Paint applied in thick slathers, scraped back and then reapplied is the constant by which Craig Waddell depicts his subjects. The first point of discussion to Craig Waddell’s paintings is his dynamic manipulation of material.
I spent many afternoons with Craig at Gallery 9, Sydney, discussing his work and his process. He would bring in new paintings, often still wet, and we would lean them against the walls to view them. For Craig, seeing his paintings against the clean white walls of the gallery, away from the gritty nucleus of the studio, they embodied a new dimension – they were somehow more dynamic and luscious – the result of a struggle between artist and material. Looking at them quietly, it often seemed as if under the bright lights of the gallery, he was seeing them for the first time.
The subjects of Craig’s painting can be closely related to his own life experiences. The studio environment he works in influences the work he creates. Craig grew up on a farm in Galston, near Dural in Sydney’s north-west outskirts where he still has a studio and returns to work for periods of time. The landscape situated around the farm as well as the animals, plants and machinery of this rural life is a familiar subject that Craig often revisits in his work. The tractor paintings, a subject revisited for this exhibition, can be read in terms of the relationship between the artist, machine and his memory. While the pull of the area of his childhood is a strong theme in his practice, in 2011 during a studio residency in the industrial area of inner city Sydney, Craig’s paintings took a new turn with subject matter referencing the portraits of the old masters like Velázquez, Rembrandt and Titian he had recently seen at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Though strangely, it is his ongoing series of rooster paintings that can be seen as the beginning of Craig’s interest in portraiture. This body of work was inspired by the cock-fighting tournaments Craig witnessed in Thailand while he was studying there in 2004. Painted in profile, each cock with his brightly coloured plumes and eyes glaring at the viewer can be read as portraits of masculinity. Each painting embodies its own human personality and in so doing, heralds the history of portraiture while simultaneously giving it the finger.
Through the generous swathes of paint, Craig’s work brings to focus a poetic experience of appearance and affect. Whether it be the contradictions we see in human subjects that might make us visualize them as animals, or the affection for machinery that might make us nostalgic for another time, these works, created and exhibited in two geographically distinct cities speak of the connections between people, objects and places.