Evolutionary Skull Paintings


 

"The Monkey and Skull paintings of Charles Strong are in no measure a departure from his studied manner of working, which is both contemplative and open to frequent intuitive bursts.  In fact, while the Monkey Skull pieces remain consistent with various series of paintings he has produced over the past four decades, they are different in that they extend his ethos back a few steps further to a DNA he in some manner apparently aspires to share."

 

- Douglas Kent Hall  

Embryo acrylic on canvas 60" x 48" 2004

 

If his reaching out to the monkey and early hominid skulls as a compelling subject is on one level sententious, it is on another and higher level true to the impulse that drew Strong to art in the first place. 

 

Homage to Soutine oil and acrylic on canvas 60" x 48" 2004

 

The Monkey Skull paintings arose originally from Strong's accidental encounter with a small skull on a table in a friend's house.  "When I saw this skull gazing from a tabletop... I was thunderstruck.  I immediately asked to borrow it to use as a subject." 

  

Deep in the Forest acrylic and oil on canvas 48" x 30" 2004

 

The painterly character of these small monkeys provides them with the dynamic of personality.  Form finds a distinctive life in each canvas through the actual painting process, unfolding with the interaction of color and the varying speed and intensity of the brushwork. 

 

Dark Garden 48" x 36" oil on canvas 2004

 

The obsessive repeating of the skull allows Strong to challenge the viewer's emotional response and to draw the latter into his realm of thinking.  The palette retains that characteristic abstract expressionist vibrancy, and at Strong's insistence the treatment is passionate, the color western in hue and depth.  The image of the skull changes and develops from canvas to canvas; the repetition builds interest, tying itself firmly to the human, to Strong himself.

 

Warrior Ways acrylic on canvas 48" x 36" 2004

 

The Evolutionary paintings are the kind of images that stop a viewer and prompt a comment, that can draw a museum-goer across a gallery for a closer look.

 

By the Light of the Moon (blue) oil and acrylic on canvas 84" x 70" 2005

 

As the series was taking shape, Strong's interest in portraying skulls grew more profound.  He began looking at skulls that spanned the period from those of monkeys to those of hominids.   

 

Sun Cousin, oil and acrylic on canvas 48" x 60" 2004

 

The more he saw the closer he came to a realization of what lay at the heart of what he was trying to do (1):

"I have always been interested in DNA and evolution.  The chimpanzee has 97% of the same DNA as we do, which is closer than dogs are to wolves.  An incredible dichotomy to be so closely related, yet at the same time so far apart.  I thought about the monkey families in this way and about the price they and their habitat are paying for our "civilization", specifically in terms of growing populations and deforestation.  The paintings followed quickly.  Soon I wanted to create works that were closer to us (Homo Sapiens).  I believe I'm involved in a form of Celtic/Anglo-Saxon meditation or worship of ALL our ancestors.  Many cultures have practiced such a form of worship, but we are frightened by death.  The thought and action that I'm engaged in is about life, indeed, it is the story of our species."

 

(1) All material save the last quote is courtesy Douglas Kent Hall.