At Ruth’s Parkside Café, a popular eatery in Northside (try the salmon), co-owner David Tape continues his commitment to showing local artists. He’s be
Born in Chicago in 1955 and reared there and in the Kansas City area, Britton2 realized he wanted to be an artist when he saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. After that experience, “I recognized what they made me feel, and I wanted to do that for others,”3 he explains.
Britton’s artistic journey has been a zigzag one. You could say it started with drawing cartoons for his junior and senior high schools. Between then and now, he played drums in a rock band; had stints as a cook, fine finish carpenter, decorative and mural painter, grade and high school teacher, and artist in residence before finally making a commitment to the visual arts.
There was a specific incident that led to that. In 1974 Britton was playing gigs with a band in the Chicago area and living in Champaign-Urbana when his sublet apartment there was burgled.
Britton had visited his mother in Cincinnati at Christmas time, and went back there to regroup. The visual arts “seemed like a good and graceful solution to having a drum set, a stereo, etc., stolen. Pencil and paper” were cheaper than replacing the drum set and “classes in art sounded fun.” So, he took classes at Gebhardt’s Art School in downtown Cincinnati and some night classes at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.
Even though Britton has spent considerable chunks of time in California (1984-1990 and 2001-2016), he keeps coming back to Cincinnati, most recently in 2016 to care for his ailing mother. He’s just moved into a studio at the Pendleton Art Center.
Back in Cincinnati in the 1990s, Britton returned to the Art Academy and received an BFA (Magna Cum Laude) in 1994. He went on to earn an MFA at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1998.
Britton paints the world around him using a lively palette and fleshy expressionistic brushstrokes for an impressionistic effect. “I choose subjects as jumping off points, as vehicles to explore what I am feeling. Responses and perceptions are fleeting, so I choose loose, abbreviative marks to express that.” He continues, “My aim has always been to make work, which is compelling in its beauty, or at least intriguing in the way that a piece of music can be.”
In his show of 58 paintings at Ruth’s, he’s jumped off a lot of points.
Want a floral still life? Flowers in vases or blooms filling the canvas?
Landscape? Domesticated zoo views or more rugged terrain?
A cityscape? On the street?
or over them?
A seascape? Drama on the high seas
or bathers on a beach?
Britton is a competent painter but rarely challenges his audience. The work is easy on the eye, just the right size for the living room, and wouldn’t look amiss in a street fair.
But he can do more. What the best of Britton’s works have in common is that they tell stories and pull you into them. It’s not that his other works aren’t narrative, but these more ambitious pictures capture your imagination, fulfilling the artist’s aim of making the visual “as intriguing . . . . as a “piece of music.”
The largest work in the show–Transformation–is the most enigmatic and intriguing. A young woman in a virginal white scooped-neck, sleeveless dress (what we might have called a cocktail dress earlier) stands with her arms at her side, eyes demurely cast down. She is surrounded by a swarm of monarch butterflies. They have already been transformed, and she seems ready for her own. The question is to what.
On its face Local Fireworks is straightforward–a crowd watching an exuberant pyrotechnic presentation. Take a closer look. Britton has split the composition diagonally, adding a dynamism not generally seen in his other work. On the left side, the Turner-esque fireworks explode over a carpet of bodies gazing upward. On the right, a family of four sits on a blanket on a hillock, above the rest of the crowd. Mom sits in an upright but relaxed pose, transfixed by the explosive entertainment. Her three children are taking in the extravaganza, each in their own way. (I’m not good at judging kids’ ages so these are my best guesses.) A 10-year-old boy echoes his mother’s pose. On his left, a tween girl with an unruly mop of auburn curls holds a cell phone, observing the spectacle on its small screen and maybe recording it. On her right a younger boy (eight maybe) also holds a cell phone, but he’s intent on the screen as if engrossed in a game. It surely is a family, but they seem unrelated.
