Miller, Francine Koslow, Artforum International
Atlanta-based artist Craig Drennen has chosen William Shakespeare's most obscure play, The Life of Timon of Athens, as the theme for his new body of work. Known first as a language-based neo-Conceptualist, and then for his drawings and paintings based on the failed 1984 movie Supergirl, Drennen has a predilection for creating new art inspired by underappreciated corners of culture that led him, most recently, to the Bard's condemned tragedy telling the story of a wealthy Greek citizen who becomes a penniless misanthropic outcast. Since 2008, Drennen has been studying the play's dramatis personae, making a signature work for each character, but his intention was to neither affect an understanding of the play nor to critique it. Rather, as Michelle Grabner proposes in the exhibition catalogue, "Working with historical intervals and gaps, illustrations and icons, [Drennen] is building a new language that is firmly set within a complicated Shakespearean narrative."
Drennen's literary-historical muse was immediately visible on entering the show. Identified by the florid Old London red wall text that read STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, a single clock had been set five hours ahead of the gallery's local time so as to conform with that of the English town where the playwright was born and the Royal Shakespeare Company now regularly performs.
Among the eight other works on view was Dramatis Personae, 2010, a massive two-panel oil and alkyd painting that, using a variety of scrambled letter forms, fonts, and styles, lists the entire cast of Timon of Athens. Painted on a base of abstract patches, a multitude of bright sans serif letters enlivens the canvas and reveals Drennen to be a skilled illusionist. The letter T, for example, has been rendered at many scales as a trompe l'oeil cardboard construction, the 7's as small pieces of red tape, and the letter O variously as ruled notebook paper, a flat geometric yellow circle outlined in black, and, in one case, a bulging blue psychedelic eyeball. While Drennen claims the task of naming Shakespeare's characters with his animated letters, the active by-product is a lexicon of pop graphics where every letter is also an image.
Following this playbill of sorts were two more paintings--Third Mistress, 2008, and Thirteenth and Fourteenth Mistresses, 2010--offering references to two minor characters from the play, the whores Phrynia and Timandra, who demand gold from the by-then financially ruined and spiritually broken Timon. …