Artist Interviews 2022
By Laura Siebold
Craig Alan is a dedicated painter, to say the least. His work invites you to see yourself in relation to the painting and multiple replications of people in Alan’s “Populous” series. Early on, Alan made it his mission to interpret life through art and started selling art early on the streets of New Orleans. While navigating his way through his two passions – soccer and art – Alan found his identity.
In his interview, Alan tells us about his fascination with the human form, about his understanding of art as a fluid concept, the challenges of creating art and the freeing effects of painting on his life.
Craig, thanks so much for doing this interview with me. I was fascinated by your work when I saw it at the January 2022 edition of The LA Art Show in Los Angeles, CA. Was this your first time exhibiting at the fair? What do you love most about exhibiting your work in galleries and art shows?
Thanks so much for asking me! Actually, no. I have shown my work at the LA Art Show 4 or 5 times, I believe. I think what I love the most about exhibiting is simply displaying my work in front of people. Obviously, it is not always a simple task to translate what is in my head to what I paint on a canvas, but it is so rewarding to try. It is so enjoyable to hear and see a person’s reaction to my work. My biggest aim is for people to think internally how they fit externally to the big picture not only in the painting but also in the even bigger picture of life. All of our singular lives make up this global life we are in. I want that to be understood in each work I put out.
Can you tell us about the formal art education you received and about your early beginnings in the art world? How did you achieve economic autonomy by creating portraits of people in New Orleans in the early years of your career and what were the reactions of your spectators back then?
I believe art, for me, started as early as elementary and middle school. If you ask my parents, they would tell you they had plenty of my work on the walls in our house. Not sure if they were as happy about my love for art then. Ha. However, as high school started, my interest drifted more towards athletics. I loved soccer and became pretty much a “jock head”. I was a goalkeeper and all I wanted to do was play. Ironically, this love for soccer is what led me back to art. My first year after high school was spent at a junior college where I could be a part of the soccer team. There was nothing in me that wanted to be there, but since I was playing soccer, I thought “What the hell”, right? As you can imagine, my grades were the last thing on my mind, and it showed. This ended up being a problem when some friends and I decided to try out for the soccer team at a 4-year school (University of Mobile) in Alabama. This is where my soccer career collided with my art career. I made the soccer team, but in order to play, I needed the grades. To pull my GPA up before our first season started, the coach enrolled me in summer courses. 60% of these classes were Art. It only took one class to have me hooked into art again. The trickledown effect in this was that all of sudden my other course became easier also. I started seeing classes such as Math, History, English and even Sciences through the lens of being able to interpret and incorporate them through art. This happened especially through painting. Painting was what I always gravitated towards.
I would drive to New Orleans during the weekends at school when I wasn’t playing soccer. I would find a place to set up on the street and do charcoal portraits for passersby’s for $15 each. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot now, but back then it did help a great deal to get myself through school to cover the cost of anything on top of my soccer scholarship. On a good day, I would make $500. On a slow day, it would be $250-$275. I would set up for 2-3 days during those times. People seemed to like what I was doing but back then I didn’t even necessarily have a style. I only saw it as doing what I loved. I was learning and applying simultaneously. I guess I was never really focused on people’s reactions because I was lost in my own world!
Was there a specific moment in your life when you identified yourself as an artist? What led up to this moment?
Honestly, I don’t believe this moment has arrived for me. It’s funny because I don’t consider myself an artist as much as a painter. I don’t feel that it is fair for the people who witness my work to bestow this title on me. I believe this word “artist” should be saved for the very best of us creators. For me personally, I believe it takes a lifetime of dedication and trials to earn that name; and I feel I have so much more to learn and try. So, for now, I will stick to being recognized as a painter or creator.
What led me to this point was that summer that Coach put me in those summer classes to be able to use me on the field. Little did anyone of us know what that would really turn into. It was then that I realized that this is who I was meant to be. I feel extremely lucky to have found this out at such a young age. There are people that I know who are still trying to figure out who they are.
Your technique of portraying famous people through multiple replications of miniature people in your “Populous” series is very special. Where do you draw your inspiration for these portraits from? What do you appreciate about the human form?
