Derek Cracco

Derek Cracco

Layers of Meaning

by Brett Levine, Photo by Jerry Siegel

“My work is about memes,” remarks Derek Cracco, standing in a studio filled with ephemera of all shapes, sizes and materials that explore the taboo subjects of our culture today.  “You see,” he continues, “a meme is simply a shorthand term for a behavior we humans share, and I am fascinated by what this might mean.”  This exploration of what it means to be masculine or feminine, to desire or be desired, to be close or have distance forms the basis of every work he has ever made.

At the moment, this idea is embodied in a series of multiple panel works, larger single pieces, and a series of large-scale wallpaper installations—the most recent measuring 13 by 80 feet—under the collective title “From Here to There.” “I have been drawing inspiration from 1950s pinup and men’s health and fitness magazines,” Cracco laughs, “which presented some of the early examples of how complex sexuality was in postwar America. “What these show,” he pauses, “is that culturally our expressions of desire were subdued, hidden, and less explicit than they are today.”

This subtlety is made manifest in Cracco’s work process, which blends elements of painting, print making and collage into a complex interrelationship. “I use acrylic resin to create layers on the surface,” he explains, “and I can add, remove, conceal or reveal a multitude of information in each one.” This results in a work that seems to have actual depth as well as pictorial depth.  “As a print maker I was trained to construct images in layers,” he observes, “and I have simply transferred this method onto a prepared wooden surface that you could simply consider my canvas.” Then, using painting, painterly techniques, custom vinyl cutouts and other materials, the surface builds into a work with a center but without a beginning.

“I consider my works, generally, to be non-narrative,” Cracco says, almost as a casual aside. “Their stories, which I leave it to the viewer to construct, come from the structure, distance, placement and weight of each of the elements in  the composition.” This approach allows individuals to situate themselves within each work and to find particular elements that resonate deeply and personally with them.

The glass-like resin surfaces of his works are a unifying element across his many series. “I see resin as a unifying element. I like the surface it creates, and I like its slickness,” he smiles. “I see that creation of both actual and pictorial depth almost like we would see an insect caught in amber.”

The only place the resin does not appear is in the colossal installation pieces Cracco has recently begun printing onto wallpaper. “I use patterns drawn from nature, such as constellations, and imagery drawn from our shared history, particularly pop culture, to explore the formal issues I am dealing with right now. I’m fascinated by the science of perception,” he continues, “and I am curious to understand how such large scale works will stimulate viewers’ imaginations.  The way I view the equation is that the bigger the works get, the more potential for questions you have.”

Viewers will have the chance to see this for themselves in an exhibition at Southeastern Louisiana University starting late spring which will include a large-scale, site–specific work, as well as at a Space One Eleven exhibition scheduled for 2013. At the same time, Cracco continues to explore his modular resin on panel works. His persistent studio practice derives from an ongoing desire to understand just what he himself finds inspirational. “I am constantly considering what my works mean conceptually, and where I am trying to take them formally,” he explains. “In the end, creating art is a circular and never ending process,” he says quietly, “with new works leading to new ideas which lead to the creation of even newer works.” It is this commitment to creativity, and to an exploration of social and cultural questions within a contemporary context, that makes Derek Cracco’s works so utterly compelling.

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