“Scorch and Drag” at Flatbed Gallery

John Robert Craft's objects and prints, combined with the viewer's eye, creates a chamber of reverberating visions

Sam Anderson-Ramos

Austin Chronicle

July 22, 2016

John Robert Craft’s Giant Point Bar 840# is a massive beam laid across the floor. If you are not careful, you might trip over it. The beam appears solid enough that it would not move without a serious jolt. It is cut with geometric shapes, pyramids mostly, like a piece of Aztec architecture. It is odd how something so heavy could also look so incidental, as if someone has dropped it here.

Giant Point Bar 840# is the most extreme of Craft’s sculptures on display in “Scorch and Drag,” because it is the largest, but in terms of presence, each piece has an equal weight. 2 United Point Bar 50# is much smaller, but it has the same shape: long and marked with repeated pyramids. It looks like it could be used for bludgeoning, a notion emphasized by the piece’s metallic neatness. This is a tool for using. It amply satisfies its small moment, stable and symmetrical, as though it has always existed just as it is.

Slice Sphere 28# (1-4) and Geomorph (1-2) are cast-iron balls that have been sliced and reconfigured into amorphous blobs. They are objects without origin, like relics from an abandoned field in the Hill Country, a place where an ancient farm once stood or a slave civilization. This quality lies in their formlessness, their rust-red color and angry texture. These are things from the basement of a rural antique shop, back corner, bottom shelf, where the lightbulb has gone out. They are whatever remains. It is rare to find contemporary work that is so timeless and yet still modern.

In addition to the conversation between past and present, the work also functions in dual dimensions. Multiple prints have been made with the sculptures, resulting in an impressive variety of 2-D patterns. Aside from the Pastoral Process series, which conveniently displays the prints with the sculpture that made them, it was difficult for me to place the print with its corresponding object. At first, I thought this was an unfortunate oversight, but given further consideration, I’m grateful. Switch Back is a large, black woodcut print scratched with dramatic white curves that echo one another like a yin-and-yang symbol. The execution is dynamic and swift. I have no way of knowing for sure which, if any, of the objects on display made the piece, and I’m okay with this. The show doesn’t need a novel question-and-answer format, as though we were visiting a science museum. The point being made here is more sophisticated than that. Switch Back has its own life. Its streaks are wounds scratched into the night by monsters or the last light in a darkening sky. This is compelling enough.

A print on paper takes up space in as real a way as the massive beam called Giant Point Bar 840# does. The give and take of this process is a conundrum. Is the print only a footprint of the real piece (the object), or is the object only a tool, a means to an end? Despite the fact that Craft’s pieces can, and do, stand alone, the prints and the objects speak to each other, or at least speak at the same time. The beam impresses upon the printworks the same way it impresses upon the eye. In this sense, the viewer is the third element here, combining with the prints and the objects to form a never-ending cycle of witness. The result is a chamber of reverberating visions – one that can only be entered by looking.