I tell this story all the time, but it is genuinely how I was inspired to do this work. My mom had a condo at the beach that was on the 6th floor. I had just bought a brand-new camera and was really excited about trying it out. As I stood out on the balcony looking through the lens at the beach and the water, I saw a wedding party standing around in the sand. As I was pulled away to look at my screen, I noticed how the people seemed to be configured into the shape of an eyeball. I was intrigued by how all these people individually made up another whole image of something completely different. This really enlightened and inspired me to create on canvas what I saw through my camera that day.
What I love about the human form is simply how easily it is recognized in nature. This is what I want my work to be about. As far as creating portraits of famous people, again these are the ones that are the most easily recognizable of us all.
In your opinion – what is the purpose of art in human life? How can we understand art better by observing human life and vice versa?
In my opinion, art causes us to better ourselves. It inspires all generations from ones before us to all of the ones after us to endless possibilities.
I believe that art in its most general term is a very fluid concept. It is a constant pushing and pulling not only in the aspect of human life but also in the life of the universe. It is my thought that art is too big of a concept for any of us to fully comprehend. Art, to me, comes in the form of feeling the universe’s energy flowing through me; using me as a vessel or medium. It often feels like an outer body experience where my eyes, brain, arms and hands are being used to translate that energy into a physical, visual being. Sometimes, I don’t even feel that I am the entity creating the painting.
The blending of different influences and media makes your art stand out. What has been your biggest challenge in expressing and combining your experiences in a single artwork?
For me, the biggest challenge I face is knowing when I've put the right combinations together. That's the tough part. Most of the time, I do too much and have to edit myself back. I have an extensive knowledge base of techniques which makes me tend to want to use everything I know. There is also the challenge of dealing with my own self-criticism. When that starts, I begin to edit down until I feel the painting begin to speak or sing to me.
The range of different art concepts in your portfolio, abstract expressionism to graphic realism, is a testimony to your evolution as an artist. Are you able to enjoy everything you’ve accomplished in your career so far or do you always feel the urge to learn and create something entirely different/new?
To some degree, I am feeling satisfied with where I am. I have many different lines that I enjoy painting. That is what keeps me from going crazy when I am tired or burnt out on one individual project. I put a lot of effort into “Populous”, so I love getting to jump to another series in my downtime from that series. One series in particular that I love to spend time on is my “California”. This one is based on childhood memories of living in San Bernardino. These pieces are grounded more in abstract expressionism where I can be more free. I enjoy this because when I feel more free, the paintings really come alive and speak to me. Painting is something I don’t ever see myself stopping. To me, it is like breathing. It fulfills the need I have to create; no matter the medium I use.
Can you name an influential personality in the art field who inspires you to this day? Would you make an effort to collaborate with this individual or do you prefer creating art on your own?
TL Lange was a huge influence on me. He isn't very well known but he should be. I had the privilege of working with him early on. If he were still alive today, he would be who I would love to work with again. TL was the real deal. It was incredible to watch him. He could make an image from dirt, paper, and a stick that would make you stare at it for hours. Truly an amazing artist. As far as collaborations go, I would love to do more. I haven’t had the opportunities to do many. I just love creating alone or in company. I create because I have to, not simply because I want to.
We are curious about future projects. What are you currently working on and where can we see your art next?
Currently, I am working on a set within the Populous series that deals with the environment. It will speak to the changes that are happening in the world and also that speaks to the changes that need to be made for the survival of the species (Well, as I see it, that is). I am also working on some 3D elements to Populous in the Pop art style. I have new heart sculptures coming out with a Populous application. Dabbling in some hand painted clothing to make the work wearable is something I am hoping to do in the near future.
You can see my art next at Art Context during Art Basel in Miami November 29-December 4, 2022. That will be the next big exhibition that I am showing in.
What do you want your artistic legacy to be?
I have never really thought about it, but if anything, I want people to realize we are not as big as we think we are. There is so much more to life than our individual selves. This universe is a very big place, and we are all a part of it. Or I guess I could be happy with just being remembered as “that guy who makes pictures from little people”. Ha.