea of painting saturated color fields and developed a minimalist approach to artmaking. Following in the footsteps of these prominent 20th century artists, Kraft also approaches his work with bold colors (be they in neon or acrylic) and sleek forms. Both in his public neon installations and in Column Interrupted, Kraft achieves maximum visual impact with his streamlined shapes in eye-catching hues.
To read more about Craig Kraft’s work and travels, see Timeless Travels Magazine’s Spring 2017 issue, and more under the “Observations” section of the Seraphin Gallery website.