Packed into a punt is an unlikely quartet–two young men and two girls. On the left, a late teenaged boy, who’s yet to lose his baby fat, stands holding a fishing rod parallel to the algae-green lake. To his side, a boy dressed in a vertically striped red-and-white tank top, reminiscent of an old-timey man’s bathing costume, is considering diving into the water.
Behind them, a girl of indeterminate age, wearing a sleeveless blouse and sunglasses, sits completely still, but her reflection wavers on the glassy surfaced water. Britton has endowed this girl with an innocence, something the fourth girl, young woman really, completely lacks.
Leaning back with her arms braced on the sides of the punt, she presents her fleshy back to the viewer. She wears dark-colored elbow-length fingerless “gloves” on her forearms; her racerback top is covered by a thick mane of green hair brushed to a point. Her attire seems better suited to a late night at a punk-rock club not an afternoon on the water. The title–Dyejob–Fishing Lake Isabella–accurately describes the scene but doesn’t answer the question of why they’re together.
I wonder why Britton seems content to paint pleasant little pictures, when he’s capable of so much more.
–Karen S. Chambers
Craig Britton, Ruth’s Parkside Café, 1550 Blue Rock St., Cincinnati, OH 45223, 513-542-7884,www.ruthscafe.com. Mon.-Thurs. 11:30 am-9 pm; Fri.-Sat. 11:30 am-10 pm; closed Sun.
1 David Tape was proprietor of Mullane’s Parkside from 1990 to 1999 and became close to Ruth Cummings, its bookkeeper. He watched over her for the last decade of her life. A bequest from her provided the seed money to open Ruth’s Parkside in 2013 with his partner, Mary Kroner. They named the restaurant in her honor.
2 Brief Artist’s Statement and résumé
CRAIG BRITTON ARTIST’S STATEMENT
Visual artist Craig Britton was born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised there and the Kansas City area. He took up visual art early on, doing cartoons for school papers in Jr. High and High school.
Switching to visual art in his late teens was an easy transition after his drum set was stolen.
Craig returned to the Art Academy of Cincinnati to complete his BFA at age 35; going on to earn his MFA from The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1998.
In 1999, Craig was awarded a ‘Percent for Art Grant’ by South Eastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority for his project, “Seasons of Juniata”. It is in permanent installation at the Erie-Torresdale elevated train station, Philadelphia, PA. Craig also served as a staff muralist and teacher with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Commission.
On his art making process:
“ I choose subjects as jumping off points, as vehicles to explore what I am feeling. Responses and perceptions are fleeting, so I choose loose, abbreviative marks to express that.”
“ My aim has always been to make work which is compelling in its beauty, or at least intriguing in the way that a piece of music can be.”
Craig’s work is a combination of working from life and studio work. He has been exhibiting since 1981, and his first solo show was in 1995. His work is in many private, corporate and Municipal collections in the US, Europe and the Carribbean.
M.F.A. 1998 PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY OF THE FINE ARTS, Philadelphia, PA.
B.F.A. 1994 ART ACADEMY OF CINCINNATI, Cincinnati, Ohio, Graduated Magna Cum Laude
SELECTED EXHIBITIONS – SOLO
2015 City Hall – City of Berkeley, CA
2015 2014 Sonoma Arts Festival – Sonoma, CA
2014 CPR Gallery – Capital Public Radio – Sacramento, CA
2013 Gallerie Renee Jordan – Napa, CA
2014 Robert Mondavi Winery – Yountville, CA
2010 Mike Bolen Gallery – Napa, CA
2009 Beringer Vineyards – Yountville, CA
SELECTED EXHIBITIONS – GROUP
2015 2009 Benicia Plein Air Gallery – Benicia, CA
2015 “Altered Landscapes” – Arts Benicia- Benicia, CA – Juried by Phillip Lynares
2014 Contemporary Figures – Pence Gallery – Davis, CA
2015 2014 “Go Figure” – Epperson Gallery – Crockett, CA
2013 Falkirk Art Center – 25th Annual Juried Exhibition, San Rafael, CA
2002 –01 Carmel Art Association Gallery, Carmel, CA. – Carmel Art Festival – Plein Aire Painting event
1996 Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, P.A. ‑ 99h Annual Exhibition, juried by Jack Beal
GRANTS, COMMISSIONS AND AWARDS
2016 Two Public Art Murals- Mike’s Bikes; Le Moutin Noir Restuarant -Willow Glen-San Jose , CA. Sponsored by the Willow Glen Business Association
2015 Public Mural – The Workshop Restaurant – Benicia, CA
2013 Pastel Sidewalk Mural – Sonoma Arts Festival, Sonoma, CA
1999-98 Commission – Kesher Israel Synagogue, Philadelphia.Pa. Create/paint a series of murals, depicting scenes from sacred texts: ( the Torah).
