Treasures from the Vault: Karsten Creightney

Sachi Yanari-Rizzo, Curator of Prints & Drawings

Born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Karsten Creightney is the son of two immigrant parents, both public school teachers. His father’s family came to the U.S. in the 1950s from Jamaica and his mother was born in Denmark. A formative artistic influence was his uncle, who opened Dorrell Creightney Photography, the first Black-owned commercial photography studio in Chicago in 1969. Creightney’s uncle was a skilled street photographer and became known for his portraits of musicians, particularly those that captured the city’s jazz scene. Most importantly for his nephew, he instilled in him the idea of becoming an artist. 

Creightney earned his B.A. in Studio Art in 2000 from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The college exposed him to printmaking and promoted experiential learning. As an undergraduate, he apprenticed with New York City’s print publishers Solo Impression and Pace Editions. In 2001, he explored printmaking further by going through Tamarind Institute’s intensive professional printer’s training that focuses on the refinement and honing of technical skill in lithography and working in collaboration. Afterwards, he received his MFA in Painting in 2011 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Creightney is currently Assistant Professor, Printmaking at the University of New Mexico and teaches classes at Tamarind Institute.   

Creightney works in prints, photography, collage, and painting. He pieces fragments collected and scavenged from old paintings, prints, books, magazines, newspapers, and paper that offer a variety of images, colors, and textures. These freshly combined elements find new contexts in imagined landscapes. Some artists work from preparatory sketches and have a specific preconceived notion mapped out in advance; Creightney, on the other hand, explains that, “My work is as much a product of discoveries made while making it, as it is deliberate. It is more orchestrated than fully controlled.”i    

The Burial consists of nine individual prints that each can be read as complete, independent compositions on their own. Together, however, they create a collage of images that begin to tell a story. The artist suggests the prints can be arranged in any configuration. A recurring path, repeated cloud patterns, and a continuous horizon line unite the prints.   

A set of nine black and white lithographs, depicting flowers, a graveyard, a man, and a band. Each print stands on its own individually but also adds to the overall narrative.
Karsten Creightney, American, b. 1976. The Burial. Lithograph on paper, 2009. Museum purchase with funds provided by the American Art Initiative Capital Campaign, 2011.13.1-9. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Printed at Tamarind Institute while still in graduate school, The Burial reveals the artist’s genuine enjoyment of lithography for its ease and versatility. Many of the panels include laser printing transfers coupled with drawn work in litho crayon and tusche, all on the same stone to add a variety of marks, textures, and tones.   

The road is a powerful theme throughout his work, signifying life’s journey.  “I see the road as a metaphor for our lives,” explains the artist, “a powerful symbol of movement, adventure, and transformation, the road connects where we’ve been with where we are now and where we hope to be going.”ii  

Flowers are a frequent motif in many of his paintings, drawings, and prints, that range from detailed studies, much like “portraits”, to lush landscapes evoking paradise. In The Burial, the flowers are highly individualized, relatively large in scale, and prominently placed in the foreground. The roadside flowers are ever-present and become observers or surrogates for a human presence that witness the unfolding events. The sun-filled vegetation promises a land of hope for the young man in the distance. The focus on the plants diminishes and gives way to the scenes’ ominous tone. The clouds and sky darken as skeletal faces appear along with a freshly dug grave and tombstones. A funeral band plays in another print. A solitary male figure gazes intensely, and seems to be another bystander, who considers what has just taken place.    

Creightney often turns to relief printing using wood or linoleum. While he has mentioned his admiration for artists such as Richard Diebenkorn, Christopher Wool, and Paul Klee, it is unsurprising that Creightney is drawn to German Expressionist printmakers. Like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Heckel, Creightney shares their predilection for woodcut and its immediacy and evocative power. In Lamenting Man, he gouges and cuts the woodblock, resulting in angular, distorted forms that contribute to a sense of pensive sorrow. Creightney probably applied a wire brush to the block to bring out the tight wood grain during printing. The blocks of yellow and blue inks pulled the fine grain pattern that allowed glimpses of white paper to show.  

A portrait of a man with a black background. The grain of the woodblock is prominent. Yellows, blues, and red make up the color composition.
Karsten Crieghtney, American, b. 1976. Lamenting Man. Woodcut on paper, 2012. Museum purchase with funds provided by the McMurray Family Endowment, 2013.24. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Through his work in lithography, Creightney discovered Japanese papers, which tend to be thin but strong. This led him to using chine collé, a technique in which the artist prints on a sheet of paper (often Japanese paper) that also becomes adhered to a support sheet. For a printmaker, paper may be chosen for the way it picks up the ink and adds subtle color. Man with Burning House hovers between figuration and abstract patterning. Creightney prints on an off-white kozo and only in black ink. Much of the work is devoted to the unprinted, light areas from the kozo paper, which has a lustrous surface quality.  

A portrait of a man in a striped jacket looking down at what appear to be cards in his hands. In the background, a house burns. The composition is black and white, with hatching and cross hatching on the face and larger splashes in the background.
Karsten Creightney, American, b. 1976. Man with Burning House. Woodcut and chine colle on paper, 2014. Museum purchase with funds provided by the McMurray Family Endowment, 2014. 323. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

In The Gambler, cards or dollar bills lay on the ground next to a young man who rolls dice, a game of chance. Creightney commented, “We are all risk-takers. There’s these moments in life where we have to make a choice. I’m interested in the moments where the future is uncertain. You’re rolling the dice and seeing where it lands.”iii  The artist returned to this image the following year in an editioned, larger scale linocut. 

Created from blue, black, and white colors, the composition shows a man, bent down on one knee, rolling die toward the viewer. Next to him are cards. He appears to be in front of a road, with flowers next to him. His striped shirt and pants reflect the stripes in the clouds and the dots used to create grass.
Karsten Creightney, American, b. 1976. The Gambler. Linocut on paper, 2012. Museum purchase with funds provided by the McMurray Family Endowment, 2013.29. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

The print above is an example of reduction linocut, in which the artist uses a single block to print all the layers of the print rather than using a different block for each color. The artist carved the block so that he could print from light to dark inks. Creightney removed small amounts of linoleum, printing in blue ink first and leaving the white of the paper in the clouds, shirt, and dice. For each layer, the artist had to print on the total number of sheets he intended for this edition. This was followed by additional carving on the same block for overprinting using the opaque gray ink. Black is left for the end, including all the small gouges to form the grass or gravel. When the black ink overprints, the gray textured pattern emerges. As the artist removed more linoleum with each layer, less and less of the block remained. Subsequent editions cannot be printed, since the only residual carving left on the block is for the black ink. 

Creightney’s work can be found in museum collections across the country, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Art, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City, Missouri).    

i Pyragraph Staff, “What’s Your Deal, Karsten Creightney?” Pyragraph (3 February 2017)., accessed February 9, 2021. 

ii, accessed February 10, 2021. 

iii Kathaleen Roberts, “Artist uses multiple mediums to piece together hybrid visions, “Albuquerque Journal (29 January 2017)., accessed February 9, 2021. 

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