1999 ‘Percent-for-Art Commission’ by SEPTA (South Eastern Pennsylvania
Transportation Authority), Mural series: “Seasons of Juniata” – permanent installation in Erie-Torresdale- Elevated Train Station , Philadelphia, Pa.
1997 Alpha Delta Kappa Foundation, Kansas City, Mo. – Grant- First Place- Fine Arts
1997 Public Mural Commission ‑ “Nicetown”, City of Philadelphia, PA, for ” Presidential Summit on Volunteerism” (Used as backdrop for interview of President Clinton on T.V. show “Good Morning America”, March 27, 1997)
1996 Commissioned Artist ‑ “Art on the Square” – Aronoff Center For the Arts, Cincinnati, Oh.
1996 Commissioned by Fox TV 19, Cincinnati, Oh. ‑ Sidewalk Pastel Drawing for “Art on the Square” promotional video. 1995 Voted “Best New Artist To Watch Out For” by CITY BEAT Magazine for “One Artist’s Odyssey Exhibition at KZF Gallery, Cincinnati, OH – Review by Fran Watson
1978 Commissioned Artist ‑ “Metro Moving Art” ‑ (Sponsored by Queen City Metro)
Mural on advertising space on interior of city bus.
2003-2002 Artist in Residence – Fair Oaks Elementary School, Redwood City, CA
1998-1997 Life Drawing , Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA.
1996‑1995 Visiting Artist/Teacher: Holy Ghost Preparatory School, Bensalem, PA. (Co‑sponsored by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts/Museum of American Art and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia)
1999-1996 Teacher/ Staff Muralist- City of Philadelphia, Department of Recreation – Mural Arts Commission Program
2010 Review- Benicia Magazine- ‘Craig Britton’s paintings at Benicia Plein Air Gallery’ – by Dewitt Cheng
1998 “The Philadelphia Mural Tour Guide”- Mural- “Nicetown”
1996 Review-“In a Beautiful Pea Green Boat”, City Beat Magazine, by Fran Watson, April 18‑24,1996., “One Artist’s Odyssey” at KZF Gallery, Cincinnati, Oh.
1996 Art Academy of Cincinnati Catalog ‑ painting ‑ “Departure”
1993 “Artists of the Art Academy” Calendar ‑ painting ‑ “La Piscine”
1982 WENDY’S, Inc. 1982 Edition “Greater Cincinnati Artists” Calendar ‑ painting ‑ “Last Light”
1992-88 Scenic Artist for films: “Lost in Yonkers”, “A Hard Rain”, “Milk Money”, “Matewan”
City of Berkeley, CA; Arc Intl, NYC; Southeastern Pennsylvania transit Authority- Philadelphia, PA.; Cincinnati Bell Telephone, Crabtree & Evelyn Inc.; Freiberg Orthopedic Group Inc.; Art Academy of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio; and many corporate and private collections in the U.S., France, and the Caribbean.
3 All quotes from Britton come from a lengthy back-and-forth on email, February 7th through 11th.